Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cavaliers: Best Team in the East?

As a life long Cleveland fan, I'm not used to high expectations. Sure, every couple of years the Indians might get some spring training World Series buzz, but they never fail to um... fail. The Browns? Please, when is the last time that the Browns got any preseason Super Bowl hype? Hell, when was the last time they got preseason .500 record hype? Not-top-10-draft-pick hype?

But the Cavs... The Cavaliers have long been the 3rd team of Cleveland's big three. And while the Cavs have always been my favorite of the three, I can't exactly blame Cleveland fans for the lack of support during the post-Price pre-LeBron era (the glorious Lamond Murray years). I mean, this is a franchise who thought it would be a good idea to hire Randy Wittman... and replace him with John Lucas. This is the franchise that thought, "You know what? I think Darius could play some point guard this year".

Even when the Cavs were good in the early 90s, they were always over shadowed by Jordan. Whenever the Cavs would win a game versus Jordan in the playoffs, the story was never "The Cavaliers win" it was always "The Bulls Lost". No one expected much of the Cavs, locally or nationally.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a RealGM article with the headline: Time for a coronation - Cavaliers are the best team in the East. Not only was that weird, but I clicked over to John Hollinger's Eastern Conference previews and read this blurb (insider):
Somebody has to win the East this year, and the other contenders all have obvious flaws. So does this team, of course, but between James' brilliance and the strength of the frontcourt, I expect the Cavs to be the last Eastern team standing.
How am I supposed to handle this? I know everything is changed once Cleveland got LeBron, but I'm still reeling from the fact that a player on the Cleveland Cavaliers was on David Letterman. Not only do we now have a national star, but experts are picking the Cavs to make it out of the East?! This definitely takes some getting used to (but don't worry, all is well with Mark Stein, he's got them as 4th in the East).

My first thought was to brush this off, I mean seriously, how could the Cavs be the best in the East without a point guard? But then I thought about it, if it isn't Cleveland, who among the rest of the East's big four is it?

Miami? I thought they were overrated last year, and true, they did win the title last season. But how motivated are these guys? Their point guard situation isn't a whole lot better than Cleveland's right now and they are pretty old. At times during the playoffs last season, Shaq looked done (really really done) and I doubt he'll be able to muster even last years performance. True, they still have Wade and his 900 free throws a game, but everyone else is a year older (and I don't know if Zo and Payton are as hungry now that they have the ring).

Detroit? Sure they lost Benny Wallace, but they still have Hamilton, Rasheed, Billups and Prince. But the Cavs took them to 7 (well, 6 1/2) games last season and I don't think Nazr Mohammed and Flip Murray really make up for Big Ben. Also, Detroit has been remarkably injury free the past few years while playing a ton of games. I think that one of their big four will miss some time this season. Finally, with Ben Wallace gone, the Pistons have to rely more on
Rasheed Wallace. Good luck with that.

Chicago? They're a trendy pick right now, but as I've written before, I don't buy it. I don't care to rehash all the reasons I wouldn't pick them, but I will say this (I'm not sure who first made this argument, but I'm stealing it): if Detroit lost in the playoffs last season with a lineup of Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, what makes anyone think that adding Wallace to a lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Adres Nocioni and PJ Brown. As much as I like the Bulls lineup (and they're all pretty good), none of them are any better than their Piston counterparts.

The Cavs are returning almost all the players on a 50 win squad, that should count for something. Plus, as Hollinger points out, their 3 key '05 free agents (Hughes, Marshall and Jones) all digressed last season, if just one of them returns to form they'll be alright. It looks like Marshall is in better shape and is looking to return to a complete player (not just one who jacks treys all game, but post moves). And Jones? Well, he says he's in his best shape since he left Miami (Umm... that means he's in the best shape in year. Awesome).

So have I drank the Kool-Aid? Are the Cavs the best team in the East? Um... maybe. Part of me says yes, but the part of me that's a Cleveland fan is laughing and saying "hell no". That Cleveland fan part reminds me that the Cavs still don't have a point guard (but they do have a new floor!) and that they're bringing back everyone from an offense that looked terrible last year. It's great that Marshall wants to use his post moves more, it really is, but I'm still waiting for the Cavs to use Z's post game for more than just the opening minutes of the halves. I'm pretty sure Cavs fans wouldn't mind if LeBron would post up every once in awhile either. Also, Larry Hughes is a slasher not a jump shooter, use his strengths (can ya tell I love this offense?).

I do believe however, that if Hughes, Wesley and Shannon Brown get the minutes that went to Pavlovic, Graham and Newble (after Hughes went down), the offense should improve just by lack of Newble alone. I think we can all agree that the less time Newble is on the floor, the better things are for the city of Cleveland.

If the offense goes right and the Cavs stay healthy... yes, I've talked myself into it. I think the Cavs could win the East. There, I said it. Going out on a limb and daring to dream, right? But do I believe they will win it? Come on, don't ask me that, as a Cleveland fan you know I'm not allowed to have that much optimism.

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