NBA Preview: Same expectations for new-look Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James holds the ball away from Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (Winslow Townson/AP)

GM: Koby Altman
Head coach: Tyronn Lue
2016-17 record: 51-31 (2nd in the Eastern Conference)
2016-17 result: Lost 4-1 in the NBA Finals
Key departures: Kyrie Irving
Key acquisitions: Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Jeff Green, Derrick Rose

For the first time in LeBron James’ career another superstar wanted to get out his shadow. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time after losing their second NBA Finals in the past three seasons.

Batman lost his Robin in Kyrie Irving, as the league watched a combo that had won the 2016 NBA Championship go their separate ways.

A year removed from winning it all, it seemed like everything was starting to fall apart for the Cavaliers, especially as owner Dan Gilbert made the decision not to extend general manager David Griffin’s time in Cleveland.

It was bizarre move from Gilbert, especially as Griffin was in the thick of trying to deal for both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, a trade that “was actually done” but pulled off the table on draft night.

Instead,the Cavs traded Irving for Isaiah Thomas, who, despite coming into the season with a hip injury, was the third leading scorer in 2016-17 with an average of 28.9 points. They were also able to add wing depth in Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

The deal allowed Cleveland to plan for the future, but this summer they were also committed to staying in the present, signing Jeff Green, while also bringing back James’ old Miami Heat running mate in Dwyane Wade.

Potential Breakout Player:

At this point everyone knows Derrick Rose from either the incredible highlight tapes from his 2011 MVP season, or from the memes that have documented all of his injuries in the years since. This season, Rose will have a chance to prove that he has another chapter left in his career as a role player while he waits for Thomas to make his way back from injury.

Rose made his opportunities count in 2016-17, averaging 18 points, the most he’s held since the 2011-12 season, on 47.1 per cent shooting and 4.4 assists. Rose signed a one-year deal with the Cavaliers this summer worth only $2.1 million, less than what Jose Calderon will be making.

That shouldn’t be the case next summer if Rose performs well while playing with the most watched team in the East.

What a successful 2017-18 season looks like

If your team has LeBron James, the expectation is championship or fail. It’s a realistic assessment considering he’ll be looking to take the Cavaliers to his eighth straight NBA Finals come June.

The regular season clearly doesn’t matter for Cleveland, who as a second seed in 2016-17 were still able to storm their way through the playoffs, losing just one game along the way. The only team they need to worry about would be the Golden State Warriors, the presumed favourite in the West who beat James and the Cavaliers in two of the past three NBA Finals.

If you’re Cleveland ownership, a successful year would also include not having any in-house issues make their way to the media. The Cavaliers were at centre stage when it came to off-season drama, something they don’t want to make a habit of now that James is in a contract year with rumours leaning heavily towards a move to Los Angeles.

Biggest X-Factor:

With Isaiah Thomas not expected to be back till January Kevin Love will be given his opportunity as the team’s second option. Not only will he benefit from more touches, but he should help take off some weight off James’ shoulders as well.

Lue is expected to make Love the team’s starting centre this year, a role that seems suited for him as they look to slide Jae Crowder into the team’s starting power forward position. A career 11.5 per game rebounder, Love might not be able to intimate players as a rim protector, but he’ll be a problem for opposing defences with his three-point range.