Baller Mind Frame

Assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers Trio of Stars

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Image courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have championship expectations for 2014-15. LeBron James, a self-proclaimed king of the basketball world, has returned to a city that’s feelings for him have ranged from unconditional love to furious hatred. Unlike his first stint in Cleveland, he’ll now have fellow stars playing beside him. Kevin Love was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kyrie Irving has emerged as an elite point guard. With three stars playing in a poor conference, how far can this trio take Cleveland?

An NBA championship in their first season together is a realistic possibility. James remains the best player in the world and his arrival obviously signifies a shift in power. The Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards might be legitimate foes, but James alone turns Cleveland into the favorites. That was the prevailing idea even before they brought in Love. With Love’s addition, James has one of the seven or eight best players in the world alongside him. The UCLA product is a dynamic offensive player that can bang triples and effectively operate from the post. His rebound rate is remarkable and he regularly gets to and converts from the foul line.

Irving, Cleveland’s third best player, is likely a top 15 or 20 player in the NBA. His willingness to pass isn’t equal to that of James, but that might end up being an asset. His long range shooting and ability to slash should work well with the play-making skills of James. When James and Love draw inevitable double teams, Irving can hover behind the arc or cut beneath the defense to the basket. Love’s passing skills should also benefit Cleveland. He’s the best big man in the game at starting transition offense. Known for long outlet passes that result in points, Love will have an athletic monster in James and a quick guard in Irving on the receiving end of his outlets.

Beyond a natural fit together, the Cavaliers will also have head coach David Blatt running the offense. He’s considered an innovative mind that has a chance to be the Chip Kelly of the NBA. His offense will be tailored to the strengths of his stars. In a conference full of struggling coaches that could end up on the hot seat, Blatt might find himself to be the smartest coach on the floor during Cleveland’s games. Blatt’s face isn’t the only new one in Cleveland. Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, James Jones, and others were brought in through free agency. Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao are still on the team. That’s a collection of quality role players that give the Cavaliers a deep roster in addition to star power.

Even with Blatt and dangerous role players, Cleveland will clearly succeed or fail this year as a result of how its star trio performs. The Eastern Conference will leave plenty of time to work out the kinks though. Paul George‘s injury leaves the Indiana Pacers irrelevant. The Bulls’ lack of offense could prevent them from entering championship territory. The Wizards, while young and athletic, simply don’t have the same talent of the Cavaliers. Even if the new trio presses and takes time to discover a cohesive form, Cleveland won’t find itself in panic mode. Its potentially devastating offense should be enough to result in a top seed in the East.

Any setbacks Cleveland faces will be on the defensive end. While James has a decorated resume of defensive success, his fellow stars are the opposite. Love is a no-show in the post against other big men. His size is standard for his position, so his technique and commitment should be to blame. Blatt doesn’t strike me as a coach focused in this area and Cleveland should outscore the majority of its opponents, so don’t anticipate Love improving his defense. Irving is prone to getting bodied by stronger guards. Like Love, he also had to exert most of his effort on offense while playing for a poor team. The tutelage of James is the only thing that can help this trio become a committed defensive unit. Defensive issues could reveal themselves against a San Antonio Spurs level opponent in the NBA Finals.

Even with defensive shortcomings, Cleveland is capable of winning a championship in the first year of this exciting era. Having three of the best 15 or so players in the world is rare. Being in the Eastern Conference is a gift. Playing 41 regular season home games in front of a starving crowd desperate for success will be riveting. Under leadership from James, Love and Irving will learn how to win at the NBA level. Talent alone might get them to the NBA Finals. From there, in a Finals showdown against a Western Conference elite, talent won’t be enough. But Blatt’s offense, the presence of James, and a cohesive core of role players alongside star power could be. The city of Cleveland might finally have a champion.

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