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2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers Preview
By Derek Denneny, Contributing NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - After three straight seasons finishing in the lottery, two of which yielded the top pick in the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to return to a place the team hasn't been since LeBron James infamously bolted to South Beach.
In 2010, Cleveland fired head coach Mike Brown following the season, but have reunited with the man that took the franchise to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007. After guiding the Cavs to a franchise best 66-16 record in 2009, Brown's bunch reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, before they were eliminated by the Boston Celtics.
The next season, Cleveland finished with a 15-59 mark, Brown was shown the door and the Cavs were awarded with the top pick in the 2011 Draft.
Cleveland picked a franchise-changing talent in point guard Kyrie Irving.
Over the past two seasons, the Duke product has spawned into, not just one of the top point guards in the league, but perhaps one of the Association's top players.
Despite going a less-than-pedestrian 64-166 over the past three seasons, the Cavs showed signs of improvement in the 2012-13 campaign and it all starts with their point guard.
Over 59 games last season, Irving averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Most of the question marks involving Irving don't even concern his talent, but his ability to stay healthy to make it through a grueling 82-game NBA schedule.
Irving missed 15 games as a rookie due to a freak concussion in February 2012 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in late-March. The 2012 Rookie of the Year also missed most of his only season at Duke with an ankle injury.
In July of 2012, Irving suffered a broken right hand after slapping a padded wall in frustration during a Cavaliers practice session. The budding superstar suffered yet another setback, his fifth in 24 months, when X-rays revealed a hairline fracture in the ninth game of the season.
This season, Irving expects to stay healthy.
"This is the best I've ever felt coming into a season," he said. "My goal is to become the best player in the league."
Cleveland gained a bit of insurance at the point guard position with the signing of free agent guard Jarrett Jack. Jack, who played a key role off the bench for the Golden State Warriors last season, will provide the Cavs with a scorer off the bench, but for the Cavaliers to reach their full potential this season, Irving will have to remain on the floor.
Irving isn't the only injury-prone impact player on the Cavs' roster. Cleveland inked much-maligned center Andrew Bynum.
When healthy, Bynum is undoubtedly one of the games most talented big men on both ends of the court, but the biggest problem with the 7-footer is staying healthy.
Since coming to the NBA in 2005, Bynum has appeared in just 392-of-554 games. In the 2011-12 season, Bynum posted career-highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. It was Bynum's second full season, albeit a lockout shortened campaign, but the big man proved that he can be the impact presence down low teams covet in a league with a shortage of talented bigs.
Bynum was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers after his breakout season in a blockbuster three-team deal, but infamously missed the entire season with knee injuries.
While it is unclear if Bynum will return for the start of the upcoming season, when he does take the court, he could be the perfect compliment to Irving.
In 2012, Cleveland had a pair of lottery picks and selected shooting guard Dion Waiters and forward Tristan Thompson, who both enjoyed encouraging rookie campaigns. The Cavs then used their second first overall pick in three seasons on Anthony Bennett, a 6-foot-7 forward out of UNLV.
While the selection of Bennett came as a surprise to nearly every viewer of the draft, Cleveland is extremely excited for the potential of the Canadian- native.
Bennett was one of the biggest mismatches in college hoops last year, combining an impressive inside game with a smooth jumper that defenders have to respect. What Bennett lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his 7-foot-1 wingspan, allowing him to bang with players bigger than him.
The Cavs also signed small forward Earl Clark in offseason, who could step in until Bennett is ready to contribute.
Cleveland is also hopeful for center Anderson Varejao to return following a season-ending blood clot in his lung last season. Varejao is the heart and soul of this group, and adds tremendous depth to the Cavs' front court.
While Cleveland is hopeful to return to the playoffs, one last trip to the lottery wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The projected draft class of 2014 is stacked with talent.
Four players with lottery talent, plus a healthy Bynum, could be enough to lure the most-hated man on the North Coast back to the championship-starved city...maybe.
2012-13 Results: 24-58, 5th in Central, Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: HC Mike Brown, G Jarrett Jack, C Andrew Bynum, F Anthony Bennett, F Earl Clark, G Carrick Felix, G/F Sergey Karasev
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kyrie Irving SG- Dion Waiters SF- Anthony Bennett PF- Tristan Thompson C - Andrew Bynum (injured)
KEY RESERVES: F/C Anderson Varejao, F Earl Clark, G Jarrett Jack, G/F C.J. Miles, G Danny Gibson, C Cody Zeller, F Alonzo Gee
FRONTCOURT: Bynum has proved to be one of the more dominating centers in the league, and Thompson, coming off one of an encouraging rookie campaign, are joined by Varejao, Zeller and Bennett, creating one of the deeper frontcourts in the NBA.
If Bennett can make an instant impact, Cleveland could be looking at a perfect combination of size and athleticism in the frontcourt to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
All this could be ruined, however, if Bynum never regains his health (which could provide us with more bizarre hairstyles) and Varejao is unable to recover from his heart issues. What looked like incredible depth, could leave the Cavs frontcourt gasping for air.
BACKCOURT: Clearly Irving is the best player on this team, but is the supporting cast enough to give Irving the opportunity to truly excel this season? Possibly.
Waiters averaged 14.7 ppg for Cleveland last season, taking some of the pressure off of Irving to provide the offense.
Jack is certainly one of the best options off the bench in the league, as he provides instant scoring with the second unit. Jack has the ability to score 15 points and dish out six assists off the bench, a role he thrived in with Golden State.
BENCH: Jack is a serious candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, and Varejao adds an incredible motor off the bench.
Miles also provides the Cavs with scoring off the bench. Miles averaged 11.2 ppg in a backup role last season.
Zeller showed flashes in limited action last year, and Clark averaged 10.5 ppg and just over 8.0 rpg in January and February for the Lakers last season. If Zeller and Clark can provide off the bench, the Cavs will have a serious chance at contending for a playoff berth.
COACHING: While Brown became the scapegoat in 2009 after James and a group of overachieving role players were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals, it may not have been Brown's fault.
There isn't a coach in the world that could have improved the play of the supporting cast on those teams. Phil Jackson had Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and Kobe and Kobe and Pau. Pat Riley had Magic, Kareem and Worthy. Even Auerbach had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.
Brown replaced Jackson with the Lakers after he was fired in Cleveland, and he may have had a tenuous stay in Hollywood, but could be the perfect fit for an up-and-coming squad.
"I am thrilled to return to Cleveland to coach the Cavaliers," said Brown "The commitment ownership and management have shown in their efforts to build a successful team and organization is deep and I am excited to lead the team forward. Nothing would mean more to me and my family than to help bring success to this very special community and to all of our committed and loyal fans."
OUTLOOK: Will the Cavs win the NBA Finals this season? No. But this team has the potential to become a contender in a few years. This will be an exciting season for a club filled with young talent.
Irving will continue to set the tone, but the success of the team rests on the contributions on Irving's compliments.
If the supporting cast provides this young superstar with adequate support, this team is playoff-bound.
If not? There's always LeBron...
10/16 13:02:28 ET
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