15-26: The dismal record that the Cavs were at 41 games into the season a year ago. Fast forward to the offseason and everything started to fall into place, beginning with the luck of the ping pong balls that brought a third number one pick in four years to the franchise that just couldn’t seem to put on its sneakers and get it going following the departure of LeBron James four years earlier. That was followed by Kyrie Irving signing a max deal, and LeBron decided to come home in storybook fashion with his heartfelt letter to the people of Northeast Ohio. The blockbuster trade for Kevin Love as well as the additions of James Jones, Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion capped the excellent offseason for the Cavs.
21-20: The Cavs current record boasts one of the most decorated lineups in the league. No one expected this team to be hovering around a .500 winning percentage halfway through the season. Sure, there have been some hiccups. The Big Three seem to be sitting out games or long spurts of minutes in a seamless rotation and Anderson Varejao’s season-ending Achilles injury makes the squad even less cohesive as a full unit. Every day, there is another story about team chemistry and Head Coach Blatt being in the hot seat. While there is definitely room for a lot of improvement as we move past the midway point of the season, all the talk about the troubles in Cleveland, LeBron possibly opting out, Love perhaps leaving for Los Angeles, and Blatt getting fired mid-season is all just a bunch of smoke with very little actual fire despite what some media outlets want viewers and readers to think. Breathe, Cleveland fans. There is no need to panic yet. The Cavs were the clear cut favorite to win the East and held the best odds to bring something home that this city has not experienced in over 50 years: a championship.
Tipping over into the second half of the season, the Cavs can still be the team that everyone thought they would be going into the season. Barring a disaster, James, Love, and Irving will find a way to become a formidable Big Three when they spend more time together on the court. In terms of team chemistry, it is unfair to discount the current squad from becoming a cohesive unit. With the recent acquisitions of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks as well as the desperately needed big man in Timofey Mozgov, this team needs time on the court to gel.
Even without a very apt defense, or a plethora of big men to guard the rim, the roster going into the halfway point of the season is stacked with shooters and playmakers from top to bottom. With the addition of Shumpert and Smith, there are now nine players who shoot better than 30% from downtown and possibly 10 if Ray Allen decides to sign with the Cavs to fill out the final roster spot. The depth of shooting talent on the current roster makes it almost impossible to get everyone involved on a nightly basis, which can play in the Cavs favor. There is also the matter of having the best player on the planet and a point guard who is quickly making his way to bring the best in his position.
If everyone is healthy and the offense is firing on all cylinders, the Cavs can put 120 points on the board on a consistent basis with the depth of talent on the current roster. But what if the defense does not improve as a unit? Ideally, a more effective defensive scheme would greatly benefit the Cavs during the occasional less-than-stellar shooting nights as the season progresses, and it likely will when Shumpert makes his Cleveland debut in about a week. Mozgov is already adding pressure at the rim and playing physically on the defensive end, something that has been lacking since Varejao’s season ended. However, comes playoff time, regardless of seeding, the seven game series is where the Cavs will excel.
Their offensive talent when healthy is unparalleled across the Eastern Conference and is every bit as good as the best of the West. With that being said, the Cavs will undoubtedly start to come together more as a team as the season continues past the All-Star break. Then the playoffs will come, and this lineup is built for a long series in which the offensive power will wear down defenses, which in turn will make opposing offenses less effective.
Once again, there is no need to panic yet, as long as this team gets it together by the 60 game mark in the season. It would be surprising if they were still playing like a .500 club at that time. The Cavs should still be the favorites in the Eastern Conference playoffs due to their explosive offensive talent that is waiting to get unleashed when health issues are resolved and they learn to play better together as a unit. The front office seems to be addressing any roster issues in the right manner. Adjustments always need to be made to a team that is playing together for the first time, and with the three recent acquisitions via trade along with the intriguing interest in free agent Nate Robinson, Gilbert’s staff is trying everything possible to give this team the power to dominate on the offensive end. If we find ourselves in the NBA Finals come summer time, look for LeBron to provide the veteran leadership needed to get past the team representing the West.
After all, as LeBron said, it is bigger than basketball. His journey home was about inspiring the hardworking individuals that make up Northeast Ohio; the ones who have been patiently waiting and supporting their Cleveland teams through generations of heartache.
This is Cleveland. This is our team. Don’t panic because there is still a lot more basketball to be played.