I doubt that I'll be able to preview all 30 teams in the league, but I will make an honest to god attempt to preview as much as possible. With that in mind, here are your 2009/2010 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Coach: Mike Brown
Last Season: 66-16, lost in Eastern Conference Finals
Key Additions: Shaquille O’neal (trade, Phoenix), Anthony Parker (Free Agent, Toronto), Jamario Moon (FA, Miami), Leon Powe (FA, Boston Celtics), Danny Green (Draft).
Key Losses: Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovich (trade, Phoenix), Wally Szczerbiak (FA), Assistant Coach Jon Kuester (now head coach of the Detroit Pistons).
Offseason: Cleveland’s offseason mission of “getting Lebron a title so he won’t leave next summer” started off with the big Shaquasition: 4 time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’neal joined the team in a full-fledged salary dump by the Phoenix Suns. Shaq was brought on to address two of the Cavs’ biggest weaknesses in last season’s crushing 6 game loss to the Orlando Magic – the lack a low post scorer, or really any scorer not named “Lebron”, and a big body capable of guarding Dwight Howard, who proved to quick for last year’s starting tandem of Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
However, due to Shaq’s migration north being analysed to a pulp by every basketball enthusiast on the planet, the rest of Cleveland’s offseason went by somewhat under-the-radar. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, both brought as free agents, give the Cavs two long, defensive swingmen, meaning that Lebron is no longer the only player on board that is capable of guarding the Rashard Lewises of the world. Both players are also very capable of knocking down shots, particularly Parker, who has established himself as a clutch player who can create his own shot during his 6 year Euroleague tenure. Leon Powe, another offseason pickup who came cheap from the Celtics due to injury concerns (a torn ACL expected to keep him on the sidelines until January at the earliest), is fully capable of giving the team quality minutes at the 4 come playoff time. The Cavs also re-signed free agent Anderson Varejao to a 6 year, 42 million deal - probably too much for a role player like Varejao, but still important, as Varejao brings much to the table for the Cavs.
Clevelands strong offseason was marred only by the departure of Assistant coach John Kuester. Kuester, who became the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, functioned as the Cavs’ offensive coordinator last season, and was largely responsible for Cleveland's progression from the “give-Lebron-the-ball-and-hope-for-the-best” offense to an efficient offensive team (4th in offensive efficiency). However, during Cleveland’s 4-2 loss to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, the offense regressed back to 1-on-5, and the Cavs struggled to put points on the board. Mike Brown’s ability to run the offense without Kuester, and not only his regular stifling defense, will go a long way towards bringing Lebron that ring.
To summarize, Cleveland addressed all their weaknesses during the offseason: a big man capable of guarding Dwight Howard (Shaq has had some success with this in the past), a low post scorer (Shaq), another perimiter player capable of creating a shot (Parker), defensive swingmen (Parker and Moon), and frontcourt depth (Powe). A very strong summer indeed.
- Shaquille O’neal: Quite fittingly, the biggest player is the biggest question mark. The Artist Formally Known as the Most Dominant Player in the Game will be 38 years old come playoff time, but is coming off a very productive season in which he averaged 18 and 8 and returned to the All-Star game. However, his personal rebirth came at the expense of his team, as the Suns missed the playoffs for the first time since the arrival of Steve Nash.
- Delonte West: After losing some of last season’s training camp due to treatment for depression and a mood disorder, West emerged as a starting shooting guard, defensive ace, deadly shooter (40% from three point range), and general glue-guy. However, West continued to reveal his troubling personality this summer, being arrested for speeding on a motorcycle while carrying 3 weapons, and yet again missing the beginning of training camp due to personal issues. While the acquisitions of Parker and Moon mean the Cavs are much better equipped to replace West if necessary, he is still an important part of their team, and a very good basketball player. West’s ability to put a bumpy summer behind him for the second consecutive year and contribute at a high level will go a long way to bringing Cleveland to the promised land.
-Zydrunas Ilgauskas: The Lithuanian big man is an X-Factor for two reasons: first of all, after starting for the Cavs in the middle the past decade, Big Z is now a bench player. His ability to contribute in this new role could be crucial for the Cavs’, as very little teams in the league have such a strong 2nd string center. Secondly, Z’s 11 million dollar contract expires next summer, meaning that if the Cavs still feel they need to improve, they can send him (or Shaq’s 20 million expiring deal, or both) to a lottery team looking for cap relief, and strengthen their team. This could be huge – don’t forget that the Lakers weren’t anywhere near a title before Memphis gave them Pau Gasol for peanuts.
- J.J. Hickson/Leon Powe: This isn’t really that much of an X-Factor as a possible bonus. Last season, Hickson showed a lot of potential before being slowed down by injury. Reports out of Cleveland are that these injuries are behind him, and his preseason form has ranged from solid to surprisingly good. Similarly, Leon Powe provided the Boston Celtics with great hustle, defence and rebounding, when healthy. If Hickson can have a breakout sophomore campaign, and/or Powe can recover from his injuries, the Cavs could have a very good 4th, and even 5th big man, turning front court depth from a weakness to a strength.
Prediction: The Cavs were the best team in the league during the regular season, and I believe that they had a legitimate chance to win against the eventual champion Lakers. Sadly for them, they met a very good Orlando team, who, more importantly, matched up against them perfectly. Even though the Magic and the Celtics made very strong offseason moves, I think the Cavs had the strongest offseason in the East, and arguably in the league, not only strengthening the team, but addressing their matchup problems. The large number of X-Factors tell you that this is far from a done deal, but the sheer presence of Lebron James has been enough for the Cavs to overachieve for the past few seasons, and it should be again. 63-19, 1st in the East, and my favorites for the title.