Sometimes fairy tales do come true, the stars align and everything fits into place. Most times one or two details derail the plan and change is required to take that final step. Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After arguably the biggest offseason in their franchise's history, expectations have never been higher. They have the best player in the world returning home in LeBron James, the young up-and-coming superstar in Kyrie Irving and one of the best power forwards in the game in Kevin Love. With this terrorizing trio the sky's the limit, but will they be able to get there?
The Cavs are expected to heavily contend for the title this season. Any team with LeBron is, and with his new sidekicks, on paper this looks like a done deal. But on paper means nothing in the NBA. Just look at the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers. They acquired three-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard and two-time MVP Steve Nash and combined them with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Result, a bitterly disappointing 45-37 record and a first-round sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. Nothing is guaranteed in this league and that will be proved this season when the Cavs are either eliminated from the Playoffs or the Finals, and here's why.
Besides LeBron James and few very seasoned veterans, this team has hardly any experience where it matters; the playoffs. Both Love and Irving have never tasted the huge increase in intensity the postseason brings and most of their important role-players such as Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters share that flaw as well. Nerves will be a big factor for these guys in their first trip. This inexperience really shows when it comes to winning close games in the last five minutes and cooler, clearer minds always prevail. Why are the Spurs the best franchise in the whole of sports? They've been to the playoffs every year since 1998. That's right, 17 straight years. That has translated into five titles, six finals appearances and the reputation as the most feared opponent in seven game series in the league.
This one is really underestimated; the Cavs have an NBA rookie coach at the helm. Coach David Blatt has had a great European Career with various clubs including a Euroleague title with Maccabi Tel Aviv. But coaching in the NBA is on another level. He has no idea about NBA player's tendencies, let alone his own. NBA players are different from European ones. He has to get used to the hectic NBA schedule which includes a huge amount of travelling around one of the largest countries in the world.
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There's the added pressure of not just being an NBA coach, but coaching LeBron James along with Love and Irving. If they lose a single game rumours about his replacement surface. That uncertainty along with having to prepare for one opponent after another takes a lot of getting used to. That's the main reason why there has never been a coach who has lead his team to the title is his first year. He has to become accustom to all this and that takes time.
After LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, they got off to a sluggish 9-8 start. They would then go on to have a 12-game winning streak and end up the second best record in the East. It takes time and mistakes to learn how to play with new teammates, especially with superstars who are used to being the primary option on offense. The Cavs need to and will try different things and through that process a successful system will emerge.
Just because the Cavs have drastically improved doesn't make them better than quite a few teams in the league. There are several franchises that I maintain would beat the Cavs in a seven game series. The Chicago Bulls are by far their main rivals in the East. Lead by a healthy Derrick Rose, with the combination of the all-out hustle of Joakim Noah, the offensive versatility of Pau Gasol and the improving Jimmy Butler, they are a fearsome foe to behold. Already blessed with the best defensive coach in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau, their offense see's a huge leap with the returning former MVP in Rose and Gasol along with the shooting touch of Doug McDermott. The Bulls know that this is their time having been held back by Rose's absence. Their thirst to win will be higher than ever and with Heat's reign in the East seemingly over now's their chance.
Getting through the East is the easy part; dealing with whomever the West throws at them is the real challenge. There's the reigning champion Spurs and their team-first system, the Warriors with the Splash Brothers, the Clippers and Lob City and OKC when Durant and Westbrook return. All of these teams have talent and time spent playing with each other, the latter of which the Cavs don't have yet.
It was a blessing in disguise when the Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. LeBron's infamous "Not four, not five, not six, not seven.." speech at the Big-Three's welcoming party highlighted the Heat's mentality at the start of that season. They thought they were going to win multiple championships just because LeBron, Wade and Bosh came together. Arrogance permeated around them at the start given that they thought they could win every game just based on their skills alone. Talent is given, greatness is earned. The Heat learned that in 2011 and were deeply humbled by it. If the Heat had won that year then it would've also sent a very negative message round the league that you didn't need to work hard in order to win. The same should apply here with the Cavs. They need to feel the sting of losing before they taste the joy of winning. Only the pain of losing will ignite their competitive fires and drive them towards doing what is necessary to win, be that players looking themselves in the mirror or a change in direction.
After the Cav's fairytale offseason, one which saw the prodigal son return, fans in Cleveland have never been more excited and expectant. But a harsh dose of reality awaits them as they learn that even the King finds it hard to reign supreme in today's NBA.