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2011-12 Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

Saying the Cleveland Cavaliers missed LeBron James last season is sort of like saying the Earth would miss the Sun should it disappear.

Regardless of what owner Dan Gilbert may say publicly, the loss of James rocked the city and more importantly the franchise. On the court it was felt the most, as the Cavs stumbled to the NBA's second worst record at 19-63.

Now, though, the page has officially turned and rebuilding process has officially begun with the team holding two of the first four picks in last June's NBA Draft.

The face of the rebuild will be their first selection, guard Kyrie Irving from Duke. Irving has been the Cavs most impressive player in camp and it won't be long before his presence is felt throughout the NBA.

With the fourth overall pick the team went a little off the board taking Texas' Tristan Thompson, a terrific talent, but one who might not be able to contribute as quickly as Irving.

Bottom line is that this is a young team and as is the case with any young team there will be bumps in the road, but Irving gives them a little glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

2010-11 Results: 19-63, fifth in Central; missed playoffs.

ADDITIONS: G Kyrie Irving, F Tristan Thompson, F Omri Casspi.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Kyrie Irving SG- Anthony Parker SF- Omri Casspi PF- Antawn Jamison C- Anderson Varejao

KEY RESERVES: G Ramon Sessions, F Tristan Thompson, G Boobie Gibson

FRONTCOURT: Antawn Jamison will enter the season as the team's starting power forward, but he may not be there by the end of the year.

Jamison's role this season will be to help the progress of Thompson, who was selected with the fourth overall pick in this past year's draft. Jamison, though, could still be a big factor for the Cavs this season, as he averaged 18.0 points-per-game last season to go along with 6.7 rebounds.

"I trust Antawn more, that's the biggest thing," Scott said. "He is a veteran, he understands how to play the game on both ends of the floor. Tristan has a lot to learn, but obviously I'm very happy with his progress thus far."

Scott has placed a big emphasis on improving the team's overall defense this season. A lot of that responsibility will fall on swingman Omri Casspi, who Scott hopes will provide a bit of a mean streak that was missing from last year's club.

"We need some guys like that," Scott said after the Wine & Gold Scrimmage at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday. "I always put it this way: ���We don't need Chihuahuas. We don't need poodles. We don't need German shepherds. We need pit bulls.

"It's good if you have a few of them. If you have a bunch of Chihuahuas, you might be in trouble."

Casspi spent the last two years in Sacramento and averaged 8.6 points for the Kings last season, but it's his overall intensity that has drawn raves, especially from Scott.

"I feel like I need to do extra, especially on the defensive end," Casspi said. "We need to play defense to get on the floor."

Anderson Varejao, meanwhile, is an athletic big man that gives you high energy minutes and knows how to play low-post defense. He's still very limited offensively, however, and will only be asked to deposit the occasional garbage bucket.

BACKCOURT: The writing may have been on the wall for Baron Davis early on in camp when Scott stated that he would be better served being a tutor to Irving rather than the starting point guard.

Irving is certainly the face of the rebuilding process in Cleveland and rightfully so. A toe injury limited the 19-year-old point guard to just 11 games last season for Duke, but he 17.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.5 minutes per game. He shot 52.9 percent, including 46.2 percent from three- point range over that span.

"Every day I see glimpses of what this kid can do, then maybe 10 minutes later, he'll show me he���s still a rookie," Scott said. "It brings a smile to my face, though, because we've got a good one."

Although Irving has been the star of camp here in the early going, Scott may be hesitant to make him a starter right out of the gate, given the rushed lead-in to the season. But, if it's not game one, it won't be much longer after that this becomes Irving's team.

"All you guys know I have no problem saying, 'Here's the ball' to a rookie point guard and saying, 'Lead the team,' but I also want to make sure he's ready to do that," Scott said. "As of right now, we're just going to let him work."

Of course, if Irving isn't the guy at the start, the NBA's best-kept secret in Ramon Sessions will handle the point job duties.

Either way, having veteran Anthony Parker next to Irving should help. Parker re-signed with the Cavs after a 2010-11 campaign that saw him score 8.3 points on .399 shooting, including .379 from three-point range. He also averaged 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists (the second-highest average in his career) in 29.0 minutes in 72 games (65 starts).

"Bringing back Anthony was a high priority for us. We place great value on the leadership, professionalism and veteran presence he brings both on the court and in the locker room," said general manager Chris Grant. "His high basketball IQ, ability to shoot with range and play solid perimeter defense made re-signing him extremely important for us."

BENCH: Should Irving stumble, Sessions is more than capable of handling the point. The combo guard is a favorite of Scott and offers the ability to create and put the ball in the basket.

Thompson has all the makings of becoming an absolute beast in this league and has drawn rave reviews in limited time this camp. The 6-foot-9, 227-pounder was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season at Texas after averaging 13.1 points on .546 shooting, team highs of 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 30.9 minutes per game in 36 games.

"It's exciting to have so many fresh legs coming together," Thompson said. "All the young guys want to learn and want to win games. Myself and Kyrie are just two young guys that are soaking up everything. We want to get better every day, learn from the older guys and do whatever it takes to win."

Daniel Gibson battled with Parker last year for a starting spot, but this year will certainly come off the bench. "Boobie" endeared himself to fans in Cleveland for being vocally against some things James has done following his exit. Gibson can shoot the ball, but his 6-foot-2 size gets him into trouble on the defensive side of the ball.

COACHING: Scott was in a no-win situation last season. Anytime a franchise loses a player the caliber of LeBron James there is going to be some bumps in the road. Scott, though, is the perfect mentor to the young Irving and might be a great fit for this young team.

OUTLOOK: Gilbert guaranteed to his fans following James' defection that the Cavs would win a title before the "self-titled King" wins one. Well James' new team lost in the NBA Finals last season and the Cavs, well they won only 19 games. That doesn't figure to change much this season, either. The best case scenario will be Irving becoming a star they envision and a .500 finish and perhaps a shot as an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The likely scenario, though, is that Irving and Thompson will have some growing pains and the team finishes in the Central Division cellar once again.