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When LeBron James unceremoniously left the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami back in 2010, there was very little for Cavaliers fans to be optimistic about. Things have changed in Cleveland over the last three years however, and with Kyrie Irving leading a young and talented squad, the Cavaliers could emerge as the dark horse of the Eastern Conference this coming season.
The Cavaliers have made important, and much needed, additions this summer, but perhaps none is as important as the signing of center Andrew Bynum. The big man had an injury plagued year in Philadelphia last season, but if he can stay healthy and find the form he showed in his last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, then he can be the dominant presence in the paint that Cleveland have been searching for. Bynum will most likely be joined by Tristan Thompson at the power forward spot, with the youngster showing considerable signs of improvement in his first two years in the NBA. Couple this with the experience of Anderson Varejao, and the potential of Tyler Zeller from the bench, and the Cavaliers have a very exciting selection of young big men, who could form a successful group for many years to come.
Another problem for Cleveland since LeBronâ€™s departure has been a lack of talent and/or depth at the small forward position, and recent number one overall pick Anthony Bennett could be the answer to this perennial problem, providing he doesnâ€™t finding himself backing up Thompson as a power forward (his college position). Although some have claimed that Cleveland â€˜reachedâ€™ for Bennett by taking him with the first pick in this yearâ€™s draft, his rebounding skills, dynamism and outside shooting, potentially make him a great solution to Clevelandâ€™s struggles at small forward. Former Laker Earl Clark will also be worth keeping an eye on, as he showed glimpses of starterâ€™s potential during Los Angelesâ€™ injury-ridden 2012-13 season.
Clevelandâ€™s back court has also been upgraded during the offseason, with Jarrett Jack providing strong backup behind Irving, and protecting the young point guard from playing too many minutes, and tiring himself out for later in the season. Irving himself is now already considered as one of the best point guards in the East, if not the whole NBA, and is slightly behind the â€˜eliteâ€™ group of Chris Paul, Russel Westbrook, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. Hopes will also be high for shooting guard Dion Waiters, who had a very impressive rookie season, and even more will be expected of the young man this season, as he grows accustomed to the NBA. Other additions, Sergey Karasev and Felix Carrick, both via the draft, should also add some much needed quality to the Cavaliersâ€™ bench, providing a outside shooting threat and a lockdown defender respectively.
An NBA offseason is often a case of give and take, with teams sacrificing certain players for cap reasons, or to allow them to strengthen other areas of the team, but for Cleveland there have been only positives. The starting five has been improved with the additions of Bynum and Bennett (again, presuming he transitions to small forward), not to mention the continued development of the talented young trio of Irving, Waiters and Thompson, whilst the bench has also been given a much needed boost in the form of Jack, Karasev, Carrick and Clark. The talent is there, as is the depth, now Clevelandâ€™s biggest concerns will be keeping this group healthy, as well as developing chemistry under returning head coach Mike Brown.
No one is tipping the Cavaliers to win the NBA title next season, especially with the likes of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets looking to dominate the conference, but an eagerly awaited return to the playoffs could be on the cards. A return to the playoffs would certainly be uplifting to the Cleveland fan base, and though further expectations may be premature at this stage, the foundations have certainly been laid for a very successful future.
Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison