By Brendan DeVenney
It will go down as one of the most drama filled, anxious, and exciting off seasons in Cleveland Cavaliers history. So many transactions, moving parts, and additions to this team made for a very interesting offseason, and in the end, made for a highly anticipated 2017-2018 Cavaliers season with a brand new team.
First off, we start with the firing of ex-General Manager David Griffin after the Cavaliers lost their second NBA Finals with Griffin. Despite leading Cleveland to their first title in franchise history, owner Dan Gilbert did not think what Griffin was looking to do was enough to hang with the league’s top team in Golden State. Thus, with no general manager, for the longest time there was no one running basketball operations. Over a month, reports were that owner Dan Gilbert was running basketball operations, although there was speculation that assistant GM Koby Altman was making moves, and that became true in late July when he was named the new general manager.
Moving parts started in July when the Cavaliers signed veteran José Calderón to a 1-year deal, acquiring him from the Atlanta Hawks. This is Calderón’s seventh NBA team in 12 years, which that statement right there should tell you he’s not a player you build a team around. He’s a veteran, so he brings a leadership mentality to this year’s team, and will give you solid minutes in garbage time. The very next day, the Cavaliers added Jeff Green, who is playing in his prime right now out of Georgetown. Green can not only fly, but he can shoot the ball very well, too. Green is a player who, having played with playoff teams in Oklahoma City, Boston, Memphis, and Los Angeles, adds an extra utility man to play with LeBron, J.R., and Kevin.
The Cavaliers then signed forward Cedi Osman from Minnesota. Osman will be on Cleveland’s roster at the beginning of the season, and has played most of his career in Turkey, both on Anadolu Efes S.K. in the EuroLeague, and on both the Turkish Junior and Senior National Teams. Don’t expect to see much of this guy. He’s a quality piece to have only when the Cavaliers have run away with a win in the second half.
But then the biggest news of the offseason came on July 21, when ESPN’s phenomenal NBA beat reporter Brian Windhorst reported that Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers number one draft pick out of Duke in 2011, wanted out of Cleveland and to have his own team where he is the face of the franchise, not one of many. This triggered a Twitter storm around the NBA, and created havoc in Cavaliers’ front office, because at this time there was no GM yet. But, it was funny how just three days later, Altman took the reigns.
This also created a lot of drama in the Cavaliers locker room. Not necessarily in between games since it was the summer, but it caused a stir of discussion whether or not the relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was broken and torn, and if it ever was mutual in the first place.
None of that mattered as on August 22, the Cavaliers traded Irving to their Eastern Conference rival Boston Celtics, and they got in return a load of talent. Point guard Isaiah Thomas joined Cleveland, along with forwards Jae Crowder and Ante Žižić. The trade was made official on August 30, where Cleveland then received future draft picks from Brooklyn and Miami. So, if it’s one team that lucked out of this trade, it’s Cleveland. You can argue that Boston got a superstar to lead their team and make them more dangerous to beat the Cavaliers, but adding Thomas and Crowder only made Cleveland a better defensive team and a deeper team to beat the rising Celtics.
Thomas has been injury prone recently with an aggravated right femoral-acetabular impingement. He recently tore it again in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland and has been cautious with doctors of playing on it. Thomas won’t start the season playing, but could be back as early as Christmas, if not before the All-Star Break, making sure his hip is a full go.
Thomas has been one to have break out games, really making a name for himself playing with Boston. In his debut with Boston, he had a 21-point performance, off the bench! In that first season with the Celtics, he did injure his back, but then came back and had a season high 38-point performance against Detroit. Just last season Isaiah averaged over 25 points per game, and shot 46%. He also had his best playoffs in his career, averaging 23 points in the first round, Eastern Conference Semifinals, and Eastern Conference Finals. He had both a 33 and 53-point performance in the Semifinals against Washington, which ended up being a career defining moment for Thomas.
However, we’ll likely not see him make his Cavaliers debut until late this season. Until then, we’ll see two other new Clevelanders make their debut in the Wine & Gold alongside LeBron. After the Irving trade, Altman and his crew knew they would have to reload losing their All-Star point guard. So, on July 25, the Cavaliers added former league MVP Derrick Rose. That deal was already in the talks way before Irving dropped his bombshell. Then after James’ best friend agreed to a buyout with Chicago on September 24, Dwayne Wade would reunite with his former teammate in Cleveland. That’s adding 37 combined years of NBA experience between James, Rose, and Wade. You can not go wrong with that much experience and leadership on a team.
Now there are some flaws here though between the two vets in Rose and Wade. First of all, Rose has been plagued by injuries in his career. After winning the MVP in 2011, Rose suffered an ACL injury the following season in the 2012 playoffs. After missing the 2012-13 season, Rose tore his right meniscus. After sitting out the rest of that year, he returned in 2015, only to tear it again. After that, he was traded to the Knicks. But in April of his only season with New York, he tore his left meniscus and is currently trying to rebound from that injury.
Through all of these injuries sidelining the youngest MVP ever, Rose has continued to produce quality numbers in those health plagued seasons. Since 2013, his numbers have continued to rise after they dropped since his first injury. He averaged 17.7 points per game in 2014-15, shooting 40%. He shot 42% in 2015-16, and then averaged 18 points per game last year, shooting 47%. But the Cavaliers are hoping and expecting that he returns to pre-MVP and MVP season caliber Derrick Rose. From 2008 to 2011, he was able to play full seasons. He hasn’t played a full season since. When he would start 81 games, he’d average 25 points per game, with 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and shot 44%. All Cleveland can realistically hope for is Rose getting close to those numbers, producing when he is in with other superstars around him (which will be new to him), and staying healthy for all 82 games.
