Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Season Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers

Ball Don't Lie Staff
Ball Don't Lie

After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.

The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.

Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise

The “One Coach Away”-syndrome is as old as the NBA itself, but its persistence doesn’t make it any less unfortunate. Championship teams have relied on types like Phil Jackson or Pat Riley to push them over the edge, while recent switchouts in Chicago have taken the Bulls from mediocre to championship-contending. The Clippers are hoping to recreate the same success story with Doc Rivers in place in Los Angeles, as are the Nets in Brooklyn with Jason Kidd.

The Cavaliers? They just don’t want to be awful. And for the last three seasons, the team has been miserable, piling up just 66 wins in three seasons. That’s the amount of games the LeBron James-led 2008-09 Cavaliers won under former and current coach Mike Brown, the team’s newest hoped-for savior, one looking to clean up the mess that former coach Byron Scott couldn’t develop.

Scott had his caveats. After a pathetic attempt at soldiering on as if James’ move to Miami never happened in 2010-11, the Cavs finally submitted to rebuilding in Scott’s second year. And while guard Kyrie Irving looks and plays like a star, he’s still missed 47 games over his two-year career. Slowly starting over, the Cavs didn’t splurge on any free agent talent until this summer, and even that was a cautious offseason turn. The plan was to start from the bottom and head up, and as the team lucked into two top overall draft picks, the assets have been in place.

This is where Brown steps in, hopefully well-aware that he has quite a bit to learn as head coach after previous stints in Cleveland, and a disastrous turn replacing Phil Jackson in Los Angeles. Few know the game as well as Brown, but it’s the articulation and execution (especially in late game situations) that has been lacking in his teams over the last few years, as frustrated Cleveland LeBron-era fans can attest. Brown does enter the situation with a bit of gravitas on his side, something he couldn’t claim as a rookie coach in 2005-06 with the Cavs or while staring down Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. This is something Scott, despite all those marathon practices, could not wrangle to his benefit.

The onus will be on Irving as well, as he’s the lead man at the top of a defense that has been amongst the league’s worst for the last two seasons. Kyrie has been going at it just about alone, to be fair, but despite his late-game heroics you still get the feeling he could have dragged his team to just a few more wins over the last couple of seasons. Beside him stands Dion Waiters, he of the off-balance jumper and questionable shot selection. Even with the Cavaliers slowly putting things together, both have a lot of growing to do this season.

Jarrett Jack will help. As one of Cleveland’s free agent prizes, the respected veteran combo guard will likely finish games alongside Irving, or at the very least be part of a secondary crew that hopes to actually put teams away in the second and third quarters. The Cavs took a cautious approach with former All-Star center Andrew Bynum, there’s no point in even guessing if he’ll contribute anything to the Cavalier cause this season, making the return to health of celebrated Cavs big man Anderson Varejao all the more wonderful. Second year center Tyler Zeller will probably welcome the reduced role, as he was tossed around quite a bit during his rookie year.

In forwards Tristan Thompson and top overall pick Anthony Bennett, the Cavaliers have two forwards that could possibly clash in terms of minutes and playing style, but the Cavs were right to go for who they felt was the top talent in the draft last year, in spite of possibly being shoe-horned into a small forward position that doesn’t suit him. The “take the best player available” is always the smartest route, but as was the case when the Atlanta Hawks tried the same thing in the 2005 draft, did the Cavalier front office identify the actual best player? In a thin draft, there’s no way of telling.

What Brown brings to the table is another story. It’s true that the Cavaliers will introduce three bankable names in various roles in Bennett, Jack and Bynum, but by and large the front office is still taking its sweet time, still waiting out that impending 2014 cap space, and still pondering what to do with final two years and nearly $19 million that Varejao has left on his contract. Forget LeBron, if the Cavs want to attract any big time free agent next year, they have to make Irving’s team a destination worth seeking out. A slight jump in the standings and more defensive misgivings won’t be enough.

That’s Brown’s gig. For once, he’s not a prospect nor a holdover. He’s a savior.

