Will Isaiah Thomas have enough to lead the Boston Celtics past the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James?
Y-Cleveland Cavaliers 59-23 (1)
The Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2016-2017 NBA season in an unfamiliar spot as they will be the hunted instead of the hunter. The Cavaliers are coming off of their first NBA Championship in franchise history after an epic comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals that saw them overcome a 3-1 deficit in the series. Last season saw the Cavaliers push all the right buttons, and with Tyronn Lue entrenched as the team’s head coach, he must find a way to make sure that his squad doesn’t get complacent.
Luckily for Lue, he has strong leadership on the court for the Cavs that begins with small forward LeBron James. James returned to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons with the Miami Heat, and he immediately made the Cavaliers a title contender. In 2015, the Cavs won the Eastern Conference Championship for the second time in franchise history, but injuries hindered their chances against the Warriors in the NBA Finals. However this time around the Cavaliers were healthy and thus they were able to win the NBA Title.
And even though that James is only 31-years of age, you have to wonder when the wear and tear is going to catch up to him. James is a 13-year NBA veteran that has appeared in the last six NBA Finals, along with playing in three different Summer Olympics for the United States. For his career James has averaged 39 minutes per game which is something that Lue will definitely keep an eye on as it is more important for the Cavaliers to have the best all-around player in the NBA fresh and ready to go when the postseason rolls around.
Around James, the Cavs do have a strong supporting cast that includes point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love. Both Love and Irving were up for the challenge of playing alongside James last year en route to winning a championship, and their presence along with an overall hunger will be vital if Cleveland intends on repeating.
With the likes of center Tristan Thompson, shooting guard Iman Shumpert, and small forward Richard Jefferson, the Cavaliers should once again be one of the better defensive units in the NBA. Last year the Cavs were fourth in the NBA in points allowed at 98.3 per game, and it is vital to have a solid defensive unit on the floor in the final minutes of a contest. James can lock down the oppositions best perimeter player, while Shumpert and Jefferson aren’t slouches in that category either. Thompson is the Cavs best rebounder which is going to be more important this year after Cleveland lost center Timofey Mozgov in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA Playoffs won’t begin until April, but every night will be like a playoff game for the Cavaliers after what they were able to accomplish last year. And Cleveland must find a way to be up for the challenge.
Y-Indiana Pacers 55-27 (2)
For the first time in nearly six years, the Indiana Pacers will begin an NBA season without Frank Vogel as their head coach. Vogel led the Pacers to the playoffs in five of the six years that he coached the team and only Slick Leonard won more games than him in franchise history. But Pacers team president Larry Bird decided that it was time for the team to go in a new direction with an eye on becoming more offensive oriented which comes as a surprise since he was the one responsible for giving Vogel the lack of offensive fire power to work with.
Nate McMillian served as an assistant coach for Vogel during the last four years and now he will assume the role of head coach for the Pacers. But this won’t be McMillan’s first trip around the block as a head coach in the NBA as he was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics from 2000-2005, and then leading the Portland Trailblazers from 2005-2012.
McMillan’s transition to being the man that is calling that shots should be a seamless one as he has the services of small forward Paul George. George is back to the form that he had prior to him suffering a broken leg in 2014 and he is coming off of a career-high in points as he averaged 23.1 points per contest last season. The Pacers have been using George more as a power forward due to their “small ball” approach which means that he will continue to crash the boards as well.
The Pacers were tied with the Sacramento Kings in rebounding last season as they averaged 44.2 per contest which was 11th in the league. But the Pacers should be able to improve in that category now that they’ve acquired power forward Thaddeus Young and center Al Jefferson. Young averaged a career-high in rebounds last season with 9 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets while also scoring 15.1 points. The Pacers had to give up the draft rights to swingman Caris LeVert to order to obtain Young who could be in line to have his best NBA season as he plays alongside George. Jefferson is twelve-year NBA veteran that has averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds for his career. Jefferson and the Pacers agreed on a three-year contract that is worth $30 million after he spent the last three NBA seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. And what Jefferson provides the Pacers with is a proven low-post scoring option in the post. Along with Young and Jefferson, power forward Myles Turner is looking to build off of a solid rookie season where he averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds as Indiana is definitely more bigger and physical than they were at the end of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Shooting guard Monta Ellis averaged 13.8 points last season in his first year with the Pacers, and he’ll have some more help in the back court this time around as Indiana acquired point guard Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks, and signing veteran guard Aaron Brooks. Teague gives the Pacers a proven ball handler that will take some pressure off of George, while Brooks will give Indiana instant energy off of the bench.
