Wine and Gold Wrap-Up

The Cavaliers wrapped up the most successful season in franchise history down two-thirds – two-thirds of their Big Three and two-thirds of the three elements LeBron James laid out for winning a Championship: playing well at the right time, being healthy and being lucky. Despite those incredible obstacles, the Wine and Gold still finished the season two wins away from the NBA title.

On Thursday afternoon, the architects of that successful season – GM David Griffin and head coach David Blatt – wrapped things up from Cleveland Clinic Courts, which will be bustling with basketball activity again in just a few weeks.

Last year, right around this time, the Cavaliers were just in the process of hiring Blatt -- one of the most successful coaches in international hoops history – to coach a group of young guns that had missed the playoffs in the previous four seasons. But over the summer, his job description changed dramatically. LeBron made his historic return to Northeast Ohio, the team traded the previous two top overall picks for three-time All-Star Kevin Love and proceeded to fill out the roster with seasoned veterans.

But Blatt knows exactly what his team – and their expectations – will be heading into the 2015-16 season.

”We went through an awful lot of growing pains this year, and the process was long and arduous until we sort of found our stride and got our roster to where we wanted to,” said Blatt. “Then we were able to incorporate things on a professional level that we needed to be successful. Of course, we had to change it all over again due to injuries. But to have that experience and to have that continuity and consistency under our belt on what is already a very, very good team will just be fantastic.”

David Griffin had about as successful a season as a general manager can have – hitting a home run in the offseason and pulling off a pair of major mid-season deals that took an already very good team and made it great.

In fact, once Griffin assembled the squad that rumbled into the postseason, they were borderline unbeatable.

"That group was 33-3 in their last 36 games, including the playoffs, when the Big Three were healthy,” said Griffin. “No matter what success you have in the playoffs, you look at that as a group that's the potential to be special, special good. We certainly played to that, to a great part of the season, and we anticipate that we'll take that group forward in very large measure.”

With Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and King, preseason expectations for the team were daunting. And two months into the season, the squad was floundering around the .500 mark and riding a six-game losing streak into a West Coast trip. LeBron had taken two weeks off to rest a pair of nagging injuries and Anderson Varejao was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles.

But the early-January deals to acquire J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks and Timofey Mozgov from the Nuggets turned the season around. And after the Wine and Gold swept the Staples Center – knocking off the Lakers and Clippers in successive nights – the Cavaliers came home with a vengeance, winning 18 straight at The Q and rolling into the Eastern Conference Finals as one of the hottest squads in basketball.

But season-ending injuries to Love – who separated his shoulder in the deciding Game 4 in Boston – and Irving – who suffered a fractured kneecap in overtime of Game 1 in Oakland – essentially derailed the Cavaliers’ Championship run.

With the Warriors taking the title on Tuesday night at The Q, the Wine and Gold will back to the drawing board quickly – with the Draft exactly one week away (and the Cavs picking 24th and 53rd overall) and some pending free agent situations still to work out.

“In some ways, having the run go this long as close to free agency and draft, I think it feels like you start behind a little bit,” admitted Griffin. “But because we have it so fresh in our minds what that looks like, what that level of competitiveness needs to look like, it helps us a great deal in terms of understanding what we need to be about.”

In his first year in the NBA – one with no shortage of adversity – Blatt was forced to adapt styles and lineups as the season progressed, taking an offensive juggernaut into the postseason and having to mold into a stingy defensive squad two rounds later.

The Cavaliers should go into next season again as one of the league’s favorites. The team that nearly ran the table in the season’s second-half should be mostly intact and when Training Camp tips off this fall.

“I feel that we really, really found our way offensively and defensively,” said Blatt, referring to the squad’s second-half renaissance. “We had a very clear identity; a very clear idea of how we wanted to play. We were potent on the offensive end, and we were great on the defensive end.”

And Blatt learned some valuable lessons along the way.

”Stay the course, believe in what you're doing, and stay healthy,” concluded the Cavaliers coach, when asked what he learned this season.

The Cavaliers were stellar in the first two-thirds of those requirements. If they can complete the trio, we might be talking title at this time next season.