The Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors was inseparable from the stars missing from the starting lineup. With Kevin Love out since the end of the first round, Game 1's late injury to an already hobbled Kyrie Irving gave the Cavs few options and required they receive a superhuman performance from LeBron James to stay competitive. While it's likely that the Warriors would have won the series anyway, the Cavs were forced into compromise as soon as Irving suffered the fractured left knee cap that ended his season.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Projections for the upcoming 2015-16 season have understandably focused on what Cleveland might look like with a healthy Irving and Love back on a loaded roster with impressive year-to-year continuity. However, it appears that the Cavs will opt to wait to get Irving back into the lineup — perhaps even until January. From Chris Haynes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
Multiple league sources say his rehabilitation is going smoothly, but that the chances are slim of him being in the opening-night lineup against the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 27. One source said he could very well be unavailable up until January.
When the three-time All-Star underwent surgery in early June, his recovery time was set at 3-4 months. Assuming he is sidelined outside of that four-month window, the thinking is that it would have everything to do with the Cavaliers being patient and cautious rather than the injury not healing.
The Cavaliers want to bring him back slowly without risking a setback, with the goal of being at full strength entering the playoffs.
At his basketball camp in July, Irving said, "I'm honestly not putting a date on anything. People are going to put a date regardless. I'm just continuing to be on the journey I've been on, and that's continuing to get better every single day and rehabbing my leg."
Bringing Irving along slowly is a luxury that few teams would have the opportunity to make. As the clear class of the East, the Cavaliers can afford to let him get back into top form and not risk further injury while playing well enough to stay in one of the conference's top two or three playoff spots with backups Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova taking on the bulk of the point guard minutes. The Cavs would absolutely miss Irving's scoring under this scenario, but the presence of LeBron solves many issues and will ensure that they will not move on without top-level shot creation. Plus, Kyrie's absence could allow the Cavs to make Love a bigger part of the offense and not just a glorified stretch four, a problem throughout his first season with the club.
The potential downside is that Irving returns to a team that has developed without him and struggles to reintegrate himself into the Cavs' attack. Although Williams will be a solid fill-in as an offensive-minded backup, he obviously cannot match Irving's prowess off the dribble and overall scoring ability. If Love takes on a greater offensive role, then it could be because Irving isn't there to get in his way. What happens when they're all back together again?
These questions deserve thought, but they're also not extremely pressing given that a very late January return would still give head coach David Blatt, his staff, and James more than two months to prepare for the postseason. (Even that timeline does not factor in what should be a straightforward first-round playoff series against an overmatched opponent.) Unlike Western Conference title contenders, the Cavs have a wide margin for error up until they reach the end of May and June. As long as Irving doesn't suffer medical setbacks, any delay in his return may matter more to fantasy drafts than to the Cavs' ability to compete for a title.
- - - - - - -