basketball by Matthew McKibben February 14, 2018
Since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, Cavs fans have been whining about the makeup of the roster. The most common complaints were: We don’t have enough athleticism, we lack versatility, and we are so fucking old.
The brilliance of James carried us to a title in 2016 and we told ourselves that any success after that would be gravy. Then in the 2017 Finals, the Golden State Warriors ran us off the court and a few months later we traded away our second-best player.
For the first 50 games of the 2017-2018 season, it looked like the Cavs had no chance to compete with the Warriors or even the Houston Rockets.
The collective basketball world thought James had one foot in Los Angeles and the Cavs should shift their focus to building a team for the 2018-2019 season without The King. Cavs fans had begun scouting college players and living and dying on the outcome of every Brooklyn Nets game (the Cavs have the Nets unprotected draft pick in 2018).
But then a basketball miracle happened. Somehow, someway the front office wizkid also known as Koby Altman was able to reinvigorate the Cavs roster with youth, athleticism, talent, and versatility.
Most importantly, the trades have reengaged James so much so that he’s actually closing out on shooters and making multiple rotations on defense.
Last year the Cavs rotation consisted of a lot of one-dimensional players who weren’t capable of creating their own shot or looks for anyone else. Let’s not forget that outside of James, Irving and Kevin Love, Ty Lue was relying on Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, and Deron Williams. Sheesh!
Immediately following the Finals, I texted a friend and said,
“We need to move Irving or Love, we can’t hang with the Warriors without making major changes to this lineup.”
I had my sights set on Paul George. I watched so much of Irving during his time in Cleveland and I didn’t think he could ever improve his game enough to reach that “next level” of point guards. “He’ll always just be that guy that pounds the rock and looks for his own shot,” I said to myself. For all of the love the media has heaped upon him this season, mostly deserved, he is virtually the same player he was in Cleveland.
He doesn’t defend much and he wants to create his own shot off the bounce. It’s hard to beat this Warriors team with that mentality. I always thought the Cavs would be better suited with a Patrick Beverley type of point guard — a player who can defend multiple positions and knock down an open shot — to slot next to James.
Now they have that in George Hill. He has no problem guarding the league’s best perimeter players and he is a premier shooter.
Without Irving, do the Cavs have enough firepower to beat the Warriors? The short answer is no. But, with the additions of Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, and Hill, they have the pieces to make the Warriors’ lives more difficult on offense and defense.
What's @KingJames mood now? pic.twitter.com/nRLQxGeETS
— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) February 12, 2018
They can switch pick and rolls, close out on shooters with length and crash the glass with some authority. On offense, the Cavs can attack close outs and knock down the open shots that James creates with regularity out of the high pick and roll.
The question of whether the Cavs can beat the Warriors this year isn’t that important to me. Through the trades, the Cavs front office regained the confidence of The King and now, as he heads into free agency, the Cavs have the brightest future of any potential LeBron destination.
The Nets are currently one game away from having the worst record in the league and if the ping pong balls bounce right way in the lottery it not only changes the perception of the Kyrie trade but it enters the Cavs into the Anthony Davis/Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes — both could be on the move this summer due to tenuous relationships with their current teams.
So as the Cavs continue to impress, and James makes a run at his 8th straight Finals appearance, I will spend my time refreshing Woj’s Twitter page and looking for the next disgruntled star who wants to be traded.
The Nets draft pick is the most valuable asset the Cavs have had in years and it might just be the one that gets The King to re-sign in The Land.