When we last saw the Cleveland Cavaliers, they had just been defeated in the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors, despite a series full of historic performances by LeBron James. Although the taste of defeat was fresh on their lips, the Cavaliers felt as though the glass was half full in regards to their future as a team. They had just dominated the Eastern Conference Playoffs without two of their “Big 3” due to injuries to Kevin Love (shoulder) and Kyrie Irving (knee). It’s not often a team so young does so well in the playoffs without some of its pivotal players. Since then, we’ve seen the Cavaliers organization add depth in the form of veteran guard, Mo Williams, and veteran swingman, Richard Jefferson. These additions, coupled with the return Anderson Varejao, mean that the regular season rotation projects to be as much as 11 players deep.
Kyrie Irving isn’t expected to be an active participant in the early part of the season and starting shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, is expected to be out until the new-year. This will give the Cavaliers a chance to see what they can get out of Mo Williams, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova. Kevin Love will have his minutes limited to start the season as he gets used to the contact involved in NBA basketball again. Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov will handle the rest of the minutes in the frontcourt. Where things get tricky is how they will manage the workload of LeBron James. He is battling some of the same back issues that hampered him early last season. He is expected to play from the season opener onward, but overworking him now could work against them come postseason basketball.
The Cavaliers won’t be world-beaters to start the season. But that’s perfectly fine for them. They’ll beat the bad teams and lose to the elite ones. But as the season progresses, their bench will grow in confidence. Once their starters are back to full health, they will more than likely go on a run where they win 15 out of 20 games. This team is that good when healthy.
The Cavaliers are one of the few teams in the Eastern Conference that views the regular season as just a formality leading to the playoffs. The priority for this squad is to be 100% healthy come playoff time. There is a strong belief that they would be defending champions right now if that were the case last season. With that being said, it wouldn’t be unfair to call some of their key players “injury prone.” For this season to be successful, the Cavaliers have to balance building continuity with player preservation. Look for them to approach this season much like the San Antonio Spurs have approached the past few seasons. They will gladly sacrifice regular season wins for postseason health. The Cavaliers caught a glimpse of what real success is like and now have a clear mission heading into the 2015-16 NBA season.