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Many basketball fans consider this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers to have the best lineup on paper, and are possibly the team to beat in an improved Eastern Conference. The projected starting lineup will have Kyrie Irving at point guard, Dion Waiters at shooting guard, LeBron James at small forward, Kevin Love at power forward, and Anderson Varejao at center. Cleveland will also have firepower coming off the bench, with Tristan Thompson, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, and most likely Ray Allen rotating in. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a star-studded line-up capable of playing with just about any team, and probably at any tempo. Most fans assume the Cavs will not have a “shut down” defense, but will their offensive skills be enough to get them through the Eastern Conference?
It all starts and ends with LeBron James. He is by most accounts the best player in the league, a four-time MVP, and is back at home in Cleveland, OH where he is most comfortable. Last year with the Miami Heat, James shouldered most of the load as Dwayne Wade’s knees no longer enabled Wade to be an adequate sidekick on a very top-heavy team. James was statistically the best scorer, passer, and rebounder on his team, as well as their best individual defender. He is used to carrying the burden of being a team’s jack-of-all-trades, so naturally the additional assistance will make for better efficiency on his new team. The Miami Heat ended the season as the Eastern Conference’s best team, so an improved cast of players surrounding the world’s best basketball player can only be a good thing for James.
King James has paired back up with his longtime friend and Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Varejao, who reported that he has worked on his offensive game in the offseason. Varejao averaged over 10 points per contest in the preseason, which already shows an improvement in skill level. James and Varejao were able to take very average teams on deep playoff runs together in the past, and will attempt to do the same with a much improved cast of players.
Many would argue that the Cleveland Cavaliers have the best player in the league in three different positions; those players being Irving, James, and Love. These players have been called a “big three,” which is not a title easily earned, and will complement each other well once getting to know one another better in games that matter. Irving and Love have been considered an “improvement” to James previous “big three” partners on the Miami Heat, Wade and Chris Bosh. Irving and Love are more adequate shooters than Wade and Bosh, which gives more room for James to drive or work in the post. The Cleveland Cavaliers should not have any fluidity issues or issues of the ball sticking; an issue the Easter Conference rivals, the Miami Heat, had been beaten by frequently. The Cavs do have good one-on-one players, going straight to the dribble should be a broken habit after the team plays together for a while.
Irving has been a proven scorer and distributor, and has the ability to carry a team in his own right, while Love is a dominant rebounder with a beautiful outside touch. Waiters has historically been a gun, but some influence and coaching from James will likely change that, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a capable starting shooting guard to bear some of the load in scoring. The Cavs bench is full of players that could be starters on other teams, and Thompson could even have potential as a future all-star if he were able to start. He will be a force coming off the bench for Cleveland, and the fourth year man seems to welcome the adjustment.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are still working on signing the all-time greatest three-point shooter in NBA history, Ray Allen. He has been deciding on whether to retire or not, but he does love playing with King James and loves championship rings. If he joins the Cavs, they may be considered the deepest team in the league.
The Cavs have a long way to go before they are championship material, but having the league’s best player and possibly best line-up are two things in their favor. This could be another MVP year for James, as he seeks to realize his dream of bring Cleveland their first sports championship in decades. They will have to overcome chemistry issues offensively and in the locker room, and will have to be good enough on defense, as Love and Irving have not traditionally been known as good defenders. The Chicago Bulls are a very good team, but Cleveland’s talent may be enough to overcome them, leaving few opponents that really have a chance to take out the Cavs easily until they face teams in the West. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this year, even though James told reporters differently last week.
Commentary by LaBaron Jackson