The Pacers are definitely one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and they should be able to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a definite scare.
Y-Detroit Pistons 48-34 (5)
It hasn’t taken Stan Van Gundy that long to once again make the Detroit Pistons respectable. In 2014, Van Gundy became the Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations as he has his hands all over the outlook of the franchise. And by Van Gundy’s second year in Detroit, the Pistons were playoff bound for the first time since 2009. Although that the Pistons were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA Champions in the Cleveland Cavaliers, this team has what it takes to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
After the Pistons acquired point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, he is developing into one of their franchise players. In Jackson’s first full season with the Pistons, Jackson averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists, but the time is now for him to take the next step in order for Detroit to become a title contender. Jackson must become more of a facilitator as he had his moments last year when he would tend to become an iso-player. And with the likes of center Andre Drummond and power forward Marcus Morris on the Pistons roster, Jackson could see an increase in his assists if he is able to consistently get the football to them.
Drummond is only 22-years of age, but he is already a four-year NBA veteran. Drummond was the Pistons first-round pick in 2012, and in each season with the club his production has increased. Last season Drummond led the NBA in rebounds at 14.8 per game, while he also averaging 16.2 points per game. Drummond entered the NBA as a very raw talent and his overall game has continued to improve which is evident by the Pistons giving him a five-year, $130 million extension over the summer. Drummond is now a legit threat in the post for the Pistons, but he must find a way to improve his free throw shooting as he was just 35% from the charity stripe last season.
The Pistons are Morris’s third NBA team, but he appears to have finally found a home as he averaged 14.1 points per game last season in Detroit. Morris can be just what the doctor ordered for the Pistons offense due to the fact that he can hit the mid-range shot which takes pressure off of Drummond in the post, while also being a passing option for Jackson when he penetrates.
The Pistons have sized and depth that includes the likes of small forwards Tobias Harris and Stanley Johnson. Both Harris and and Johnson are Van Gundy’s kind of player as they simply do whatever it takes to win, and opponents must always account for them. Rookie power forward Henry Ellenson could have an impact for the Pistons as in one year of college ball for the Marquette Golden Eagles, he showed the low-post scoring ability that can take some more of the front court scoring pressure off of Drummond.
Defensive basketball has always been a hallmark of Van Gundy’s teams and the Pistons must find a way to improve at that end of the floor where they gave up 101.4 points per game which was 12th in the NBA. But as Van Gundy continues to get his kind of players in Detroit, the defensive intensity should increase this season.
Van Gundy’s team have been known to make their opponents work for everything that they get which should once again be the case this season as the Pistons should be a force in the Eastern Conference.
The first year for the Chicago Bulls under head coach Fred Hoiberg saw them finish with a winning record, but the season was an overall disappointment. The Bulls went 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as there was a high level of inconsistency with this club. Hoiberg tried to implement his uptempo offensive system with a team that was full of defensive minded players who were left over from Tom Thibodeau’s time as the Bulls head coach. But now as Hoiberg is set to begin his second year in Chicago, and there has been a roster overhaul, he and the Bulls are hoping for better results.
The Bulls roster overhaul began with them parting with two players that defined the most recent era of basketball in the Windy City. The past nine years saw center Joakim Noah become the heart and soul of the Bulls due to his determination and toughness. Noah was one of the better rebounders in team history, and with him roaming the paint, there was never an easy basket for a Bulls opponent. But as injuries began to take their toll on Noah, the Bulls decided to allow him to leave in free agency as he is now a member of the New York Knicks.
The Knicks and Bulls would also become trade partners over the summer as Chicago sent longtime point guard Derrick Rose to the Big Apple. During Rose’s first four years with the Bulls, he was one of the most explosive players in the NBA until knee injuries sapped him of that. And as Rose is still attempting to find the form that made him the NBA’s MVP in 2011, the Bulls decided that it was time to move on.
The Bulls are welcoming an icon home as after 13 seasons and three NBA Titles with the Miami Heat, shooting guard Dwyane Wade is returning to his native Chicago. Wade will be 35-years of age in January, and although that he might not have the explosiveness that he once possessed, he can provide this team with tons of leadership as he has seen it all during his NBA career. On top of that the Bulls could be dealing with a very motivated Wade since he felt that the Heat disrespected him in their contract negotiations which opened the door for him to go to Chicago.
Along with Wade, the Bulls signed point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is one of the most talented point guards in the NBA as he led the league in assists last season at 11.7 per contest. But the Bulls will be Rondo’s fourth different NBA team since 2014 as he has been known to wear out a welcome and it will be interesting to see if he is ready to conform to how Hoiberg wants his offense run in Chicago.
