2018-19 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers


Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavaliers, is in the midst of major renovations that are set to be complete for the 2019-20 NBA season. One enhancement that would seem to be essential are safety belts for each of the 20,562 seats, because few franchises have experienced roller-coaster ups and downs quite like the Cavs. From 2003-10, LeBron James grew up there as an iconic NBA superstar. Then he left for four years in Miami, a crash course for hard times around the Q. In 2014 he was back and so was the winning. And now … the coaster could be headed south.

ICYMI

If you missed the departure of LeBron James from northeast Ohio, then you probably aren’t reading this. No move mattered more in the NBA this summer, same as in 2014, same as in 2010. Now the Cavaliers have to figure out a way to feed their fans a whole meal, while looking very much like a table full of side dishes in search of an entrée … Cleveland grabbed Collin Sexton out of Alabama with the No 8 pick in the Draft, and the extremely confident point guard has the game, the attitude and the situation to—let’s just say it—thrust himself into Kia Rookie of the Year conversations … It’s likely Cleveland will try to offer some of their proven veterans to contending teams as we head toward the February trading deadline. Guys like George Hill, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver have big salaries, but could help in a stretch-and-spring drive.

THREE POINTS

1. “Randy, where’s the rest of me?” That’s a famous line from a pre-POTUS Ronald Reagan film in the 1940s in which he played an unwitting amputee, and it applies to the Cavaliers. They’ll likely be feeling their phantom superstar like phantom limbs, missing James on a nightly basis in one or more of a dozen ways. Sometimes movies can soar with ensemble casts, but when something is built as a star vehicle and subsequently loses its star, the results aren’t always pleasing to viewers.

2. The more precocious Collin Sexton is, the better. Sexton has the attitude and the quick-twitch skills to push the pace and make folks forget Ol’ What’s-His-Name for minutes at a time. Already he’s drawing comparisons to former Cav Kyrie Irving (whose No 2 jersey he’s wearing) for his ability to ignite games from the point guard spot.

3. Tyronn Lue is on the clock. No more wisecracks from the peanut gallery about No 23 serving as both resident superstar and coach. That means Lue will rise or fall on his ability to blend role-player talents into something beyond role-player results.

MAN ON THE SPOT

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Kevin Love to instantly revert to his Minnesota level statistically—23 points and 13 rebounds per game, which he averaged over his last four Wolves seasons, are hard to snag in the best of times. Love, 30, is older now, with miles and injuries on his game, and he’s been playing a thoroughly different role the past four seasons. But he quickly signed a four-year extension to stick around as the face of the franchise, and he ought to enjoy being the focal point of an NBA offense again. Five or six extra shots a night, and three or four more free-throws, should feel like old times.

STARTING FIVE

George Hill | 10.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.8 apg

As Cav (24 games), had worst 3-FG rate (.351) since rookie year.

Rodney Hood | 14.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.6 apg

Full-service offensive player vying to be No 2 option.

Tristan Thompson | 5.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.6 apg

Injured and spotty season, but brought boost in playoffs.

Kevin Love | 17.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.7 apg

Expected to channel his old Timberwolves self.

Cedi Osman | 3.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.7 apg

Earned look here a year ago, one of 12 Cavs who started 10-plus games.

KEY RESERVES

Jordan Clarkson | 12.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.7 apg

One of NBA’s top bench scorers last year, erratic in postseason.

JR Smith | 8.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.8 apg

Nearly identical stats from 2016-17, best used as a specialist.

Larry Nance Jr | 8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg

‘High-motor’ big looking to extend his range, offensive game.

BOTTOM LINE

Expecting the Cavaliers not to take a significant step back in the wake of James’ departure is like thinking you could yank a middle piece out of Jenga and have nothing else tumble. That this wasn’t the perfect complementary cast, though, might be a good thing, because several players should feel unburdened from having to sublimate their play to James. There’s more basketball to go around, but they’ll miss their big brother. Also, a number of opponents will be eager to deliver payback for four years of hard matchups, the way teams walloped Chicago in 1999 after Michael Jordan left for good. Expected W-L record: 32-50.

By Steve Aschburner

First appeared on NBA.com Global

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