This is certainly a painful time for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans. We are losing in bunches and showing no signs of life as far as wins and losses go. The real focus though should be that the Cavs are a very different team today than they were over a week ago.
Dion Waiters is gone. I was a huge supporter of Dion but the final result of the trades make sense for Cleveland. They turned Dion Waiters and one additional first round pick into J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Now I will admit that the one additional first round pick was a very valuable one (the Memphis pick) but it was still worth the price. It is well documented that the Cavs needed a rim protector, wing defender, and would need to try and replace Dion’s potential offensively if they traded him. The players they received, while not of All Star caliber, are solid players that fill those needs.
I am not going to try and sell the concept that these acquisitions make the Cavaliers a complete team or that they are now invincible. The Cavs have little knowledge how to play together, still have a long way to learn what Blatt expects of them, and need to stay healthy. None of those issues are easily conquered, but the Cavs have time to improve on the ones they can control.
The focus needs to be on the skill, talent and flexibility the current roster provides for David Blatt. Cleveland can now play small and big when needed. Matchups will be more effective and defense more consistent. One other thing that might go unnoticed is that the Cavs can now match up with a defensive lineup if needed. Irving, Shumpert, LeBron, Marion, and Mozgov can potentially be a lineup they could go to if defensive stops are needed.
What the team needs now is to get healthy and get LeBron back. The LeBron part looks soon. The Shumpert part a bit further. Once healthy, we just have to hope for a run where the team can play together for awhile. If that doesn’t happen, I am not sure that the Cavs can get the consistency needed to go deep in the playoffs. So this next stretch especially after Shumpert comes back will be critical.
The fact that the team is getting schooled by a sub .500 team tonight so far is evidence that time is needed for them to play together. They look very disjointed and the fact that they don’t know how to run plays or work together is showing up big time. So I really feel that time together will be the Cavs only chance of really progressing even though the pieces fit much better now.
The interesting thing about all of this is that I feel better about the Cavs now than I did at the beginning of the year. I thought expectations were too high, with some predictions of 70 wins or more being ridiculous. I was worried about all of the “secondary nonstories” that would swirl around the team such as Blatt being fired, Love leaving, LeBron leaving, and all the other stuff that was predictable before the season even started. I also was cautious about the comparisons between the 14-15 Cavs and the Miami Heat 4 years ago. I knew they would never look good.
What I would like to compare for those who have the stomach for it, is the Miami Heat in 14-15 with the Cavs of 14-15. Miami has one main loss from last year when they won the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is not there. They added Deng, McRoberts, and Napier. The Heat is 16-21 right now. The Cavs added LeBron James (and a whole lot of other stuff) and are sitting likely at .500, 19-19. Also, James has been out for more games than ever in his career during the regular season. So, essentially, the Heat lost James and added Deng and they went from being the best team in the Eastern Conference to now looking at 16-21. The Cavs, without any continuity of teammates, multiple injuries, and no James for awhile are limping around at 19-19.
Which team is actually in the worse shape?? The Heat still have the “Big Two”?? But without James are, at best, ordinary. Last year they won the East and went to the wire in the finals. So it does seem that LeBron James makes a huge difference on teams. In addition, James has been hurt most of the year and not playing quite as efficiently as he usually does.
So I am willing to wait for the Cavs to get James back and get Shumpert integrated before I just lose all hope that this team can rise up and challenge for the East title even this year. I know that seems very unlikely now but the roster is much more balanced and time has not run out. As solid veteran NBA writer Sam Amick wrote recently, the Cavs may be down but they are not out.