Young Cavs have eyes on playoffs
After three straight seasons finishing in the lottery, two of which yielded the top pick in the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to return to a place the team hasn't been since LeBron James infamously bolted to South Beach.
In 2010, Cleveland fired head coach Mike Brown following the season, but have reunited with the man that took the franchise to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007. After guiding the Cavs to a franchise best 66-16 record in 2009, Brown's bunch reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, before they were eliminated by the Boston Celtics.
The next season, Cleveland finished with a 15-59 mark, Brown was shown the door and the Cavs were awarded with the top pick in the 2011 Draft.
Cleveland picked a franchise-changing talent in point guard Kyrie Irving.
Over the past two seasons, the Duke product has spawned into, not just one of the top point guards in the league, but perhaps one of the Association's top players.
Despite going a less-than-pedestrian 64-166 over the past three seasons, the Cavs showed signs of improvement in the 2012-13 campaign and it all starts with their point guard.
Over 59 games last season, Irving averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The Cavaliers won just 24 games but look ready to make a big jump this year.
Who's In/Who's Out
Key Additions: Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Bynum, C.J. Miles, Earl Clark, Carrick Felix, Sergey Karasev
Key Losses: Wayne Ellington, Omri Casspi, Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights, Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton
Clearly Irving is the best player on this team, but is the supporting cast enough to give Irving the opportunity to truly excel this season? Possibly.
Waiters averaged 14.7 ppg for Cleveland last season, taking some of the pressure off of Irving to provide the offense.
Jack is certainly one of the best options off the bench in the league, as he provides instant scoring with the second unit. Jack has the ability to score 15 points and dish out six assists off the bench, a role he thrived in with Golden State.
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The signing of Andre Bynum could also be big. Bynum has proved to be one of the more dominating centers in the league when healthy. He along with Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller and Bennett could create one of the deeper frontcourts in the NBA.
If Bennett can make an instant impact, Cleveland could be looking at a perfect combination of size and athleticism in the frontcourt to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Not So Good
Most of the question marks involving Irving don't even concern his talent, but his ability to stay healthy to make it through a grueling 82-game NBA schedule.
Irving missed 15 games as a rookie due to a freak concussion in February 2012 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in late-March. The 2012 Rookie of the Year also missed most of his only season at Duke with an ankle injury.
In July of 2012, Irving suffered a broken right hand after slapping a padded wall in frustration during a Cavaliers practice session. The budding superstar suffered yet another setback, his fifth in 24 months, when X-rays revealed a hairline fracture in the ninth game of the season.
The Cavs need him to stay healthy to compete.
Irving isn't the only injury-prone impact player on the Cavs' roster given the presence of much-maligned center Andrew Bynum this summer.
When healthy, Bynum is undoubtedly one of the games most talented big men on both ends of the court, but the biggest problem with the 7-footer is staying healthy.
Since coming to the NBA in 2005, Bynum has appeared in just 392-of-554 games. In the 2011-12 season, Bynum posted career-highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. It was Bynum's second full season, albeit a lockout shortened campaign, but the big man proved that he can be the impact presence down low teams covet in a league with a shortage of talented bigs.
Bynum was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers after his breakout season in a blockbuster three-team deal, but infamously missed the entire season with knee injuries.
While it is unclear if Bynum will return for the start of the upcoming season, when he does take the court, he could be the perfect compliment to Irving.
All this could be ruined, however, if Bynum never regains his health.
What To Expect
Will the Cavs win the NBA Finals this season? No. But this team has the potential to become a contender in a few years. This will be an exciting season for a club filled with young talent.
Irving will continue to set the tone, but the success of the team rests on the contributions on Irving's compliments.
If the supporting cast provides this young superstar with adequate support, this team is playoff-bound.
If not? There's always LeBron...