When the Bulls traded Rose to the Knicks, part of the deal was that they acquired center Robin Lopez. Lopez averaged 7.3 rebounds last year for the Knicks, and although that he won’t makes the folks in Chicago completely forget about Noah, he is definitely a member of the “all-energy team” as his hustle on the defensive end of the floor will earn the praise of the folks in the Windy City.
The Bulls have a very solid bench that is full of young players in forwards Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott who should all contribute positively this season for Hoiberg.
But the engine that makes the Bulls go is shooting guard Jimmy Butler. In five seasons with the Bulls, Butler’s points per game averaged has increased, and if he averages 25 points or more this season, he will definitely find himself in the MVP discussion. And with Wade now as a member of the Bulls, we could see more of Butler at small forward this season, while along with Rondo, Chicago could have three proven ball handlers on the court at the same time.
The Bulls have plenty of new players that must find a way to work with one another. And although that Chicago could start the season slow, they should be able to pick it up en route to finding their cohesion.
Milwaukee Bucks 41-41
The Milwaukee Bucks began the 2015-2016 NBA season as a trendy pick to do some damage in the Eastern Conference. But as the Bucks had one of the youngest teams in NBA, they were never able to get on track. And as Jason Kidd is set to begin his third season with the Bucks, the talent is there, it is just a matter of Milwaukee living up to their potential.
The Bucks will begin the upcoming NBA season at a huge disadvantage as they will be without the services of shooting guard Khris Middleton. A hamstring injury will sideline Middleton for six months which leaves a void for the Bucks as was their leading scorer last season at 18.2 points per game.
The injury to Middleton would see the Bucks acquire forward Michael Beasley from the Houston Rockets. Beasley has had a very interesting basketball journey which has included three stints with the Miami Heat and two years in China. Beasley was the second overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Heat, and outside of averaging 19.2 points per game during the 2010-2011 season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has been consistently inconsistent during his time in the league. But luckily for Beasley, he joins a Bucks team where can be one of the guys as it will give him time to figure out his role with the team.
The Bucks will have to compete for the majority of the season without Middleton, but they have an emerging star in small forward Giannis Antetonkounmpo. In each of Antentonkounmpo’s first three seasons with the Bucks, his numbers have improved as he averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists last season. And if there is one player that should become the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense, it is Antetonkounmpo who at 6’11” is a matchup problem for opponents due to his length and ball handling ability.
The Bucks are also loaded with talent and size in their front with the likes of power forward Jabari Parker and center Greg Monroe as Milwaukee would greatly benefit if the NBA allowed them to operate the 2-3 defensively due to their length. But surprisingly with all of the size that Milwaukee possesses, they were still 27th in the NBA last season in rebounding at 41.7 points per game.
A few years ago the Bucks were very high on point guard Michael Carter-Williams when they acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers. But Carter-Williams would struggle last season in Milwaukee which saw benched. And with the injury to Middleton, it was the perfect opening for the Bucks to trade Carter-Williams as they sent him to the Chicago Bulls in favor of swingman Tony Snell who gives them more depth on the perimeter.
The Bucks are still a young team, but the addition of veteran players such as guards Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova who each have NBA Championships on their resume should help this squad figure it out.
The Bucks should be an up and down team during the upcoming NBA season, but they will be exciting.
After 45 years of trying, the Cleveland Cavaliers have reached basketball’s promised land. The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA Championship in franchise history, and in the process they made history as they became the first team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals which included winning two of those games on the road. The Cavs did the impossible as they knocked off a Warriors team that set an NBA single-season for wins with 73, and they did it with heart and determination. The Cavaliers title run makes everything come full circle for small forward LeBron James who after spending the first seven years of his NBA career in Cleveland, took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. In four years with the Heat, James won two NBA Championships, but he decided to return to the Cavs in 2014 and he has now delivered the title that the folks in Cleveland were seeking. And as the Cavaliers won the first title for the City of Cleveland in over 50 years, here are five events that shaped their title run.
Losing the NBA Finals last year
When James returned to the Cavaliers in 2014, it immediately changed how people looked at the team. In four years without James, the Cavs never won more than 33 games in a season, but they had to learn how to win in a hurry with James.
The Cavaliers went 53-29 en route to advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time 2007. But once Cleveland reached the NBA Finals, they were the walking wounded as they had lost power forward Kevin Love to a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs, while point guard Kyrie Irving sustained a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of the finals.
