This is the fourth season of Cleveland’s third LeBron James-related rebuild. The first started when he arrived in 2003 and brought seven years of escalating victory totals, postseason advancement and one Finals trip. The past two began when James left, first for Miami in 2010 and for Los Angeles in 2018.
After his first exit, the Cavaliers bumped up their W-L record each year with Kyrie Irving as their star, but it took James’ return to really boost their trajectory (four Finals, one title). He won’t be walking through anything but the visitors’ locker room door at Rocket Mortgage Arena now, so it’s on the players, coaches and front office to maintain or boost the minor momentum generated so far. The team’s winning percentage has inched from .232 to .292 to .306.
The starting backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland answered a lot of questions last season, Jarrett Allen was an exciting in-season pickup and Isaac Okoro learned plenty with a heavy diet of rookie minutes. Adding No. 3 pick Evan Mobley is another piece and there’s some bench depth too. So the tools are there with which the Cavs can dig out this time.
How will the glut of power forwards shake out? This bumps the speculation about Sexton’s contract extension, which sounded from both player and team at media day like it was a foregone conclusion. But sifting through Mobley and veterans Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen and Dean Wade (plus a couple of camp long-shots) will challenge coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s puzzle skills.
The core has another year’s worth of experience, though there’s the task of meshing with and developing with Mobley. The Cavs have the opportunity to outwork a lot of opponents who come in too casually against them, and they’ll try to use the Play-In Tournament possibility as a carrot. Predicted finish: 30-52.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Collin Sexton: Averaged 24.3 ppg at age 22, looking to translate his scoring into winning as one key to Cavs’ future.
Darius Garland: Made big strides in scoring, passing and shooting, establishing himself at point guard.
Isaac Okoro: Thin at wing, Cavs seek big sophomore season after he ranked in top 10 among rookies in scoring, assists and steals.
Evan Mobley: He’ll be watched for more Chris Bosh comparisons for his ability to play both ends, inside and out.
Jarrett Allen: Forceful around the rim at either end, Allen should benefit from a full season in Cleveland.
Kevin Love: In his 14th season, he can draw motivation from Team USA boss Jerry Colangelo’s harsh remarks.
Lauri Markkanen: He’s more than a deep shooter but Cavs especially need that to boost their poor 3-point showing.
Ricky Rubio: Switching to the East after a decade in the West, he’s a good veteran influence and example.
Cedi Osman: Still adapting to role change as player caught between what was and what will be for Cleveland.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Cavaliers have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
1 — The Cavs were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in field goal percentage in the paint (53.4%, 27th), mid-range field goal percentage (37.2%, 27th), and 3-point percentage (33.6%, 30th) last season.
— John Schuhmann
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