The Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t the super-team so many expected them to be over the first half of 2014-2015. Given the team’s play since a pair of midseason and the return of LeBron James from injury, it might still have a chance to live up to that billing. If not for those roster shuffles, however, the Cavaliers apparently believe their November and December struggles would have persisted.
According to Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, several players – anonymously, of course – said they’d “lost faith” in the team’s chances to legitimately compete during the season’s initial months. And perhaps more importantly, one Cavalier maintained that the team’s poor intangible wherewithal had little to do with concerns related to coach David Blatt.
Under the condition of anonymity, some Cavs players admitted that they had lost faith because of the team’s lack of depth. A handful of players said they came to realize the roster, as it was constructed before the trades, wasn’t equipped to go any further than the second round, if that.
One player said the frustration of an “unbalanced roster probably contributed” to the players’ poor body language and effort level. Another said “it was never Coach [David] Blatt’s fault.”
The consensus was that their confidence had faltered considerably more because of the shallowness of the team’s reserve talent than Blatt.
We were always wary of Cleveland’s roster construction. Dion Waiters simply didn’t fit on a team with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, while the middling rim protection provided by Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson simply isn’t doesn’t mesh well alongside an interior defender like Kevin Love. The team’s overall lack of defense and athleticism on the wing behind James was glaring, too.
But David Griffin alleviated some of those concerns by exchanging Waiters for J.R. Smith and the just-activated Iman Shumpert early this month, and doubled-down a few days later when he brought in Timofey Mozgov for draft assets. While none of those three players is the bellwether force most associate with in-season deals that could turn a team’s fortunes, each fill considerable holes on the Cavaliers’ roster – specifically and presumably, those which had the players “losing faith” in the first place.
Smith provides deep shooting and secondary playmaking. Shumpert is a game perimeter defender with athletic juice to spare. Mozgov is a solid paint intimidator with enough ball skills to serve as a functional pick-and-roll partner. Then there’s the obvious benefit of swapping one rotation player for three; even considering Varejao’s season-ending achilles tear, Cleveland suddenly boasts all-court depth it sorely lacked just a few weeks back.
This is still the honeymoon phase for the Cavs. They’re winners of five straight games after last night’s 129-90 drubbing of the Charlotte Hornets, playing the go-go offense and opportunistic defense that so many assumed would be their identity from the very beginning. A revitalized James is playing his best ball of the season, Cleveland’s revamped defensive scheme ahead of Mozgov is paying dividends, and the team’s energy and engagement is at an all-time high.
But the Cavaliers won’t play this way all season. Smith will cool off from deep, a star will succumb to a nagging injury, or perhaps a player will grow unhappy with his minutes load. The true test of Cleveland’s lasting success will be how it reacts when that time comes – obviously, Blatt’s squad didn’t fare too well when it did in the season’s early going.
Until it does, though, there’s every reason for the Cavs to believe they’ve turned a corner. Their play certainly supports that optimism, and growing chemistry does, too.
What do you think?
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