James tried to put the Cavaliers on his back, but the Golden State Warriors were clicking on all cylinders. And after having to watch the Warriors celebrate winning the NBA Championship at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last June, the Cavs weren’t thrilled.
Tyronn Lue replacing David Blatt as Cavaliers head coach
When James returned to Cleveland, he knew exactly what he was getting into. The Cavaliers had recently hired David Blatt to be their head coach in spite of the fact that he didn’t have any prior experience in the NBA. And there would be a power struggle between James and Blatt in spite of the success that the team was having.
Upon returning to Cleveland, James would lose his first game as the Cavs lost at home to the New York Knicks. This immediately prompted Blatt to call a team meeting which wasn’t good for business. During Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers found themselves tied at 84 late in the contest against the Chicago Bulls. With Cleveland already down 2-1 in the series and going down 3-1 a distinct possibility, Blatt called a play in the huddle that called for James to be the inbound passer. James immediately scrapped those plans, and instead he took the final shot which turned out to be the game winner.
This past NBA season saw the Cavs still as the premier team in Eastern Conference, but Blatt would be fired in spite of the fact that Cleveland was 30-11 on the season under him.
Blatt would be replaced by Cavaliers assistant coach Tyronn Lue who left his imprint on the team by changing around the Cavaliers rotations, and more importantly making James accountable.
During the Cavs 122-101 loss to the Miami Heat on March 19, Cleveland found themselves on the wrong side of a 21-point halftime deficit. Instead of James warming up with his teammates for the second half, he was seen joking around with Heat guard Dwyane Wade which drew the ire of Lue. Lue let James know that actions such as that would not be tolerated from James; especially since he is the leader of the team. And in one instance Lue did what most coaches have failed to do with James which is to hold him accountable.
Acquiring Channing Frye
The Cavs had their key players in James, Irving, and Love, but in order to win an NBA Championship, quality role players are needed. On February 18, the Cavaliers acquired power forward/center Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic. In 10 NBA seasons, Frye has averaged 9.2 points per contests, but he has the ability to stretch the floor due to the fact that he is a 38.5% career shooter from behind the three-point line. Frye only scored 2 points in the NBA Finals, but his contributions were important to the Cavs getting back there and winning it all.
Stephen Curry being the NBA’s first unanimous MVP
It’s hard to believe, but in the 70 years of existence for the NBA, there has never been a unanimous winner of the league’s MVP award until this year. Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry averaged 30.1 points per game this season to earn his second consecutive NBA MVP Award. And when it was announced that Curry was a unanimous winner of the award, James questioned it. James used that to add extra fuel to his fire as he averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks during the NBA Finals to be recognized as the MVP of the series as he was a one-man wrecking crew.
Game 4 of the NBA Finals
During Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, frustration began to set in for James as the Cavaliers were well on their way to losing and putting themselves into a 3-1 hole in the series against the Warriors. Late in the game there was an exchange of words between James and Warriors power forward Draymond Green which led to Green calling James a “b—h”. James was infuriated over the matter and later on in the contest, the two players got tangled up with Green kicking James. James received a technical foul while Green was hit with a flagrant. And since it was Green’s fourth flagrant foul of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, he was suspended for Game 5.
With the Warriors looking to close out the Cavaliers at home, they were without the services of Green which made it easier for James to score. In Game 5, James and Irving each went for 41 points to help the Cavs stave off elimination. But the horse was out of the barn at that point as James went for 41 points once again in Game 6 before posting a triple-double in Game 7 to the tune of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists to clinch the series.
The 2016 NBA Finals were extremely exciting, and if the City of Cleveland has to wait another 51 years to witness a championship, they got their money’s worth this time around.
This past Friday, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to move on from head coach David Blatt after just 19 months on the job. The move by the Cavaliers to fire Blatt has brought with it some raised eyebrows and applause alike as it has caught many people by surprise. At the time of Blatt’s firing, the Cavaliers were 30-11 this NBA season which is good enough for the best record in the Eastern Conference. But after Blatt’s first month on the job, he had been dealt more than what he initially expected.
In June 2014, Blatt was hired to be the 19th head coach in Cavaliers franchise history. At the time the Cavaliers were coming off of their fourth consecutive losing season and Blatt’s job simply appeared to be getting Cleveland’s young core of point guard Kyrie Irving, shooting guard Dion Waiters, and power forward Tristan Thompson to all be on the same page and develop in order to get back to the playoffs for the first since small forward LeBron James left to join the Miami Heat in 2010.
