Competition Discussion: Cleveland Cavaliers

The season is still not here, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, we're going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next couple months or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Cleveland.  Jump to the comments to discuss the Cavaliers and make a prediction on their record.

Previously: AtlantaBostonCharlotte, Chicago.

Last year's record: 61-21 (Pythagorean record: 59-23)
Playoffs: Beat Chicago Bulls 4-1 in first round, lost to Boston Celtics 4-2 in second round.

Offensive Rating: 111.2 (6th)
Defensive Rating: 104.1 (7th)
Pace: 91.4 possessions/game (25th)

In: Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, Joey Graham, Samardo Samuels
Out: LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sebastian Telfair

Projected starting lineup: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao

Five big questions:

  • No LeBron James ... so ... what happens?
  • Will Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and others last the season?
  • The Cavaliers' best player and their top prospect play the same position. How will minutes shake out, especially when the best player has historically shunned a bench role?
  • Was Byron Scott the right man for this job, considering the team is probably now rebuilding? 
  • Is there some sort of motivating factor from the players to emerge from LeBron's shadow?  Will that be reflected in the team's play?

Before we start, it's probably worth looking at how many teams have performed the year after losing one of the top two or three players in the game.  Some examples, off the top of my head:

 

  • Boston Celtics in 1969/70 after Bill Russell left: 34-48
  • Milwaukee Bucks in 1975/76 after Kareem got traded: 38-44, after going 38-44 the previous year
  • Los Angeles Lakers in 1991/92 after Magic retired: 43-39
  • Boston Celtics in 1992/93 after Bird retired: 48-34
  • Chicago Bulls in 1993/94 after Jordan retired: 55-27.
  • Orlando Magic in 1996/97 after Shaq left: 45-37
  • Chicago Bulls in 1998/99 after Jordan retired again: 13-37
  • Los Angeles Lakers in 2004/05 after Shaq left: 34-48
There's a mixed bag, but by and large, the teams do better than you'd expect.  Which is kind of interesting, when you think about it.  Sure, most of these teams didn't exactly have bare cupboards, but they still mostly outperformed their expected win/loss record.  Even with Scottie Pippen remaining, did anyone think the Bulls were going to win 55 and nearly advance to the Eastern Conference Finals that year?  I doubt it.

So there's historical precedent that suggests Cleveland will be better than people think.  There's also some logical reasons for it too.  Sure, LeBron James, as much as we all hate him, was clearly the best player in basketball last year, at least in the regular season.  He also clearly did so much for the Cavaliers to put them at the top of the league.  But there's also a reasonable argument that suggests that James, to a degree, stunted a few of his teammates.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way where their full talents weren't on display.  That's certainly true of Antawn Jamison, and I'd argue it's potentially true of a couple other players too.  Mo Williams' shooting efficiency rose like crazy with LeBron, but he also lost the little playmaking ability he had when he was in Milwaukee.  Anderson Varejao isn't as bad offensively as people think.  J.J. Hickson, though benefiting from LeBron's ability to find him on pick and rolls, can score more if he gets more touches.  

Throw in a coach in Byron Scott that would prefer to shoot for 40 wins than develop his team, and I think there's a chance the Cavaliers surprise.  We know, firsthand, that Jamison can score if you give him touches in motion rather than deploy him as a spot-up shooter.  I know Williams can do, and I also personally think guys like Varejao, Hickson, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson will show that they are better than people think.  If the Cavaliers can channel that collective chip on their shoulder into their on-court performance, I really don't think the playoffs are too farfetched.

....

Still, I can't do it.  I can't be bold and predict playoffs, as much as I want to do so.  On paper, this team is awful.  They'd have to significantly outperform to even win 30 games, and while I think they're capable of doing so, I'm not going to bet on it.  Maybe this makes me a scaredy cat, but I'll take that risk.  

 

Mike's prediction: 27-55, 12th in the Eastern Conference

BF editor predictions:

Team Mike Prada CJ Hempfeld Sean Fagan Rook6980 Jon Kelman Jake Whitacre
Atlanta 45-37 44-38 44-38 46-36 48-34 43-39
Boston 51-31 51-31 48-34 42-40 50-32 60-22
Charlotte 44-38 38-44 38-44 44-38 41-41 38-44
Chicago 49-33 46-36 46-36 46-36 50-32 49-33
Cleveland 27-55 24-58 25-57 23-59 24-58 16-66
Dallas
Denver
Detroit
Golden State
Houston
Indiana
LA Clippers
LA Lakers
Memphis
Miami
Milwaukee
Minnesota
New Jersey
New Orleans
New York
Oklahoma City
Orlando
Philadelphia
Phoenix
Portland
Sacramento
San Antonio
Toronto
Utah
WIZARDS
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