October 15, 2009
Back once again is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Up next, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
2008-09 Record: 66-16, first place in Central Division
Head Coach/Resembles: Mike Brown/Grimace
Key Additions: Shaquille O'Neal(notes), Anthony Parker(notes), Leon Powe(notes), Jamario Moon(notes)
Key Losses: Joe Smith(notes), Ben Wallace(notes), Wally Szczerbiak(notes), Sasha Pavlovic(notes)
I'd rather not get too complicated with these things. I think you've noticed that with a few of these team previews.
That doesn't mean I haven't put in the work, that doesn't mean I wasn't watching games this summer, nearly every damn one of them last season, and writing non-stop during the offseason, prepping for 2009-10. That doesn't mean I'm not up, still thinking, still questioning, still trying.
But I'm still going to try and cut to the core of what to expect from these teams. No charts, on one end, but little emotion on the other. Straight up the kilt, the only way I know how.
And all I seem to be getting from the Cleveland Cavaliers is complications, when things seem to be so damn simple. This needless complexity emanates from the team itself, and from the people trying to gauge (as they've tried to gauge, since it became apparent that Shaquille O'Neal was going to become a Cavalier last summer) just how well they'll do in 2009-10.
I just don't get it.
If Mike Brown coaches properly and learns from his former assistant John Kuester, then the Cavaliers are on the right track. A championship track. Less worrisome, if LeBron James(notes) continues to ascend at the rate he's been ascending at since debuting in 2003 (with a slight drop-off in 2006-07, ironically the one year the Cavaliers made the Finals), then the Cavaliers are on track. And even if LeBron and Shaquille hold serve, playing at the rate they showcased last season (even if O'Neal falls off a touch, even), things will go swimmingly.
Not a guaranteed title. Not even a guaranteed move past the Celtics or Magic. But the team will be firing on all cylinders and giving itself the best chance to win. And with the offseason over, that's all you can ask for.
Why we're hemming and freaking over Shaq, I have no idea.
Few have been tougher on the Big Fella than I. I'm often sick of a lot of his me-first maneuvers, but you have to remember something very, very important:
They acquired the guy, try to stay with me here, for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic.
They gave up ... nothing.
So it's not as if he's throwing off chemistry. If things fall apart, give him all of Ben Wallace's 23 minutes per game from last season. I'm sure O'Neal will better Wallace's averages of three points and 6.5 rebounds. With a block. I'm sure Shaq, for all his idea-stealing ways, can top that. If he can't handle that? Move him to the end of the bench. Dump the guy. Because you gave up, if you've already forgotten, Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to get him. This is found money, dammit, so stop acting as if you just bought something with your life savings.
Because as tired and lanky (sure, it doesn't fit, but he is lanky) as Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) is, he can still play, still play well, and smarter rotation choices from Brown can help to topple the Magic even if Shaq decides to quit midway through the season and start up his new show (The Cost is Correct!).
Honestly, with Anderson Varejao(notes) a year better and Mo Williams(notes) a year better and Anthony Parker on board and Jamario Moon helping out and James (James!) and even Leon Powe coming back ... whew. Options galore. I don't exactly trust Brown to be the one to figure everything out, but if he makes things simple, the Cavs are set.
And you know what?
I don't suspect that he'll have to make things too simple.
So James likes to score in the paint. And O'Neal does as well. Who cares? You think Shaq spends 24 seconds camped out underneath the rim? Well, there's something called a three-second call. He's not in the paint, save for a few dash-throughs. He's on the low block. And from Penny to Kobe to Dwyane Wade(notes) to even Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) (who loves to drive), I think it's been proven that Shaq is pretty adept at getting out of the way.
He may not prefer to get out of the way, at least not with the first two, but I've seen a lot of highlights from Penny, Kobe, D-Wade and Amar'e over the years. I can't recall them ever actually having to jump over O'Neal on their way to a high-percentage finish. Can you? Then can it.
