The Cleveland Cavaliers have set themselves up for a championship run. Not only did they acquire the best player in the world in LeBron James, but they also acquired Kevin Love in a trade with the Timberwolves. Those two pieces along with all-star point guard Kyrie Irving round out arguably the best big three in basketball. However, Cleveland doesn’t have a lot of depth beyond those three players, and it has come into question whether the Cavalier’s “big three” will be able to carry Cleveland to a title. Despite the Cavaliers looking like a dominant offensive team on paper, they lack aspects that most championship teams need in order to win 16 games in the postseason. In addition to Cleveland’s noticeable flaws, just having a “big three” won’t make the road to a championship easy, as they aren’t the only team poised for a title run right now
Although the offensive firepower of the Cavaliers’ big three seems unstoppable, there are many aspects that come into question when arguing whether they will be able to win a championship right away. Although James has been to the playoffs and the finals multiple times, both Irving and Love have never played a playoff game, nor have they come close. Although both have played with weak supporting casts so far in their careers, they have failed to show that they can carry a team to success single-handedly.
In addition to a lack of playoff experience, Love and Irving have been injury-prone the majority of their careers. This is especially significant since the Cavaliers lack depth at most positions. Love has dealt with metacarpals injuries, including one that took him out the majority of the 2012-2013 season. Irving has missed a significant amount of games each season with different injuries. Cleveland fails to have an effective back-up point guard after losing Jarrett Jack this offseason, meaning that Irving will need to stay healthy for the Cavaliers to go on a title run. Dion Waiters is the only versatile shooting guard on the roster, and although his shooting is on at times, he lacks a defensive ability to shut down other guards. Anderson Varejao and Brendan Haywood will be the main rotation at center, and although both can be effective rebounders, they both lack a “shut-down” defensive ability, and an athletic ability to run the floor with Irving and James. With a lack of depth at most positions, the Cavaliers may struggle if Love and Irving can’t stay healthy.
Another area of concern for the Cavaliers is their defense; a skill that most championship teams need in order to win. Cleveland struggled with their defense last season, allowing the opposing team to score 101.5 points per game. Although James brings spectacular defensive skills to the table, Love has failed to develop into a great defensive stopper in the paint. Varejao certainly isn’t the answer either, leaving Cleveland without an effective stopper inside. Without a big man to guard the paint, opposing guards and big men will have a easy time penetrating and attacking the hoop.
David Blatt, the new coach for the Cavaliers, will serve as a head coach for the first time in the NBA. Blatt will be responsible for building team chemistry around his players and will be expected to meet the team’s high expectations. He will also have the responsibility of learning how to keep his players healthy, and be in a good position to win come the postseason. Although Las Vegas has the Cavaliers as the favorites to win the championship in June, many teams have the pieces to stop them, including another team in the Eastern Conference.
The Chicago Bulls, with a healthy Derrick Rose, have the pieces to dethrone the Cavaliers of their championship hopes. While the Cavaliers haven’t proven that their pieces will work well together yet, the Bulls go twelve-deep on their roster when healthy. Not only do they have a star-point guard themselves in Derrick Rose, they also have two reliable back-up point guards in Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich. The only player the Bulls lost from their core from last season is Carlos Boozer. However, they easily replaced him by bringing in two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic from Europe. They also drafted the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history in Doug McDermott. The Bulls ranked as the best defensive team in the NBA last season, only allowing 92 points per game. Coached by defensive minded Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls bring a defensive ability that the Cavaliers lack.
Even if the Cavaliers make it out of the Eastern Conference, they will match-up against a team from the highly-competitive Western Conference. The biggest threat in the West should be the defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have brought back every important piece they needed to bring back, and on paper will have the deepest bench in the NBA again this season. The Spurs have arguably the best chemistry of any team in the league, and are run through a seemingly flawless system set up by coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have scorers all the way down from their best players to the bottom of their bench, and continue to contend for a championship each season with their current core.
In addition the Spurs, the Thunder and Clippers will be threats to the Cavaliers from the West as well. The Thunder have a big three of their own in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. This “big three” has already proven that they complement each other, and went to the finals with their current core in 2012. Oklahoma City is a very balanced team, finishing 5th in points per game, and 7th in total rebounds. The Thunder have young and developing talent, and could surprise the Cavaliers if they meet in the finals. In addition, the Clippers have an experienced and deep team, and are able to take advantage of match-ups in the paint. With Chris Paul on the perimeter, and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan manning the paint, the Clippers can penetrate and dominate the paint against smaller teams, like the Cavaliers. If the Clippers can get past their playoff woes and make a run to the championship, they can surprise Cleveland by taking advantage of position match-ups.
Although I believe the Cavaliers will win more than one championship with their current core, they will not have as easy of a road as some believe just because they have created the best big three since, well, the 2010 Miami Heat. But even the 2010 Heat team proved that it takes more then a year to build the chemistry to win a championship, after failing to win a title in their first year together. The Cavaliers have a lot of talent on paper, but also a lot of noticeable flaws. Before anyone puts all their money on Cleveland in the 2014-2015 season, the Cavaliers need to prove that their pieces fit together, and they have the maturity and durability to win a championship in their first season together.