But little did Blatt or anyone that was associated with the Cavaliers know that James would opt-out of his contract with the Heat in 2014 to return to Cleveland. And as soon as James returned to the Cavaliers, the expectations in Cleveland for this team went through the roof. Along with James returning to the Cavaliers, power forward Kevin Love was acquired from the Timberwolves, which along with Irving would give Cleveland their version of the “Big Three” that would hopefully give the organization their first NBA Championship in franchise history.
However when the Cavaliers hired Blatt to be their head coach, they brought in a guy that had never played in the NBA, nor did he coach in the league as a head coach or as an assistant. For more than two decades, Blatt was a head coach in the Israeli League where he was a five-time league champion. But Israeli Basketball isn’t on the same level as that of the NBA, and Blatt’s inexperience was on display rather quickly into his tenure with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers began the 2014-2015 NBA season with a 95-90 home loss to the New York Knicks. And in a very surprising move, Blatt called a team meeting following the loss which was rather alarming due to the fact that it was the first game of the season. The Cavs would struggle to get on the same page as they began that season with a record of 19-20. Waiters style of play didn’t lend itself to being on the same page with that of James and thus the youngster was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. However the Cavaliers would rebound to win 34 of their final 43 regular season games to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference en route to winning their second Eastern Conference Championship in franchise history.
But by the time that the NBA Finals rolled around last June, the Cavaliers were the walking wounded as Love was lost with a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs while Irving went down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 1 in the finals. Cleveland still gave a spirited effort, but they fell to the Warriors in six games. And during the Cavs postseason run, more of Blatt’s inexperience showed up.
In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers trailed the Chicago Bulls in the seven-game series, 2-1, and they were staring a 3-1 deficit in the face. With the game tied at 84 late in the fourth quarter, the Cavs had an opportunity to win. But during a timeout, Blatt constructed a play that called for James to deliver the inbounds pass. James disagreed with the play and a new one was drawn up with him taking the final shot. James connected on the baseline shot as time expired which tied the series 2-2, and Cleveland would go on to defeat the Bulls in six games.
Recently Blatt let it be known that he didn’t see the importance of monitoring a player’s minutes and opting to rest players during games on consecutive nights. James might have been quiet publicly on this matter, but at the age of 31, he knows the importance of pacing himself during the season; especially since he has appeared in the last five NBA Finals.
But with that said the Cavs had a chance to move on from Blatt over the summer when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be the guy that would and could lead this team to an NBA Title. However James publicly endorsed Blatt to remain as Cavaliers head coach last summer and in doing so, Cleveland missed an opportunity to bring in a head coach such as Mark Jackson or Avery Johnson who had previous NBA experience. And although that the wins have been there for the Cavaliers this season, this team has lacked team chemistry.
Blatt’s firing has now paved the way for Tyronn Lue to get his opportunity to lead the Cavs. Unlike Blatt, Lue played in the NBA and he’s been an assistant coach in the league as well, but he’s never been a head coach. Lue was immediately given a three-year deal from the Cavaliers which makes you wonder if this move had been in the works for some time.
Lue’s first order of business must be to get James, Irving, and Love all on the same page which is something that still hasn’t fully happened which makes the success that this team has recently enjoyed that more surprising. But even as an assistant, Lue appeared to be someone that the players on the Cavs respected more than Blatt as I am not sure if their now former head coach was ever able to relate to them. The Cavaliers are a deep team that needs to concentrate more on ball movement instead of simply having four guys standing around waiting for James to make something happen which will need to be one of their keys to success.
And regardless of whom the Cavs coach is, this team is more than likely going to win the Eastern Conference this season, but they’ll be solely judged by what they’ll be able to do in the NBA Finals. Last Monday, Cleveland was on the wrong side of a 34-point home loss to the Warriors where they appeared to be lifeless at times. And overall, the Cavs don’t match up well with either the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs who are the two teams that they’ll more than likely face in the NBA Finals should they get there. The Warriors and Spurs each excel at team basketball which starts with ball movement and being on the same as these are two things that the Cavs are currently struggling with. For Lue, he can reflect on the lessons that he learned from head coaches such as Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Jeff Van Gundy, who he played for during his NBA career as he looks to lead this team.
The Cavaliers should also look to cut some of the dead weight on this team in the form of shooting guard J.R. Smith. The Cavs acquired Smith from the Knicks last season who at times appears to be a player that has a very low basketball I.Q., and it is tough to win with guys like that on a team as they can become a cancer.
The Cavs were going to be one of the best team in the Eastern Conference anyway, but you should now see a more spirited team as Blatt’s dismissal was a wakeup call to each player on the roster even though he was never the man that should have been leading this team in the first place.