Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cleveland Cavaliers: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 61-21
2009-10 Playoffs: #1 seed; lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics in six games
Additions: Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, Joey Graham, Christian Eyenga
Key Losses: LeBron James, Zadrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West
Projected Rotation Players: Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Ramon Sessions, Anderson Varejao, Ryan Hollins, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson, Leon Powe, Jamario Moon

Barring a rash of injuries or a full-blown fire sale, look for the Cleveland Cavaliers regular season win total to exceed most expectations.

After the most successful period in the franchise’s history, the 2010-11 Cavaliers open a new chapter for hoops in Northeast Ohio. This season in Cleveland begins in the wake of the departure of the best basketball player on the planet and the man who led the Cavs to the only 60-win seasons in franchise history and its only trip to the NBA Finals. In relocating to South Beach, LeBron James took not only his talents with him, but much of the optimism and hope that surrounded the Cavaliers as well.

In the intervening months, a lot’s been made of the Cavs’ post-LeBron outlook. There has been no shortage of pessimism in analysts’ expectations, with many predicting no more than 20 wins for the team in 2010-11. While they’re sure to suffer a considerable dropoff, there’s simply too many capable basketball players remaining on this roster to expect a 75% drop in wins.

The 2010-11 Cavs’ rotation features seven legitimate NBA players. This group includes a pair of former All-Stars in Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams (whether or not you agreed with his selection, Mo!) and a young duo with loads of potential (J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions, a Hype favorite). Any of these four players can go off for 30 on a given night. In addition to this core, the Cavs boast a pair of capable shooters in Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and Anthony Parker and an undersized but tough front line of Anderson Varejao, Ryan Hollins, Leon Powe and Jamario Moon.

Combine this solid crew with a new coach (Byron Scott) with a proven track of getting the most out of his players, an owner hell-bent on fielding a winner and a $14 million trade exception (acquired as part of LeBron’s move to Miami) that could help him do so, and the Cavs’ cupboard’s far from bare. Not sure I’d back Dan Gilbert in his race to a ring against LeBron and the Heat, but the situation in Cleveland is not as bleak as some would have us believe.

Bottom line: Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Cavaliers at 30.5. This is far less pessimistic than most predictions, but could still prove low. There’s no replacing Lebron James, but there is a solid complement of quality players left on the Cavs’ roster. Not only should the Cavs post a decent record against the bottom half of the league, they will battle against the NBA’s best, using hustle, a solid defense and the unconditional support of its city (the fans will carry this team to a few surprising home wins) to compete against the NBA's top teams. Their hard-fought win over the Boston Celtics in the season opener was a prime example of this.

Is this a playoff team? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if the 2010-11 Cavaliers put up a gutty 33-35-wins.

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