Kia Season Preview 2016-17
2016-17 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers
Notice a pattern yet? LeBron James goes somewhere, rounds up a couple of All-Star teammates, gets to the Finals that first season, then wins it all in year No. 2. So it went with the Miami Heat, so it needs to go with the Cavaliers – at least, according to LeBron and Cavs fans. Cleveland has to be loving this.
Roster changes have been kept to a minimum in the Cavaliers’ post-championship offseason. The most notable loss is guard Matthew Dellavedova, a motor guy whose value was limited during The Finals. Biggest additions? Veteran shooter Mike Dunleavy and Heat big man Chris Andersen. The former could ease (or improve upon) Mo Williams’ decision finally to retire, and the latter provides size, energy and a crowd favorite. … Richard Jefferson’s reversal of his post-Game 7 decision to retire was nearly as fast as Williams’ “I’m back-I’m done” change of heart. So RJ returns. … J.R. Smith’s unsettled contract situation lingered into the preseason, which annoyed LeBron James but might have been Smith’s way to avoid some heavy lifting in training camp and focus his 31-year-old exertions on games that count. … Not content to rely so heavily on rookie Kay Felder to back up Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers signed seven-year NBA vet Toney Douglas on Oct. 3.
To the victors go the spoils – and the need for a breather. The Cavaliers have played 100-plus games in each of the past two seasons, which means coach Tyronn Lue is going to have to choose between nights off and short stints for some of his guys. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have dealt with injuries, while LeBron James will turn a high-mileage 32 in December.
There’s nothing fair about it, but Kevin Love began to hear criticism and speculation as soon as Cleveland opened camp. As the three’s-a-crowd guy having to defer to James and Irving, Love has to laugh off or ignore some impossible-to-please fans.
Tyronn Lue navigated through some respected coaches — Stan Van Gundy, Mike Budenholzer, Dwane Casey and Steve Kerr — en route to the NBA title, extending his honeymoon. Handling superstar egos is no easy task, but Lue seems to low-key his way through it all without stress or incidents.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Kyrie Irving showed with his work in the Finals that he’s capable of playing a lead role on a top team. He outplayed Steph Curry in the championship round, up to and including his clutch shot near the end of Game 7. Irving looks like a future MVP, so how he modulates the urge to max out his individual talents while serving the group and deferring to James could determine how selfless the bid to repeat goes.
Kyrie Irving | 19.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
MVP candidate based on Finals play, so difficult to stop 1-on-1.
J.R. Smith | 12.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Value to Cavs dwarfs his appeal to 29 other teams. Contract holdout didn’t scare anyone.
Tristan Thompson | 7.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 0.8 apg
Performed as consummate role player in postseason, when Cavs needed it.
Kevin Love | 16.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.4 apg
Which matters more, individual stats or championship rings? Love’s OK with latter.
LeBron James | 25.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 6.8 apg
Expect his minutes (35.6) to dip as a way to keep game’s best player healthy and fresh.
Mike Dunleavy | 7.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg
Versatile, feisty player with potential to help, if healthy enough at age 36.
Channing Frye | 7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.0 apg
Valuable stretch-big added at trade deadline, boosting range and leadership.
Iman Shumpert | 5.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Defense yes, offense not so much (career-low 29.5 percent on 3FGs).
THE BOTTOM LINE
They say one of the toughest things to do in sports is to repeat. But if the Cavaliers feel any pressure that way, it likely won’t show itself until June. They remain the class of the Eastern Conference by a considerable margin, so barring injuries look for a return to the Finals – James’ seventh in a row if it happens.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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