Contrary to initial expectations, the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers are starting slow and only have a 7-7 record early in the season. With the return of prodigal son LeBron James and stat stuffer Kevin Love, the Cavs were expected to run roughshod over their Eastern rivals and rule the conference. However, you don’t just put 3 superstars together (James, Love, and Kyrie Irving) and expect them to mesh instantly. At the moment, the three are still trying to find that elusive chemistry needed to win games.
James is no stranger to this situation. When he joined the Heat in 2010 to form a Big 3 together with Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami had a mediocre start (9-8) and was the target of much criticism after they raised expectations when James declared they were going to win multiple championships. After a team meeting, the Heat picked up steam and finished the season 58-24, reaching the NBA Finals before losing to the Dallas Mavericks. The rest is history and the Heat won 2 NBA titles in James’ four seasons there.
The Cavs are undergoing the same birthing pains and fans shouldn’t be too worried. The faster the other “stars” adjust to James’ talents, the more dominant the Cavs will become. Kevin Love, for instance, averaged 26 points as the go-to-guy in Minnesota. With the Cavs his stats have dropped considerably averaging 16 points even as his minutes remain the same. Irving, meanwhile, has been able to maintain his stats although there are rumblings that he is not too happy with his new role as James’ sidekick. Like it or not, this is James’ team and everyone needs to adjust.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Former LeBron teammate Chris Bosh warned Love that playing with the best player on the planet “is extremely frustrating and difficult.” He stated that everyone wants to win but when you actually take a backseat, reality sets in and you need to make a decision whether you will make that sacrifice. Bosh indeed sacrificed individual glory playing alongside James but his statement wasn’t a criticism, it washouts a recognition that the transition from being the “main man” to a sidekick is quite challenging for any player.
Over their past two games, the Cavaliers are beginning to show signs of their true potential. They won these games by a combined 58 points and they are beginning to click on defense. They have only allowed 80 points on those games and their Princeton-inspired offense is looking good. More importantly, Love and Irving seem to be buying into the team-first system.
I expect the Cavs to win at least 52 games and go deep into the playoffs. They are simply too talented to do otherwise. Additionally, the Eastern Conference is so weak that they don’t even have a credible rival once they go on all cylinders. Don’t worry Cavaliers fans; this just might be the year that you win your first NBA championship.