The Cleveland Cavaliers will start the 2015-16 NBA season as the undisputed favorites to win and come out of the Eastern Conference, however, that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing straight out of the gate. In fact there’s every reason for the team to be preparing to get off to a slow start.
When a team has this much talent and was an NBA Finalist, it’s easy to forget just how rough last season was and this summer has been on their roster. Question marks abound and uncomfortable situations have been the norm. If it takes a while for this group to find their feet and gel as a unit, no one should be surprised.
No less than starting point guard Kyrie Irving, starting power forward Kevin Love, one-time starting center Anderson Varejao and last year’s starting center Timofey Mozgov are all expected to be back (eventually) after serious injuries. The player and the team can say everything is going great and the rehab is on schedule, but nothing is a sure thing until the player gets on the court and puts a few games under their belt.
It’s already been announced that Irving (broken knee cap) might not be back until January and while that’s not a disaster, the Cavs won’t be at full strength without him. A good enough reason to expect a slower than ideal start all on its own. Add to that the Cavs will be monitoring (just say limiting) his minutes on his return per Rotoworld.
Everyone remembers Love’s separated shoulder in the playoffs. The good news was Love continued to be a coveted free agent and the Cavs believed in him enough to re-sign him to a max deal. The bad news has been Love has remained very limited in what he could do well into August (and beyond?) There likely won’t be a reliable assessment possible of Love’s condition until the team starts practicing again. He should be okay for the start of the season, but as with any serious injury, you don’t really know until you know.
Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles last year making it five seasons in a row this once annoyingly effective center has seen his season cut short by injury. There is no question a healthy Varejao makes the Cavs better and his contract runs for three more seasons, so they need him to stay on the court, but can you trust his health at this point? He is expected to be ready for training camp per Rotoworld, but…
The bad news just kept coming for Cleveland this summer as Mosgov went under the knife in July for arthroscopic knee surgery per Rotoworld. He’s supposed to be back in action before training camp – is this starting to sound familiar? That makes three key big man on the mend. Maybe taking things slow in November wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Then there’s the free agents. Perhaps the only player that really mattered was LeBron James and he got his deal his way guaranteeing the Cavs will be in the playoff mix next April. Everything else is just setting the table for how far the Cavs can go in the postseason. Then Love got his deal, but things kind of got off the rails after that.
The Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith free agent gyrations made for good reading, but neither player was really in much of a position to get upset about the bargaining process. It was an all’s well that ends well situation, but is Tristan Thompson really going to be a happy camper in Cleveland after this summer?
Everyone thought a deal had been finalized during the July Moratorium, but not so fast, Thompson wants a max deal to be Love’s backup and the team doesn’t want to make that big of a commitment. As the starting power forward for the bulk of the Cavs impressive playoff run, Thompson is justified in wanting to get paid if he’s to be slotted in as Love’s backup and if needed injury replacement as that’s not the best way to advance his career. So this situation could drag out right up until training camp and it could take longer than just a few weeks to smooth over the hard feelings if Thompson signs the qualifying offer instead of getting the deal he feels he’s earned.
The amount of money and luxury tax being discussed in the Thompson proposal isn’t something the Cavs can just gloss over, but there has to be some nervousness on the part of ownership, management and even by the coaches if Thompson comes in cranky and one or two of their other bigs aren’t really ready to go yet. Even if the Russian free agent Sasha Kaun is on board and ready to play, the Cavs could look more than a little thin up front at the start of the season.
Every season is a fresh adventure and no one is promised an easy route to the NBA Finals, so getting off to a slow start shouldn’t raise too many concerns in Cleveland. They did, after all, go through a rough patch at the start of last season that almost no one remembers now.