The annual CelticsBlog NBA Blogger Previews are underway, and the Cavaliers are on the clock. Our preview of the Cavaliers is below. For all the other previews from Cavaliers bloggers, check for the list of Cavaliers previews over at CelticsBlog.
Last Years Record: 45-37
Key Losses: Joe Smith, Damon Jones, Devin Brown
Key Additions: Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson, Darnell Jackson, Tarence Kinsey, Lorenzen Wright
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason? The first thing Danny Ferry did this offseason was re-sign Daniel Gibson to a very team-friendly long term deal. However, the most visible move the Cavaliers made was trading Joe Smith and Damon Jones for Mo Williams. The move was key because the Cavs held on to Delonte West and Daniel Gibson while adding a true starting PG in Williams. However, the re-signing of Delonte West was a close 2nd on the scale of importance for the Cavaliers. West is a fierce competitor and a versatile guard who can fill in either backcourt position. West will allow Mike Brown to get creative with his substitution and rotation patterns as West is able to both create his own shot offensively as well as play tough defense. The Joe Smith trade means that the Cavaliers are going to have to rely on rookie first round draft pick J.J. Hickson. Hickson was a pleasant surprise in the Summer League and other offseason camps he participated in, and with no real depth at the 4 or 5 behind Ilgauskas, Wallace, and Varejao, it means that Hickson is going to have to learn the pro game awfully quick, at least until Danny Ferry can trade Szczerbiak’s expiring contract for a serviceable power forward. Tarence Kinsey is sort of a wild card. It’s well-documented how well he played in the 2nd half of his rookie year with Memphis, averaging 17.23 ppg in the final 13 games of the 2006-07 season. Kinsey was buried in the Grizzlies’ loaded backcourt and after just 11 games he was released and signed in Turkey. If Kinsey can recapture anything even remotely close to what he did in 2006-07 this season, he will be a really nice bargain basement pickup for the Cavaliers.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? Defense and rebounding, of course, are the team’s absolute biggest strengths. Prior to the big deadline trade the team was not playing great defense, but with this current group of players, the defense intensified greatly. In fact, in the playoffs last year, the Cavs gave up only 87.8 ppg and were first in Postseason Defensive Efficiency. Going into training camp as a complete team with no holdouts should help the team come out and play solid defense again all season. Another strength for the team is backcourt depth. Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, and Tarence Kinsey will all be fighting for minutes, and while none of them are necessarily All-Stars, they do give the Cavs a lot of depth and a lot of options depending on who is hot on any given night.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? Frontcourt depth could very well be the Cavs’ biggest weakness this season. The only proven big men the Cavaliers have are Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, and Anderson Varejao. Lorenzen Wright is unlikely to have much to offer at all, and Darnell Jackson is unlikely to be ready to play yet. A lot of pressure will be on J.J. Hickson to pick up the NBA game and the Cavaliers’ defensive rotations quickly, as the Cavs will need him to be able to contribute meaningful minutes. Finding an offensive system in general is another weakness on this team. Entering into his 4th season as head coach, Mike Brown has yet to find a way to get the team to run any kind of offense whatsoever, and the stats bear that out. In his first 3 seasons as coach the Cavs have ranked 15th, 19th, and 24th in points per game, despite having one of the league’s premiere offensive players in LeBron James. The regression of offense is a trend Mike Brown needs to get turned around this season for the Cavaliers to rise out of relative mediocrity.
4. What are the goals for this team? The first goal should be to unseat the Pistons as Central Division champs. Since the switch to the 3 division format, the Pistons have claimed the Central Division crown every single season. With an aging roster and an organization in a bit of flux, now may be the prime time for the Cavaliers to take the next step and dethrone the Pistons. As long as LeBron is wearing the Cleveland jersey, the goal for his teams will never be anything less than an NBA Championship.
5. Final 2008-09 Outlook? LeBron got a taste of winning a title at the highest level when he helped lead Team USA to the gold in Beijing. If LeBron looks to carry over the intensity he played with in the Olympics, this could be a big year for the Cavaliers. Mo Williams give the Cavaliers their first legit PG probably since they let Andre Miller walk away. With Daniel Gibson providing steady outside shooting, Delonte West and Anderson Varejao providing the intangibles, Ben Wallace clinging to whatever he has left in his tank to play as solid defense as he can, and with Zydrunas Ilgauskas still playing at an above average level, this is probably the strongest team LeBron has had around him since he entered the NBA. The Celtics are still the favorites in the East, and on paper the Pistons are probably still the favorites to win the Central, but after pushing the Celtics to 7 games last year in the Eastern Conference Semis and with the addition of Mo Williams, the Cavs are looking at the sky as their limit as they head into this pivotal season for this franchise.
Predicted Record: 50-32, 2nd in the Central, 3rd in the East