Is Mike Brown suited to the task of turning a franchise around from the sidelines? The Cavs have 82 games and just eight months to get it right before July hits.

Projected record: 35-47

Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine

While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.

Tune into the Cavaliers for … Kyrie Irving, duh.

I don’t expect extra credit for ingenuity here. That said, this section doesn’t demand a high degree of difficulty; sure, I could go against the grain and suggest tuning in to see if Tyler Zeller avoids becoming forgotten in a now-crowded frontcourt, but that wouldn’t pass the smell test. Plus, the Cavs’ big-picture issue – whether returning head coach Mike Brown can improve a Cleveland defense that’s ranked among the NBA’s five worst for the past three years enough to spark a playoff push – isn’t enticing enough to keep folks from channel-surfing.

Also, Eric called dibs on Andrew Bynum. (Which is fine. I got plenty of opportunities this offseason.)

That leaves me stuck singing hosannas for a guy who’s needed just 110 big-league games to establish himself as one of the league’s 20 or so best, who has led the NBA in “clutch” scoring (defined by 82games.com as points put up in the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes left and the score within five points) in both of his pro seasons, and whose phenomenal handle leaves defenders on skates, or worse, on a nightly basis. We all have our crosses to bear.

When I wrote about Irving this time last year, I noted the in-context statistical brilliance of his first season -- how only seven other first-year players had matched his per-game scoring/rebounding/assist averages, how that narrowed to just Oscar Robertson when the numbers were adjusted per 36 minutes of floor time, and how he was the only rookie among the 37 players in NBA history to shoot at least 46.9 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from 3-point range and 87.2 percent from the foul line over a full season. His percentages dipped a bit as a sophomore, but remained strong (45.2/39.1/85.5) despite taking more attempts per-36, and those marks still kept him in rarefied air.

Only three players age 22 or younger who took more than 10 total 3s have shot that well in a full season – Irving, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Kyrie and Steph have each done it twice; Kyrie, who turns 22 in March, could add a historic third this season. Irving also became one of just four players under age 25 to average at least 23 points, six assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes over a full season, joining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook. Only Irving and James did it before turning 22.

Irving has proven his bona fides as a dynamic penetrator, a creative finisher, a knockdown shooter and a fantastic ball-handler. He must, however, continue to make strides as a facilitator and defender if he’s to join the ranks of the game’s absolute best. While Brown might have his work cut out with Irving on the defensive end, the guard should stand a better chance of advancing as a floor general this season.

For one thing, he reduced his turnover rate nicely from Year 1 to Year 2, which is a nice start. For another, while he assisted on a lower percentage of teammates’ field goals last season than in his rookie campaign, this year’s Cavs – with talented top pick Anthony Bennett, the possibility of healthy interior finishers Bynum and Anderson Varejao, and another year of seasoning for lottery picks Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters – appear to have more complementary options capable of helping shoulder the scoring load and pushing Cleveland’s offensive efficiency out of the league’s bottom third. That could influence Kyrie to look for his own offense a bit less and look for his teammates a bit more. (The presence of Jarrett Jack, who’s already made clear where he thinks Cavs should set their sights, could also help Irving, who hasn’t had a veteran point guard like Jack consistently in his ear.)

The existing version of Kyrie, who’s capable of doing this:

... was already must-see TV, even on a bad team with regular 7 p.m. League Pass tip-offs. A version better equipped to strike the balance between getting his teammates involved and knowing when to take over could have the Cavs playing in front of much larger audiences much later into the spring. Miss him at your own risk.

Honorable mentions: The possible return of Bynum, who’s really good at basketball, I swear; the return of Varejao, who is fun and was arguably a top-five two-way frontcourt player before injury last season; finding out whether Thompson’s hand-switch pays major dividends during the regular season; the increasing chance of Matthew Dellavedova sticking around as Cleveland’s third point guard, because he’s a fun player and seems like a good egg.

Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion

NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.

