A LeBron James-led opening day at the Corner of Huron and Ontario

1The summer went by in a blink, didn’t it?

It’s hard to believe that the Cleveland Cavaliers will be taking the court at Quicken Loans Arena tomorrow night, and it’s even more hard to believe who will be stepping foot on that court donning Cleveland Cavaliers’ jerseys.

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are back, as are Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.

Oh, and so is LeBron James.

Remember him?

In tow with James comes Kevin Love and Mike Miller and James Jones and Shawn Marion.

Running the team from the bench is the best EuroCoach, David Blatt, and the highest paid assistant coach is right next to him in Tyronn Lue.

Boy what a difference a year makes, right?

It’s days like this that bring out the kid in me. The beginning of any season in any sport is special, but the beginning of this season with these Cleveland Cavaliers is particularly indulgent for any fan.

LeBron is home, and there really isn’t a story any more unique than that. While many will talk about the whens and the whys, and while others will bring up burnt jerseys and comic sans, I’ll be reveling in watching #23 dominate a basketball game with the wine and gold on. I’ll be enjoying Kevin Love threes and Dion Waiters finishes and Kyrie Irving finally becoming the point guard he was meant to be.

I’ll watch Shawn Marion and his bent fingers, and Mike Miller and his weird hair and think, “How did this happen?”

The answer doesn’t matter, because it did.

Quicken Loans arena is adorned by some amazing banners of the current Cleveland Cavaliers. The city is adorned by a slew of LeBron and #KLove banners as well, and on Thursday, LeBron James will once again adorn the Sherwin Williams Co. Building in 10-stories of glory.

I do wonder what this season will bring though. While there are visions of championships dancing in my head, I wonder what will happen if unrealistic expectations aren’t met. Will Cleveland fans turn on their former boy wonder if a title doesn’t come home, or if the Cavs aren’t a force in the regular season?

My fears are far from at the forefront though. Instead, I’m giddy with the excitement of a Cleveland Cavaliers season basking in the relevancy that the best player in the NBA brings, and I couldn’t be happier.

For the first time all year, I’ve taken a really good look at YOUR Cleveland Cavaliers, and I’m ready to proclaim them Eastern Conference favorites. I know what LeBron James has been saying in the press.ith every chance he’s had. Bron has stated that the Cavaliers aren’t the best team in the East, and aren’t really all that good in comparison to the upper echelon in the NBA.

He’s not lying…sorta.

Make no bones about it, the process of “creating this year’s Cavaliers” is going to be a process. There are certainly holes and imperfections that will need to be mended as the year progresses.

Even so, this team is a top five team in either conference. When it’s all said and done, they could be the best.

I know, I know, the Spurs are out there, as are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers. You could even throw in the Chicago Bulls if you wanted to. There are other good teams, but the top five are a mix of the Cavs, and the rest I just mentioned.

Right now.

I’m not saying that the Cavs aren’t going to go through their growing pains. They most certainly are.

But we’re talking about LeBron James.

Blatt’s Princeton offense needs a player that can screen, hit shots and crash the boards. Do you know anyone on the Cavs that might be able to do this? In Kevin Love, David Blatt received a give that may prove to be more important than LeBron James. Okay…almost as important as LeBron James.

On top of that, while they have defensive deficiencies, they should be the best rebounding team in the league, and by a mile. Kevin Love may be the best rebounder in the league, and if Varejao stays healthy, he is a top ten guy too. I like Tristan Thompson’s ability on the glass, and let’s not forget about LeBron James, who can put up a triple-double up at any time.

For years, the Cavaliers couldn’t shoot the basketball. It killed several LeBron-led teams, and in the post-LeBron era, it’s been painful.

This team will be able to shoot, and really well.

LeBron can shoot.

Kyrie can shoot.

Dion can shoot.

Love can shoot.

Mike Miller can shoot.

James Jones can shoot.

Don’t forget about Ray Allen, who will no doubt be lurking after about 20 games, ready to sign a deal.

What I really get excited about are when Blatt begins messing with the lineup in special situations. Imagine a scenario where Miller replaces the big for a couple minute stretch. How do you stop that lineup?

You don’t.

Obviously, the big hole on this team is their defense. This team will have to overwhelm others offensively, but I’m curious about David Blatt and his talk about versatility. We’ll see the Cavs play zone. We’ll see the Cavs playing that “Mike Brown-ish” defense in which the big men jump out on pick and rolls. We’ll see the Chicago-style defense, and we’ll see plenty of jump-switching.

In other words, Blatt knows how to coach.

It will be interesting to watch the defense develop over the year, and it’s equally likely that the Cavs will employ a defense that looks a little like Miami’s last year, and a little like the L.A. Clippers, where Tyronn Lue was brought over from.

Who are we kidding though. It’s all about the offense. When Kevin Love is around the arc, it’s going to be tasty. If the Cavs work the ball around to mix up the defense, get Love moving to the arc for a pick-and-roll, with LeBron or Kyrie, it’s a free bucket.

Picture LeBron posting up, and Dion and Kyrie slashing to the hoop.

On top of all that, picture the Cavs on the offensive glass. How many chances will this team get per possession?

It’s going to be special.

The only question is that defense. Can the Cavs craft a defense that will be in the top half of the league by the time the playoffs roll around?

That’s not an easy question to answer, but…if they do, they’re the best team in the East, and they could push the West as well. If that defense can touch upon the top 10-12, they will win the title…this year.

