Published October 15, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - Anything happen in Cleveland this summer?
The prodigal son returned home to become the savior for the city.
LeBron James penned a thoughtful essay for Si.com and announced, "I'm coming home."
James left Cleveland four years ago and went to four NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. He won two titles, but when free agency came this offseason, James felt a sense of obligation and headed back to the city he spurned.
"Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time," James wrote of Cleveland. "My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
James' poignant words spoke volumes of the respect and love he feels for his hometown. While in South Beach, James learned what it took to win titles. It takes more than just a superhuman, versatile freak like James.
Acquiring the world's greatest player, and probably the world's greatest athlete would make the Cleveland Cavaliers' offseason a resounding success. But the Cavs didn't stop with James, who hit the recruiting trail quickly after signing with Cleveland.
His first call was to Kevin Love.
After receiving the amazing fortune of winning the NBA Draft Lottery two years in a row, the Cavs had great young pieces in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.
General Manager David Griffin flipped those two to Minnesota for Love, yet another top-10 star in this league. Love told the Timberwolves he wouldn't sign when free agency hit in the summer of 2015, so he is now part of the newest incarnation of the Big Three.
"I'm committed to this team, committed long term to the end goal, and that's to win championships," Love said at his introductory press conference.
Rounding out the Cavs' version of the Big Three will be Kyrie Irving, already a two-time All-Star at the ripe old age of 22. Irving is fresh off being named MVP of the FIBA World Cup in leading the United States to a gold medal.
Another important piece was added to the Cavaliers in the offseason, head coach David Blatt. Blatt made his bones coaching overseas, but he inherits an unreal roster with three legitimate studs.
The Cavs also hit the free-agent market hard in filling in role players around James, Love and Irving. Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones joined the fold and rumors still persist that Ray Allen, if he decides to play this season, has Cleveland on his radar.
Anderson Varejao, a James favorite, remains, as do Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. They will be counted on very heavily to improve their games if James' fruitions are to come true.
Before scheduling a parade, the Cavs have some warts.
Love and Irving have never made the postseason in their careers. The Cavaliers are certain to make the playoffs and can this pair hold up to the pressure and scrutiny? There will be plenty of both in Cleveland this season, even before the Cavs get to the postseason. Irving and Love have both been big fishes in small ponds and that changed with James' signing.
James is a perennial All-Defensive guy, but no one else on this roster is terribly defensive-minded. Varejao, Love and Thompson are all terrible rim protectors. Brendan Haywood was acquired in the offseason and he might be the Cavs' best defensive interior player. (Outside James, who can guard every position.)
The bench is old and might not be the most reliable unit in the NBA.
Blatt is untested at this level and will immediately walk into a situation where he has to manage the egos of three All-Stars. (None have been terrible ego problems in the past.)
There is a very special recipe for success in Cleveland. It may not happen right away and James is okay with that.
"I'm not promising a championship," he wrote. "I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that."
Hopefully, the Cleveland fans he returned to save know as well.
2013-14 Results: 33-49, 3rd in Central, Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: F LeBron James, F Kevin Love, F Shawn Marion, G Mike Miller, F James Jones, C Brendan Haywood, G Joe Harris, HC David Blatt
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kyrie Irving SG- Dion Waiters SF- LeBron James PF- Kevin Love C - Anderson Varejao
KEY RESERVES: F Tristan Thompson, F Shawn Marion, G Mike Miller, F James Jones, C Brendan Haywood, G Matthew Dellavedova
FRONTCOURT: Don't let last season's MVP award for Kevin Durant fool you - James is the best player in any recorded universe. There is no flaw in his game.
Last season in Miami, James averaged 27.1 ppg, 6.3 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He shot 57 percent from the floor, 38 percent from long range and 75 percent from the foul line. He scores in every way conceivable, be it with the jump-shot, the low-post or slashing. Defensively, James can cover all five spots on the floor and there's no one else in the league that can do that.
James is a leader and, with his declaration of coming home to win a title for Cleveland, assumed a huge amount of pressure. He can handle it. He's assisting in building this roster to win sooner than his essay stated. (In that piece, Love had not agreed to come to Cleveland.)