For at least a season, Andrew Bynum has been more punchline than player, a collection of weird hairstyles rather than an All-Star and two-time champion. This is not particularly surprising — fairly or not, Bynum has come across as something of a space cadet in his career up until this point, and his lone season on the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers will likely be forgotten by anyone not expressly interested in NBA trivia.

However, if we look at the basic facts of Bynum’s current predicament, then we see a familiar case. He’s a proven talent coming off a major knee injury with the need to prove not only that he’s fully recovered but also able to succeed with a new team and unfamiliar teammates. At the same time, there are reasons to think this all could work. For the entirety of his tenure with the Lakers, Bynum had to work around established systems: the franchise’s mystique, Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, everything associated with Kobe Bryant, etc. In Cleveland, Bynum will have the chance to build something with a young core and budding star in Kyrie Irving. Bynum is in a difficult situation, but it’s also an opportunity for positive growth largely free of the pressure he experienced in Los Angeles.

That’s not to say that Bynum finds himself in an ideal position, particularly when you consider that he once seemed assured of signing a max-level contract this past summer. But it may be that we look back on Bynum’s lost 2012-13 as something more than a comic diversion. Perhaps it will serve as something more like a rebirth.

After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.

The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.

Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise

I think we can all agree that this is getting pretty ridiculous.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a splash over the summer in signing the biggest free agent the team has ever paid to have known. The franchise glommed onto former Celtics, Timberwolves, and Jazz center Al Jefferson to a three-year, $41 million deal. This, combined with another middle of the road lottery pick (last draft’s fourth overall pick, let’s be honest, is an eight or a nine in any other draft) along with the usual hoped-for internal development and yet another head coach is being banked on to …

Ah, forget it. It’s the same as it’s always been. Team owner Michael Jordan also hired his brother as Director of Player of Personnel. Because of course he did.

New coach head Steve Clifford comes with a strong pedigree, he’s done fine work on some very good teams as an assistant coach and he appears far more gregarious and communicative than Mike Dunlap, the rookie coach that the Bobcats used as a scapegoat of sorts for cobbling together a 21-win roster that eventually won 21 games. Clifford and associate head coach Patrick Ewing will once again look to work with a raw set of big men (minus Al) that may or may not ever pan out. This is the Bobcat way.

Which is unfortunate, because as a loving recent oral history of the first Hornets season in Charlotte (one that ended with 20 wins but also a parade from excited locals) documents, this should be a basketball-mad town. The issue here is due to a combination of bad lottery luck, questionable draft choices, inconsistent coaching and out and out parsimony the Bobcats will struggle to even hit 30 wins this year. That would mark just one winning season in the first 10 years of the Bobcats franchise.

Jefferson will help. He’s quite self-aware, very talented on that low left block, and signed through his prime. It’s true that the undersized Jefferson, some four and a half years removed from an ACL tear, could have some issues as he enters his 30s, but Al has been scoring over bigger foes for years, and his production should sustain.

The real issue is the rest of the lottery also-rans. Kemba Walker had a fantastic and encouraging second year in the pros last season, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked startlingly raw in his rookie year. He’s still a fascinating player to watch because of his wingspan and instincts, but his offensive skills were severely lacking last year, and nothing but a complete turnaround on that end will leave him as anything somewhat approaching an average offensive player. Gerald Henderson is solid, little else, and signed to an appropriately average salary, and it’s just about time to give up on Bismack Biyombo.

All of this leaves us dubious about Zeller, who was not particularly dominant down the stretch of his final season at Indiana. Were Zeller to trade places with, say, Alex Len as the first draft choice of the analytics-driven new Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, our take might be cheerier. But because we still have no clue as to who has the final say in Charlotte – between GM Rich Cho, the two Jordans, and President Rod Higgins – we’re left to fall back on history. And outside of Walker, with MKG still coming around, history has not left us with much to get excited over.

All Bobcats fans want is stretches of competence, and not the 14-56 swoon that finished last season, or the record-setting 7-59 turn that the team came through with in 2011-12. There is reason to tune in this year – Jefferson will have his way despite the team’s iffy outside shooting, Kidd-Gilchrist’s drive and unique style could turn into something special, Walker could be a starter or third guard on a very good team, and Zeller could follow through on his promise – but by and large the ceiling is still very, very low. With a rookie coach. And an owner that seems to meddle too much in between fits of parsimony and free spending.