Kevin Love is really good. Last year, Love was fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating and third in total win shares. He is deadly from the outside (career 36.2 percent from behind the arc), and is aggressive when on either block. He has to be double teamed offensively, wherever he is, and while the spacing problems he will cause when he’s shooting from the outside is often-talked-about, the simple fact that he’s going to force a double-team may be even bigger. Seriously, what do you do defensively when Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters and Love are on the court?


He is an absolute beast on the boards (13.7 over the past four seasons, which is tops in the league over that stretch). If you watch him closely, there’s a lot of Dennis Rodman in his rebounding. Like Rodman, Love seems to know where the ball is going before it goes there. While Love isn’t quite as physical as Rodman, he has the same sort of soft hands that seem to suck in rebounds. I’m not sure we’ve yet seen his best rebounding season.

And then there is his outlet passing. When he gets a rebound, and a wing-player releases, magic happens. That’s not to discount his passing overall, since he’s one of the most creative passing power forwards in the league.

Love is a must-see ball-player, who was stuck on a really bad basketball team. Who was his best teammate?

The real question with Love this year will be how he handles embracing an offense that isn’t built strictly for him. This is LeBron James’ team, let’s not mince any words. Love isn’t going to be taking 19 shots a night on most nights, and he may often have to take not one step back, but two, with Kyrie Irving on this team.

When you take into account an offensive presence like Dion Waiters, touches are going to get complicated, although I believe Love is more than willing to play whatever role that he has to if it means there’s a title at the end of the path.

The only downside to Love may be that he hasn’t played in a single playoff game , and while there are those that blame Love, it was clearly the incompetence of the Minnesota front office that kept this team from being good.

Kevin Love is a top-ten basketball player, and when you put him in this amazing situation, he is going to showcase all of that talent. Love is going from a Minnesota team that has Ricky Rubio, to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that boasts a top five player all-time, a top five point guard in the NBA, a slew of veteran’s with NBA playoff/finals experience, and a coach that has won more than a handful of championships overseas.

This team is going to run, and Love is going to absolutely eat that up, regardless of his defensive deficiencies. In a recent conversation with fellow #EHC managing editor Steve Orbanek, we talked about how many points I thought Love would garner a night. I very bluntly said, “less than 20.”

I was dead wrong.

If the Cavs stick with LeBron, Love, Kyrie and Dion as four of the top five, I’ll be ecstatic. Of course, the fifth player will be Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson, but I’m intrigued with a small-ball lineup. What will happen if they have, for short stretches, a shooter in for Varejao or Thompson? They could run and gun teams to death.

On top of that, if Love is rolling out pick-and-rolls with Kyrie and Bron, he will destroy teams inside and out.

How good could he be in 2014-2015? I wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged 20 points a game, with 15 boards on this team, as well as five assists. That’s right, Love could be a 20-15-5 player. he’s going to get more boards than Minnesota, and he’s going to have more assists. While he’s going to score less, it won’t be as much as many think.

While many doubted the Kevin Love trade because the Cavs were “giving up too much” in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, I couldn’t disagree more. In Love, the Cavs have acquired a player that is likely underrated because of the misadventures of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who will once and for all prove that he’s a superstar.

Don’t expect the Cavaliers to look like a juggernaut in the regular season, although they should have their moments. I do believe this team has the ability to win 60-plus basketball games, I just don’t think that they care to. David Blatt is content resting his stars throughout the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see LeBron, Love and Varejao to see multiple games on the bench. They should be in the realm of 70.

I don’t have a problem with that.

Watching the Miami Heat in the finals last year was painful. It was clear that the team was out of gas, and while LeBron played well through much of the playoffs, it was clear that the Heat were taxed, while San Antonio looked fresh.

That’s saying something for a team with one of the oldest rosters in the league.

On top of that, look for Blatt to regulate the minutes of the roster. Not one Spurs player averaged over 30 minutes, and that should be the direction the Cavs go in. Of course, the Spurs had the depth and the coach to do that last season. On paper, it looks as though the Cavs could pull it off, but if you had LeBron, could you?

This is an interesting and potentially combustible mixture of a new coach and new players and new systems all under one roof.

Can the Cavaliers afford to not take advantage of every second possible on the court together? This is a team that will have to blend it’s abundance of skill throughout the year. Can David Blatt find the perfect mixture, while also limiting the minutes of their star players?

It doesn’t seem possible, does it?

This is where you can measure Blatt and his ability as a head coach. If he can manage to keep his roster fresh, while also blending them together into a team, he could find himself winning the coach of the year award. Of course, even then, questions will arise with LeBron on this team, but if Blatt can keep the minutes down, the wins up and still generate a team from this potpourri of players, this season truly can be special.

Tristan Thompson will be an interesting sixth man for the Cavaliers. I’ve always been intrigued with what Thompson can do, and even though I feel his game is pretty limited, his skill-set couldn’t be more perfect coming off the bench.

Thompson is a worker, both on the glass and on defense. On a team that lacks size, Thompson will play a key roll coming off the bench. He’s not a rim protector, but if he continues to develop defensively, he could become a big factor on the team, especially with much of the pressure of being a top pick now off of him.

In the end, this is the perfect role for a player that doesn’t really have a lot of upside. This isn’t a rip on Thompson by any stretch. This is a guy that can max out at 10-12 points a game, and 8-10 boards. That’s what you want off the bench.

Sure, you want more from a top five pick in a draft, but on this team, that’s all they’ll need him to be.

In the press, the Cavs are downplaying an NBA title. Both LeBron and David Blatt have spent a considerable amount of time lowering expectations for even challenging for a title, let alone winning one.

I love it.

I’ll love it even more when they are talking about how winning the title was their one goal from day one come June.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

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