As for Dwayne Wade, LeBron’s “best friend forever,” he has not had the same numbers in recent years. Once there was a time where Wade played “hero ball” and was the leader of the team, putting up averages in a season of 27, 24, 30, 26, and 25 points per games. In the two championship seasons with James, he averaged 22 and 21 points per game. And that was expected with other attributes of James and Bosh. But after those years, he has gone down to 19, 21, 19, and 18 points per game in a season. Last year with Chicago was his second worst season since his debut year in the NBA. He can still shoot. He can still drive. And he can still be affective in some way out on the court. But in the past four years he just hasn’t had anyone around him to help him make an impact. Last year’s Bulls team of Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Carter-Williams was probably the worst team with the most quality of talent. They just did not mesh well together.
All that being said, the big question is if Wade can find a second home in Cleveland with James, Rose, Love, Smith, and Thompson? That is a huge question for Cleveland and needs to be answered soon in the beginning of the season.
Enough about the additions to this already stacked team. The Cavaliers will bring back Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Kyle Korver. They let go of Dahntay Jones, Walter Tavares, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, traded away Richard Jefferson and Kay Felder, and allowed James Jones to officially retire. But bringing back players in Love, Smith, Frye, and Korver make the Cavaliers a better match from behind the arc against the Warriors, who absolutely love to shoot the three ball. Smith last season shot 35% from behind the arc, compared to shooting 39% and 40% in the two seasons prior with Cleveland. Love shot 37% last season. Frye shot 40% last season, and 37% the season prior. And Kyle Korver, with his unorthodox form, led the NBA last year with a 48% three-point shooting percentage.
When you add the shooting of Rose, Thomas, and even Jae Crowder who can knock three’s consistently, this year’s team has the makings of an even better offensive team of year’s past. Crowder shot an amazing 39% from three-point land last year, and for a player of his size, that is a dangerous and special asset to have on your team.
Obviously, with LeBron James leading the way, and Kevin Love as the co-sergeant on the team, it almost feels like championship or bust with these guys. In the Eastern Conference, it’s a joke once again. Atlanta lost all their fire power, getting rid of Dwight Howard, Mike Dunleavy, and Thabo Sefolosha. Toronto will be the same team, not having enough power to take down Cleveland behind Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valančiūnas, and DeMar Derozan. Washington has some promise this year only because of the hyped up talk by John Wall. With Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Jodie Meeks, they have a lot of talent to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. And Boston should get back to the final four even without Thomas and Crowder. They’ve added Irving, young talent in Jayson Tatum from Duke, Gordon Hayward from the Jazz who played under Head Coach Brad Stevens at Butler, and have promising talent with Al Horford and Marcus Smart. Boston will be a fast team this year, and a very interesting team to watch. It’s just hard to comprehend that they have enough in them to take out the Cavaliers.
With a 90% of getting back to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers just have to watch out for Golden State, who bring back everyone after their 5th championship season. They’ve resigned Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, David West, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, and Javale McGee. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are back. And they’ve added special talent in the likes of Nick Young and Omri Casspi. Don’t look now but we could be looking at the first ever fourth NBA Finals in a row that features the same two teams.
Marquee games for the Cavaliers in 2017-2018:
When it comes to key games on the schedule anymore in the NBA, just look at games that feature annual playoff teams. For Cleveland, here they are:
- October 17: Cavaliers vs. Celtics – Kyrie Irving returns to Quicken Loans Arena, this time wearing the green of Boston.
- October 24: Cavaliers vs. Bulls – Former Bulls Rose and Wade play their former team as members of the same team.
- October 29: Cavaliers vs. Knicks – Rose faces off with his former team of last year at The Q.
- November 9: Cavaliers @ Rockets – Cleveland gets their first taste of the new look Rockets who feature James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Demetrius Jackson.
- December 14: Cavaliers vs. Lakers – LeBron James faces off with rookie phenom Lonzo Ball, and could Lavar Ball make an appearance at The Q? Probably.
- December 25: Cavaliers @ Warriors – It’s the rematch of last year’s NBA Finals series, but this time Curry gets a look at the new look Cavaliers.
- January 3: Cavaliers @ Celtics – Kyrie will get to showcase his new home to James and Love in the second edition of the new rivalry.
- January 8: Cavaliers @ Timberwolves – Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and the rest of this rising Minnesota team await the Cavaliers.
- January 15: Cavaliers vs. Warriors – Cleveland fans get to see this two rivals face off in The Land one more time before they potentially meet again in June.
- January 20: Cavaliers vs. Thunder – Cleveland gets a look at the new super team in Oklahoma City, featuring Russel Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George.
- February 18: All-Star Game in Los Angeles – With all this talent, how many All-Stars will the Cavaliers have this year? 4?
- February 25: Cavaliers vs. Spurs – LeBron faces off with his favorite coach in Gregg Popovich and the MVP caliber forward Kawhi Leonard.
- March 11: Cavaliers @ Lakers – The stars will be out in full force too see Lonzo face LeBron. Could it be a potential sight of the future with both on the same team in LA next year?
Season Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers win NBA Finals over Golden State in seven games.