I think this team still has matchup issues with Los Angeles and Orlando. There's a lot that has to go right. I haven't even touched on Delonte West(notes). And Brown, apologies for nearly equating his coaching foibles with someone's serious mental illness, is a big concern. He has to prove a lot this season.
But the team has depth, talent, and the best player in the game. And unless someone gets hurt ...
Will John Kuester's absence affect the Cavalier offense?
Yes. And this is a much bigger deal than the "will Shaq and LeBron work?" question. Kuester left Cleveland in the offseason to take the head-coaching reins in Detroit. Without his presence and play calling, the Cavs might be in trouble. Head coach Mike Brown has shown no capability in running a sound offense without Kuester. While Brown's growth and the presence of Mo Williams and Delonte West (Ed. note: hopefully) will help, Cleveland's offense will suffer unless Brown took copious notes last season. Brown's intelligence and work ethic give us reason to hope, but it is more than possible the Cavaliers will take a step back.
• Fear The Sword: "What are the team's biggest weaknesses? Back-court depth. What was considered a strength just a few weeks ago must be considered a weakness with the uncertainty surrounding Delonte West. In a perfect world, West would be the starting SG, with Moon, Parker, LeBron et al shuffling around the 2 and 3 spots. The Cavaliers could go small, with James at the 4, or go big with James at the 2 and Moon at the 3. West is also the Cavaliers best option at PG behind Mo Williams. Without West, the team has been forced to start Anthony Parker. He can do the job, no doubt, but it significantly weakens the bench. It also means that Daniel Gibson(notes) is once again forced to play the point, a position he isn't very comfortable with. There isn't any real timetable on West's return, but the hope is still he comes back full strength, both physically and mentally." [more]
• Waiting For Next Year: "First and foremost is depth, but beyond that, the Cavaliers' biggest strength is their versatility. Everyone knows about LeBron's versatility, but Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker and Mo Williams are all capable of playing multiple positions. If Mike Brown wants, he can go with a lineup of Shaq or Varejao at center, LeBron at the 4, Moon at the 3, Parker at the 2 and Mo or Delonte at the point. On the other hand, he can go with a lineup of Gibson, West, LeBron, Hickson, Shaq. Or anywhere in between. Having so many mix-and-match parts is going to give Mike Brown the chance to create strategic advantages over most teams. The question for the Cavaliers will be whether Mike Brown is able to actually come up with ways to achieve this." [more]
• HOOPSWORLD: "There is always an adjustment new teammates have to make when Shaquille O'Neal changes location. However, history has shown that when a successful adjustment is made, Shaq's new team can win a title. LeBron James is the most physically talented player in the game, but it's title or bust this season in Cleveland. If the Cavs come up short, LeBron's future with the Cavs could very much be in doubt." [more]
Method Man, "Judgment Day"
This Cavs roster is the best it has been in LeBron's six seasons, just a year after Cleveland lead the NBA in wins. Shaq was acquired specifically to win an NBA title. With LeBron's free agency looming, this has to be the year. This isn't a team built to grow up together. It's built to win. Now.
— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch
Cleveland made one of the biggest moves of the offseason so it naturally will impact the team's fantasy landscape. Shaq won't play much more than 30 minutes most nights and will get regular days off, but he'll command the ball any time he's on the court. The flipside of that equation is that he also will open things up for the team's perimeter players by commanding attention from defenses. Regardless of Shaq's presence, LeBron will still be among the league's usage leaders and another massive line is forthcoming. A possible uptick in efficiency would easily offset any loss of counting stats — as would another spike in free-throw percentage — and he shouldn't fall past second overall in almost any draft scenario this season.
Mo Williams isn't likely to repeat as the team's second-leading scorer, but a continued level of superb efficiency means he's still a very solid mid-round roto option. Delonte West's uncertain status has largely removed him from fantasy consideration and brought Anthony Parker into late-round consideration. Incremental production throughout his line means you should peg him as a "glue guy." Anderson Varejao will lose hustle stats to Shaq but could benefit from his deft passing out of the post — he's nothing more than a fringe option to start the season, however.
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