EARLY SEASON PROVIDES EXCITEMENT, CONCERN FOR CAVS FANS
An analysis of the Cleveland Cavaliers' potential in 2005-06 is long overdue on this site. I suppose this is an excuse, but media coverage of Cavs Training Camp was extremely quiet this year (of course, I'm jaded because I got to witness it up close and personal on campus last year.) Most news regarding the Cavaliers came in the form of editorial debates on the following questions: Are the Cavs finally a playoff team? Will the team's offseason acquisitions translate into more victories? Will LeBron leave Cleveland for more money when his contract is up? To these I say yes, yes and...I plead the fifth.
The '04-05 season brought with it a mountain of potential as last year I predicted the Cavaliers would not only make the playoffs but would host their first-round opponent. The early season made me look like a genius, and I was a real fan of Silas and the depth he used. Of course, sometime after Christmas everything went south faster than an escaped convict. Gund sold the team to Gilbert, who fired Silas (I maintain it was a bad move at the time) and uselessly traded for Jiri Welsh. The result? The Cavs finished one game out of the last playoff spot, and save LeBron and Z, Gilbert decided it was time to clean house again.
So the '05-06 Cavs a new look, like every team every year seems to have in Cleveland. This team hopes--perhaps in vain--that they can finally bring some continuity to an enigmatic franchise. Everybody's favorite bald three-point marksman, Danny Ferry, assumed the role as new GM, and the Cleveland media has already annointed him as part of the "blessed triumverate" of Cleveland GM's: Shapiro, Savage and Ferry. Before I hop on this bandwagon though, I want to examine the offseason acquisitions of Larry Hughes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall.
Hughes is averaging 14.5 ppg in the Cavs' first four games, and I think when he completely settles into the system, you can expect more. It is interesting that Hughes was the Cavs third choice for a free-agent shooting guard (Ray Allen and Michael Redd both re-signed with their respective teams.) Though fans could peruse through Allen's and Redd's stats and ask what might have been, they won't have to because Hughes will add exactly what the Cavs need: a second scoring threat to LBJ--notice I said "threat," meaning he can score, but trust me, he won't be taking too many shots away from LeBron.
Jones and Marshall are both extremely solid additions, also. Both can shoot from the outside, which was the Cavs' biggest problem last year. Marshall is in his second go-around with Cleveland; most don't remember the first because he spent most of it on the bench. He's a completely different ballplayer now, though, who can add veteran leadership, a jumper and maybe even some defense. On paper, it looks like Danny Ferry put together a fresh, competitive team to complement the game's biggest rising star.
But what about the coach? I am not sold on Mike Brown yet. Brown was a logical choice because he was a "defensive-minded" guy, who would be much-needed on a team full of run-and-shooters. In the first four games, we haven't really seen that team defense take shape yet. This will be the biggest challenge for the Cavaliers this year. Their offense might be explosive, but the league's outstanding defenses like Detroit and San Antonio (see last Friday's beatdown in Texas for evidence) will create problems. Those who isolate LeBron and make him a scorer take his teammates out of the game. LeBron is terrific, but if he scores 30 every night, the Cavs will win about 30 all year and that's it.
At 2-2 right now with a game scheduled for Wednesday night at "The Q" with Sonics, here is my long-term projection for the Cavs: 51-31. That should be good for fourth in the conference by mid-April. They will beat up shamelessly on the bad teams, especially at home, and they will struggle with the proven, veteran teams. Nonetheless, LeBron should get to taste the postseason for the first time barring that diabolical intangible: injuries.