Bobcats basketball, basically. Something that will probably carry over even after they change their name.

Projected record: 25-57


Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine

While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.

Tune into the Bobcats for … the breathless pursuit of a not-bottom-10 offense.

This might not surprise you, but it is true: In nine seasons as a thing, the Bobcats have never fielded anything even approaching a league-average offense. They’ve finished dead last among the NBA’s 30 teams in points scored per 100 possessions once (in the historically awful 2011-12 run to 7-59), 28th three times (their first two seasons and last year) and 27th twice (‘06-’07 and ’08-’09). Charlotte’s best single-season finish came in 2007-08, when the Bobcats posted the NBA’s 23rd-ranked offense and a 30-52 record; Queen City residents have not seen middle-of-the-road scoring since the Hornets headed to Louisiana.

They probably won’t see one until after the Hornets return, either, but the Bobcats could make a move toward vaulting out of the league’s bottom 10 and toward respectability, if nothing else, thanks to the offseason addition of organizing offensive principle Al Jefferson. (Provided, of course, he’s able to come back none the worse for wear from a preseason ankle injury.)

Big Al knows all about bad offenses -- he first got major minutes during the Boston Celtics’ tank-tastic 2006-07 season, which Doc Rivers’ squad finished as the league’s third-worst group, and he played on bottom-10 teams in each of his three years with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But he comes east after serving as the offensive focal point of Utah Jazz teams that finished 14th in the league in scoring efficiency in 2010-11, seventh in ’11-’12 and 12th last year. If Jefferson can prove capable of routinely generating scoring opportunities when single-covered in the post -- his calling card throughout a nine-year NBA career -- then opposing coaches will have to choose between staying home on the perimeter and letting Al go to work or bringing help to the post, which creates chances for kick-outs, ball-swings and more open looks for his teammates.

Successfully working inside out figures to be critical for a Bobcats team that doesn’t have a ton of long-range shooting to spread the floor. Only reserve shooting guard Ben Gordon has been a consistently above-average 3-point shooter in his career. There are chances for improvement, though -- both point man Kemba Walker and re-signed wing Gerald Henderson nudged their accuracy north last year, small forward Jeffery Taylor was only a bit below league-average as a rookie, and reserve guards Ramon Sessions and Jannero Pargo (while inconsistent) have shown flashes of long-range proficiency in the past. Besides, those Utah squads weren’t chock full of snipers either, and they were still able to generate spacing and scoring chances with well-executed sets, timely cuts and sound passing.

New head coach Steve Clifford will have his work cut out for him in replicating that functionality, but installing a left-block centerpiece off of whom Walker, Henderson, second-year workhorse Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and others can cut, dive and operate should help. It could also allow for some high-low combinations with deft-passing power forward Josh McRoberts, and maybe open up space for rookie Cody Zeller to showcase his off-the-bounce athleticism and face-up game on the opposite side of the floor.

A Bobcats offense that hasn’t had a go-to player since 2009-10 Stephen Jackson and has never had a legitimate paint presence now has bot; as a result, Charlotte now has a chance to show some signs of life. (Offensively, at least.) Probably not enough to be middle-of-the-pack and certainly not enough to contend for a postseason berth, but maybe, on good nights, enough to actually be watchable. That, sadly, represents progress.

Honorable mentions: Kemba mixing dudes and pulling up; MKG dunking very loudly; Zeller’s athleticism in transition; that classic Pargo-to-McBob magic.

Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion

NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.

