With several Eastern Conference rivals getting significantly stronger this offseason, if the Cleveland Cavaliers want to make it back to the NBA Finals in 2016, they're going to have to do some maintenance around the edges. And the team apparently knows it very well.
As he heads into his age-31 season, James, the four-time NBA MVP, has an enormous amount of wear on his wheels. Akron's favorite son has logged 43,330 minutes (regular season and playoffs) in his 12-year career. The hot stat this offseason has been that James has already played more minutes than Celtics legend Larry Bird did in his entire career.
James averaged 36.1 minutes per game last season, a career-low, but that number spiked to a Chamberlain-esque 42.2 as he tried to singlehandedly shoulder the title hopes of the entire state of Ohio in the playoffs. Long gone are the days in Miami when Erik Spoelstra used to tell James simply that he couldn't get tired. As he ages, the simple reality is that James, contrary to popular belief, is in fact human and beginning to get seriously fatigued from all the playing time he has received. Who could forget the infamous two-week vacation he took at the turn of the calendar year last season because of general soreness?
In the last couple of seasons, James has also drawn criticism for coasting through the regular season and taking entire possessions off at times, particularly on defense. That exhaustion has bled out to the offensive end, too, as the 11-time All-Star sometimes stands idly when playing off the ball and occasionally launches nonchalant turnaround jumpers when the ball does find its way into his hands. So the goal of cutting down on his minutes next season certainly seems like the right one to set.
As for Irving, it may seem odd to keep a 23-year-old point guard on a minutes leash this early in his career, but it's a no-brainer considering he's coming off a fractured kneecap suffered in the Finals just over two months ago. The three-time All-Star has also had well-documented health issues in his four-year career, seeming to suffer a host of moderate to severe injuries every single season, even dating back to his time at Duke. Irving's 36.4 minutes per game in 2014-15 were a career-high, so there's room for improvement on that front.
Keeping their star players fresh for the playoffs is of the utmost importance as the Cavs make another run at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Taking a page out of the book of the San Antonio Spurs to do so is a great call.
The re-signings of J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert this offseason are now that much more significant. The young trio will be able to help soak up any extra minutes on the perimeter that James and Irving may leave behind next season. Ditto for the reunion with former Cavalier Mo Williams, who provides Irving a legitimate backup for the first time in his career, and the addition of Richard Jefferson, a veteran wing minutes gobbler.
Let's just cross our fingers that David Blatt (a.k.a. He Of The Notoriously Short Rotations) doesn't throw a wrench into Cleveland's plans.
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