It’s basketball time here in Cleveland. The four month wait to tip off the 2015-2016 NBA season is over and the Cleveland Cavaliers quest for it’s first NBA championship in franchise history is upon us. Will this finally be the season the Cavaliers hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy and get the monkey of a professional sports championship off the city’s back? In the minds of NBA general managers and the sports books in Las Vegas it is, but it won’t be easy.
The Cavaliers are in search of a second straight appearance in the NBA Finals. If it happens next June, it will mark the sixth straight appearance in the finals for LeBron James. Cleveland fell to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors in six games in last season’s NBA Finals, but lets not forget that the Cavaliers were without Kevin Love since the series against the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving was injured in overtime in game one. If the Cavaliers were healthy, Cleveland may have won the championship.
It was a busy off season for general manager David Griffin. He was able to get the majority of last years NBA Finals team to resign during free agency and add some veteran depth to make a deep run in the playoffs this season. It wasn’t all smooth sailing during the off season. The Cavaliers had a long and sometime bitter battle with power forward Tristan Thompson in regards to a new contract. What was first believed to be done just days into free agency took all the way until last week to finally get done. Nevertheless, the core of last year’s eastern conference championship squad is back and ready to make another championship push this season.
National media members expect the Cavaliers to at least return to the NBA Finals for a second straight season. According to ESPN.com only one of their 25 NBA reporters didn’t select the Cavaliers to win either the central division or the eastern conference. Those same 25 reporters aren’t as unanimous about who will win the NBA championship. Only eight of the 25 selected Cleveland to win the NBA title. The remaining 17 are split between the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavaliers did receive the most votes for the NBA championship this years. The Warriors were second with seven votes.
The Cavaliers won’t be at full strength to begin the season on Tuesday night in Chicago against the Bulls. Irving is still recovering from his dislocated knee cap and is not expected to be ready for a few weeks. With Irving’s history of injuries, Griffin made it a priority to add a veteran backup point guard to allow Irving to get some more rest this season. The Cavaliers brought back a fan favorite from the last time the Cavaliers were one of the top teams in the eastern conference, Mo Williams. He’ll serve as the starting point guard in the short term with Matthew Dellavedova serving as the backup until Irving is 100 percent ready to return to the court.
The other veteran signed in the offseason is Richard Jefferson. There are two reasons why the longtime NBA veteran was brought to Cleveland, to bring NBA Finals experience and to be a the veteran backup to LeBron James at the small forward position. Head coach David Blatt wants to limit the number of minutes LeBron plays this season. LeBron had already received an injection in his back and the season gets underway this week. The plan is to limit his minutes and hopefully James won’t have to miss a couple of weeks of action like he did last January when the Cavaliers were still struggling to gel as a team.
Love returning to the lineup will be a huge lift for the wine and gold. Love suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first round of the playoffs and was lost for the rest of the season. Love provides rebounding ability on the defensive end of the floor and can stretch out opposing defenses on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to shoot from three point territory. The front court will be solid with Thompson resigned and the return of Anderson Varejao to serve as backups to both Love at power forward and center Timofey Mozagov.
Shooting guard could be a concern for the first couple of months. J.R. Smith will be the starter. Smith was the starter during the regular season, but came off the bench during the playoffs after serving a two game suspension in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Iman Shumpert replaced Smith in the starting lineup and performed well, but Shumpert suffered a wrist injury right before training camp and is recovering from surgery.
The Cavaliers are solid at all five positions this season and should have no problem winning the central division. While Milwaukee continues to be a team on the rise, Indiana and Detroit continue to head in the other direction. The Cavaliers opening night opponent, the Chicago Bulls will serve as the only real threat for the division championship.
As far as the eastern conference goes, there are only a couple of teams that could knock off the wine and gold, James’ former team the Miami Heat, Chicago and perhaps the Washington Wizards or Atlanta Hawks. Once again, the eastern conference will be the weaker of the NBA conferences this season. Whoever represents the western conference in the NBA Finals won’t have an easy road to the finals. The Cavaliers could easily win 60 games in the regular season and be the number one overall seed in the playoffs.
So is this finally the year, the Cavaliers win their first championship in franchise history? Considering I live in the Cleveland area and am one of the many Cleveland sports fans who have never witnessed a major professional championship in his hometown, of course I pick the Cavaliers to win the 2015-2016 NBA championship. Let’s hope that championship parade takes place for the first time in 52 years.