Love, 26, has put up numbers that could stop traffic. Over the last four seasons, Love has averaged 23.5 ppg and 13.7 rpg. To top if off, Love has shot 37 percent from 3-point range over the same time span. He's an insane weapon who can bury teams inside and out. He is a ferocious rebounder, who is not a good defender, especially at the rim. As a cherry on top, Love is probably the best outlet passer in the league.
Love and James will form a devastating tandem in the pick-and-roll, or the pick-and-pop. If defenders follow James around a Love screen, Love could either run to the hoop using his underrated athleticism, or stay back by the arc and drain a three. They're going to be extremely difficult to defend. (Same scenarios apply for Irving, as well.)
Varejao, as stated previously, is a favorite of James. In his prime, Varejao was constant motion and a terrific rebounder. Problem is, at 32, Varejao hasn't been on the floor enough. He's played just 146 of a possible 312 games the last four seasons. If he's healthy, Varejao, Love and James could be the best rebounding frontcourt in the league.
BACKCOURT: Irving emerged from a crowded point-guard logjam to win the MVP in Spain for USA Basketball. It was refreshing considering the 2013-14 season was a bit of a regression. His scoring numbers, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage all took dips.
The Irving we all seem to know is one that's an elite penetrator, a good long- range shooter, less than mediocre defender and passing facilitator. If he continues doing that, sprinkled in with James and Love, Irving could become a much bigger assist man.
Irving is in the most difficult position of the three. This was his team and now he's the third option. The Cavs would hope he realizes what a blessing has been bestowed upon him, and the experience of playing with USA Basketball in the summer should show him that you don't have to be the best player to have a lasting impact.
He's armed with a new max deal and his situation is somewhat reminiscent of some young point guards put in tough positions in years past with superstars already in tow. Rajon Rondo with the Boston Celtics and Mario Chalmers with the Heat come to mind. Irving is well past those two when they played with the likes of James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen. Irving will have to adjust to a slightly diminished role, but still play a huge part.
Waiters has endured a somewhat checkered career to this point. His defense and shot selection have come under fire, but he can score. Waiters has averaged 15.3 ppg in his two-year career. The Syracuse product has only started 72 of 131 NBA games. Waiters better benefit from the leadership and overall excellence of James. LeBron can teach him how to be a better pro.
BENCH: Thompson started all 82 games the past two seasons, but he will be regulated to bench duty with Love's arrival. Thompson has been solid, but not spectacular in his three-year tenure, averaging close to 12 points and nine rebounds in the last two. He can come in and bang, but won't play close to the 31 minutes a night he averaged the last two campaigns.
Marion was a great signing. He is still a plus-defender and can knock down open jumpers.
Miller played pretty well in Memphis last season. He can still shoot.
Jones didn't see much action in Miami toward the end. Like Miller, Jones is a very good long-range shooter.
Haywood will need to serve as the primary backup center. He missed the entire 2013-14 season with a stress fracture in his foot and, at 34, can't be counted on for significant minutes.
Dellavedova was a nice surprise last season, often times singled out for his work and effort by former head coach Mike Brown.
This group is not terribly strong, but, if healthy, James, Love and Irving will play huge minutes.
COACHING: Blatt has won several international coaching awards and league titles, including the prestigious Euroleague title and Coach of the Year honor in 2014. He also led the Russian team to a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics.
But this is the NBA. The rules are different, the officials don't know him and the pace of play is much quicker.
Blatt is known to be good with players, but he will have a tall task managing this team and its expectations. James is a great leader so it won't be too difficult taking care of him, but the hope is for a title. Anything less in a few years will be a huge letdown.
OUTLOOK: If James' Heat tenure taught us anything, it's that championship runs can come quickly. Miami made the NBA Finals in the first year of the Big Three, but fell to the Dallas Mavericks.
This team is not as good. Love and Irving haven't been tested at a high level just yet, other than international competition. Defense will be an issue and the bench will need to produce.
However, the Cavs are one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and one of the five best teams in the league. James is just too good for this team to finish with less than 50 wins. Having the best player in the prime of his career accounts for that high a victory total.
The Cavaliers are a favorite to win the championship. Maybe James can move up his timetable. The pieces fit beautifully.