Every year the fine folks over at CelticsBlog set up a running feature of NBA blogger previews for every team in the NBA. Today is the Cavalier’s day to go under the microscope, so we offer up our team preview below.
2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers Preview
Last Year’s Record: 66-16
Key Losses: Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Sasha Pavlovic, Tarence Kinsey
Key Additions: Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Leon Powe, Jamario Moon, Danny Green
1. What significant moves were made in the offseason?
As Cavalier fans have grown accustomed to now, GM Danny Ferry once again refused to be passive in the offseason and went to work on improving a team that went 66-16 last season, but simply wasn’t good enough to beat Orlando in the playoffs. When you just look at the difference in caliber between the players lost and the players gained, you gain a greater appreciation for just how successful Ferry was in his mission.
I’ve heard plenty of analysts suggest they weren’t impressed with Cleveland’s offseason, but I think they’re missing the big picture here. Last year in the playoffs, the Cavaliers’ starting unit wasn’t the problem. The problem was when the Cavs needed to go to the bench, they were bringing in guys like Szczerbiak, Pavlovic, Gibson, and Wallace and asking them to make a meaningful contribution. It was asking too much of below average basketball players. Now this year, when the Cavs need to go to the bench in the playoffs, they’ll be bringing in guys like Delonte West (hopefully), Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, and a vastly improved JJ Hickson. These are guys who can contribute. Many of them were starters last year. This Cavs team is the deepest team this city has ever had, and the hope Ferry has is that the depth will keep guys fresh and give Mike Brown the needed flexibility to match up with almost any type of opponent.
2. What are the Cavaliers’ biggest strengths?
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.
The other strength for the Cavaliers, of course, is their defense. Last season the Cavaliers were 1st in opponents ppg, 1st in opponents FG%, 1st in opponents 3pt%, 3rd in Defensive Rating (pts allowed per 100 possessions), and 2nd in opponents eFG%. The Cavaliers defense was all around great all season, and that was with Wally Szczerbiak playing 20.6 minutes per game. This year, the Cavs’ defense could be even better. You add Shaq who will be more of a presence in the middle against strong opponents than Ilgauskas was, and then you add Parker, Moon, and Powe (all good defenders) and suddenly this team has the potential to be even better defensively than they were last season.
3. What are the Cavaliers’ biggest weaknesses?
About a month ago, the answer to this would have been depth at power forward. After Anderson Varejao, there was some question as to who would be the guy to get minutes. The choices were an underachieving JJ Hickson or an under talented Darnell Jackson. However, that was before we heard about LeBron taking Hickson under his wing this summer and bringing JJ on the road with him wherever he went. LeBron worked with Hickson all summer, showing him discipline and teaching him what it means to have a work ethic. We’re seeing immediate results this camp as Hickson truly looks to have taken the leap and is starting to look like the impact player we thought he could he could be when the Cavs drafted him last year. A serious injury to any PF on this team will still create a problem, but the Cavs at least appear to have found a suitable backup for Varejao.
Which leaves the biggest weakness as PG depth. This weakness has been magnified since Delonte West’s arrest last month and his subsequent disappearances from the team in training camp so far. As of right now, the Cavs don’t have a true backup for Mo Williams. Daniel Gibson will be asked to play PG, but he’s really more of a SG than PG. Anthony Parker has played some PG in the past, so he may have to step in, and LeBron has been known to play Point Forward a lot as well. Last year it was Delonte who anchored the second unit by filling in for Mo at the point. The question marks surrounding Delonte’s personal issues are creating a major weakness in this otherwise solid roster.
4 What are the goals for this team?
There are simply no other goals for this team than to win the title. Period. End of sentence.
Last year the Cavaliers enjoyed a miraculous regular season in which they not only won their first division title, but they also finished with the best record in the NBA. They were genuinely happy at the time for achieving those goals, but this year will be different. That’s simply not good enough for this team, and this season it will be Championship or Bust.
5. What are the Cavaliers going to do without Delonte West?
This is such a sad and unfortunate situation for both Delonte and the Cavs. On the one hand, you feel bad for even thinking about how this affects the team on the court because Delonte truly seems to be a troubled soul who is really going through a rough ordeal right now. First and foremost, you just want Delonte to be healthy mentally and to find a way to be happy. If that means not playing basketball, that has to be ok with all of us, players and fans alike.
But alas, it’s impossible not to start thinking about what this means for the Cavaliers. In a perfect world, things will work out like they did last fall, when Delonte missed some time in training camp, but showed up rejuvenated when the season started and enjoyed the best year of his professional career. We already know Delonte is going to be suspended by the NBA for some amount of time due to his arrest, but we still don’t know how much time he’s going to need away from the team to deal with his personal issues.
The loss on the court is going to be felt by the Cavaliers enormously. With losing 3 of their top 5 three-point shooters (Szczerbiak, Pavlovic, and Kinsey), that leaves only Mo and Delonte. With Parker here now, that gives you 3 people who can shoot the three, and you hope that Daniel Gibson can re-find his shot. But without Delonte, the team is going to be a little thin on distance shooters.
The biggest loss, though, is in Delonte’s intangibles. He was 2nd on the team in steals last year, 3rd in assists, 4th in eFG%, and 4th in Win Shares. Delonte was 2nd on the Cavs in Net On/Off +/- Rating and was 10th in the entire NBA in that stat. The defense last year was a net –7.3 points per 100 possessions worse with Delonte on the bench than with him on the court. His replacement in the starting lineup, Parker, had a defensive net of just –0.9 with the Raptors last year. Ideally that number will improve with a better defensive roster in Cleveland, but that’s still a question that needs to be answered.
I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen this year with Delonte. If he can play and be the same old Delonte we know and love, this Cavalier team is going to be very, very good. If he’s not able to play, though, the Cavaliers are going to have some issues. Even if Parker plays great and makes Delonte’s loss in the starting lineup negligible, you still have questions in the 2nd unit. Daniel Gibson is an enormous step down from having Delonte or Parker coming off the bench. You can have Jamario Moon play the 2, but then that starts thinning out the team in other places. In other words, the Cavaliers deep down inside have to praying every day that Delonte can come back to the team and be a contributor.
Last year, everything went right for the Cavaliers. They rarely had multiple players injured at the same time, went 39-2 at home, went 26-4 against the Western Conference, and ran over their own Central Division with a 13-3 record. On paper this year’s version of the team is deeper, more talented, and should have the ability to be an all around better team than last year.
That’s on paper, though. The pessimist inside me worries about the team being able to stay healthy all year. There are a lot of teams in the East who look much improved this year as well. Then you have questions about Mike Brown’s ability to find a way to use all the different offensive players. And not to mention the whole Delonte West issue and the lack of depth at PG.
A part of me really does think this team is capable of winning close to 70 games this year if everything goes right. But the realist in me says that the odds of everything working out right for the 2nd year in a row are slim. So with that in mind, even though I think this year’s team is better, I think they are going to be less focused on the regular season and more focused on the postseason, and as a result, they will be one game worse this year.
My final prediction: 65-17