The Bobcats have been so bad of late that it’s somewhat difficult to know exactly what many of their players are good at, or how they may fit into a functional basketball team. That is especially true of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the 2012 draft’s second-overall pick and a player who doesn’t necessarily project as a big-time scorer. On last season’s Bobcats, MKG was perhaps saddled with too many scoring expectations, and he responded with middling stats.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s 2013-14 season could be quite different, if only because the Bobcats have added a decent first option in Al Jefferson and should have something resembling an NBA offense. In this system, MKG can at least hope to build an identity without taking on too much responsibility too soon. Ideally, he projects as a player somewhat like what Andre Iguodala has become in recent years: a third or fourth scoring option who contributes in virtually every possible aspect of the game, defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer and simply outworking most everyone else. Kidd-Gilchrist has a long way to go to get to that point, but the path now seems clearer than it did in his rookie season.

It’s as yet undetermined if MKG can fill that role well enough to justify his lofty draft position, and it’s possible that a lack of gaudy statistics will cast him as a bust very early in his career. However, that designation seems all too theoretical in the context of his budding career. What Kidd-Gilchrist needs, more than anything, is tangible progress, in whatever form becomes available to him.

After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.

The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.

Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise

The Miami Heat are a walking and talking embodiment of an NBA stereotype. The team was cobbled together by a high profile former coaching star, the team made a point to work in a party-hearty, warm weather climate, and genuinely nothing of any importance will happen to the Miami Heat until the playoffs start in April. And really, because these are the Heat, the playoffs won’t really start until May. You really can take the regular season off with these guys.

Of course, if you do that, you may just miss out on the finest individual season ever put together by an NBA basketball player.

LeBron James turns 29 just before the start of the New Year, and he is in his basketball prime. The reigning MVP has eliminated just about every negative aspect (for James, this should read, “merely above average aspect”) of his game, with only a Jordan-level free throw stroke (James shot 75 percent last season and just under 78 percent in the playoffs) left to work his way toward. That’s it. His spot-up shooting from long range was amongst the league’s best last year. His defense is superb. He’s worked his way around issues recognizing collapsing zone defenses. He trusts himself in the post. It’s over, and he’s won.

This certainly doesn’t sign the Heat up for a guaranteed third consecutive championship, but if the Heat helpers stay reasonably healthy, and James can offer just under 3,000 minutes of work with a 30 or so Player Efficiency Rating, the Heat will likely once again end up with the league’s best record, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. This means that any NBA preview discussion regarding the Heat is about as useful as predicting how the playoffs are going to go in the third week in April. We’re all waiting the season out to see if the Pacers or Bulls can give the Heat a run in the East, and if the West can knock together a winner that can stay healthy enough to down the champs in June.

You still need to watch, though.

The Heat are thinner than ever. Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade are a year older, Chris Andersen came into camp in iffy shape, and Mario Chalmers won’t be stepping in as the hero any time soon. A proud and cerebral Udonis Haslem is on his last legs, and sadly we don’t know if Greg Oden has a healthy left leg to stand on. Mike Miller is gone. Shane Battier seems to alternate 10-15 bursts and 2-18 swoons from long range, and there’s only so much Erik Spoelstra can do.

Which is why LeBron will have to step up for six regular season months, and also why he’ll probably put together another year for the ages. Assuming he’s working off the same career arc that seemed to take hold when he decided to stop straying and down the Boston Celtics by his lonesome in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

From there, the guesswork is all up to the opponents in the East, and whoever comes out of the West. The Chicago Bulls worked without home court advantage in both the 1993 Conference finals and Finals, and the 1998 NBA Finals as they chased down a three-peat. The 1991 Pistons were swept, as were the 1989 and 2011 Los Angeles Lakers, as all three attempted a three-peat. The San Antonio Spurs, team of their era, has yet to win two straight.

That’s all for May, and likely June. For now, with their position atop the East just about assured, and LeBron’s rightful one-time critics silenced, we can actually enjoy the games for once without the thoughts of legacy bugging us along the way.

At least until someone brings up LeBron becoming a free agent again, I suppose …

Projected record: 60-22


Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine

While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.

Tune into the Heat for … I mean, come on.

