Offseason was just what banged-up Cleveland needed
POSTED: Sep 24, 2015 10:38 AM ET
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Since the Warriors grabbed their first NBA title in 40 years in June, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the summer break. NBA.com will evaluate the state of each franchise in the month of September with a look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today's Team: Cleveland Cavaliers | All 30 Teams
The Lowdown: You know what the summer brought to the Cavaliers? Healing.
That's right. Rather than tinker with a team that took a pair of games from the Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Cavs just needed rest and recovery, emphasis on recovery. Kevin Love missed most of the playoffs with a bum shoulder. Kyrie Irving missed all but the first game of the NBA Finals with a bum knee. And Anderson Varejao missed all but 26 games with a bum Achilles. Yes, what a bummer.
The summer also allowed the Cavs to heal their psychological wounds as well, because the what-if game was no doubt replayed in their heads. What if they had good health, like the Warriors? Would Cleveland still be hung over from celebrating the city's first pro sports championship in 50 years? Did the best team win the title, or did the healthiest win? The Cavaliers and Cleveland had to drag that annoying thought through yet another summer while waiting for yet another season to begin.
And so, the Cavaliers of next season will be largely unchanged from the Cavaliers of last season, with the exception being -- hopefully, for their sake -- that players won't reach for a body part along the way. If so, then there's little doubt that LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have the strongest say on who wins the East and maybe the next NBA title. LeBron is that good, and his supporting cast, for a change, is that solid.
The summer did bring a bit of unsettling news: Irving might not return from his broken kneecap until January. If so, that will force the Cavs to find an additional source of scoring, and that search will lead to a familiar face: Love.
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The summer did manage to squelch the perception that Love was unhappy in Cleveland and wanted to leave. Perhaps at some point, his first season alongside LeBron wasn't peachy. And yes, the two All-Stars needed to get on, and stay on, the same page. As the season progressed, Love became a bit more comfortable with his role and warmed up to the idea of signing a contract extension, which he did.
LeBron and Love had a summit during the summer, after Love signed for $110 million over five years, and apparently have a better understanding of each other. With Irving possibly out for an extended time, Love can get the extra shots he saw as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Anyway, he and LeBron, by all accounts, are tighter.
"We came to a very good place and we agreed on a lot of things," Love said.
Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson's contract dealings didn't go as quickly. He's still unsigned and there could be trepidation on the Cavs' part about locking up two power forwards at roughly a combined $200 million. That doesn't make much sense from a practical standpoint. Yet Thompson is young and a beast on the offensive glass and turned into a tornado when Love went down in the playoffs. Thompson's offensive game remains road kill; he can't executive simple post moves or develop a trusty jumper. But he's a LeBron Guy and therefore, you know what that means.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has put winning a title ahead of financial sanity; how else can you explain why the Cavs gave Iman Shumpert a new deal that averages $10 million a season? He's dependable defensively but struggles to hit an open jumper, as evident in The Finals. But again, the Cavs wanted to keep the same team intact and felt a measure of comfort with Shumpert and particularly his defense.
Scoring help will come from an old friend, Mo Williams, the former Cav who returns a bit older yet also better equipped to help win a title. In his last go-round in Cleveland, Williams was a primary option. He doesn't have that burden now, which is good for him and the Cavs.
Finally, the Cavs hope the summer gave David Blatt a chance to reflect on what was a somewhat bumpy ride as a first-year coach. Blatt even admitted the year was far tougher than he imagined, that juggling egos, dealing with media snoops and putting out perception brushfires took their toll. In a bottom-line business, Blatt did take the Cavs to The Finals, but the pressure to top that next season will surely begin almost immediately.
The Cavs finished with 53 wins after a sluggish start and backhanded the Hawks with a rude four-game sweep during the East finals. Assuming good health, the East is Cleveland's to lose once again because they bring the best player in the game that is still in his prime.
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