They employ LeBron James, who is the best basketball player in the world. He is a force of nature who “sets the boundary of human possibility,” a man at the peak of his powers who responded to the biggest challenge of his career with 37, 12 and a W, and an all-time great who now plays, as a friend of mine put it, to limit the conversation to him, Jordan and Russell. He is worth the price of admission and subscription every night, a playmaker for himself and others on a level rarely seen in the history of the sport; if we allow questions about eventual destinations, one-on-one against ghosts and imaginary final shots to obscure that reality, we are blowing it.

They employ Dwyane Wade, who is one of the most talented and ferocious players of the past decade. He is a fighter whose great performances are a bit fewer and farther between than they used to be, but still pack a hell of a punch when they come. He’s worth watching for those, but maybe even more so to trace the coming steps in his evolution as he turns 32, blows past 30,000 career pro minutes and continues to rage against the dying of his knee.

They employ Chris Bosh, who is perhaps the game’s most overlooked and salt-sprinkled linchpin -- the versatile big man whose length, quickness, shooting and passing touch, understanding of offensive spacing and defensive instincts have been nearly as instrumental in Miami’s ability to change gears between big and small mid-stream in games and series without missing a beat. He’s worth watching for that, but also because he does something weird and hilarious, intentionally or otherwise, just about every night.

They employ Ray Allen, maybe the best shooter of all time and a marksman who shows no signs of slowing down as he cruises past age 38 en route to the left corner, where he is the most dangerous man ever. Their trick-or-treat point guard is hilariously self-confident, and sometimes backs it up. Their bench includes “a crazy-ass white boy” who shot 80 percent from the fieldin the playoffs, two of the most fascinating reclamation projects in recent memory, and one of the steadiest and smartest guys in the game. Even the guys they bring in for camp do fun stuff.

They won 27 straight games last year. No, for real: they didn’t lose for almost two months. You didn’t imagine that.

The Heat are explosive when running the floor and surgical when they want to slow down. They can score on and stop anyone. Beating them requires opponents to play amazing basketball; as a result, we get to watch stuff like the Knicks hitting 18 3s or ‘Melo scoring 50, or the Bulls snapping the streak and pulling a Game 1 stunner, or the Warriors and Paul George introducing themselves to the world, or the entire last two series of the last postseason.

They’re prompting evolution on both sides of the ball; they’re trying to become just the fifth team in pro hoops history to win three straight titles; and they’re doing so under the threat of it all coming apart in a hail of early termination options in nine months’ time. You should tune into the Heat because, on just about every level, they’re the most fascinating entity in professional basketball. But you already knew that.

Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion

NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.

The biggest problem with previewing the Miami Heat is that whatever they do in the regular season is mostly meaningless. No matter where they finish in the East standings, their postseason finish will ultimately judge their season. A two-time defending champion creates new expectations for itself.

Nevertheless, the health of Dwyane Wade should be a subject of conversation throughout this season. In last spring’s playoffs, Wade looked capable of playing up to his usual high standard in only short bursts, taking over games (or at least attempting to impose himself on the action) in spots rather than over the course of 48 minutes. It was a sign, perhaps, that the nine-time All-Star, who turns 32 in January, is entering a new era in his career, one where he’s not so much an All-NBA talent as a really great player every team would love to employ.

Wade, to his credit, seems to understand that he’s not what he used to be, having accepted the ascendance of LeBron James in the Heat’s hierarchy and becoming quite forthcoming regarding his injury history. But talking about these things is very different than allowing one’s self to appear diminished on the court for a protracted period of time. If Erik Spoelstra attempts to limit Wade’s minutes in the hope of saving him for the regular season, it’s possible that the star’s ego will suffer the consequences. At the same time, Wade could be better suited to shine in the games that matter most to Miami. Wade wants to win, but he’s also used to being near the center of attention. It remains to be seen if he can accept that tradeoff over several months.

Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:

Atlanta HawksBoston CelticsBrooklyn NetsCharlotte BobcatsChicago BullsCleveland CavaliersDetroit PistonsIndiana PacersMiami HeatMilwaukee BucksNew York KnicksOrlando MagicPhiladelphia 76ersToronto Raptors

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