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Adding LeBron, Kevin Love makes Cavaliers contenders, but three things can hold them back

Aug 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Cleveland Cavaliers v San Antonio Spurs Cleveland Cavaliers v San Antonio Spurs

Dan Gilbert — one of the hardline owners in the last CBA negotiations, a guy who wanted an NFL-style franchise tag and taxes that would make it hard to build or maintain a super team team — has gone out and gotten himself a super team.

With the addition of Kevin Love to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are contenders. Kevin Love’s outlet passes are going to get LeBron, Irving, Dion Waiters and others some easy transition buckets. LeBron is going to create space for Love he hasn’t seen in years. If they play uptempo and use some smart sets this is a team that is going to score a lot of points.

But they should not be title favorites. Not yet in my book. I can think of three things that could (and I think will) keep them from winning a title next season.

1) Defense. LeBron is an elite defender, Irving is solid, Shawn Marion can still defend multiple positions well, but Love has his flaws and needs to be paired with a rim-protecting big man — Anderson Varejao is not that. Cleveland has some questions about how they plan to protect the paint with this roster, and what style of defense they will play. I don’t think the Cavaliers are going to be a bad defensive team by any means, but can they be elite enough to win a title with what they have? It may take another move or two to shore up this side of the ball.

2) Experience. LeBron has led a team to four straight finals, Marion and Mike Miller both have rings, however neither Love nor Irving have ever even played in a playoff game. To ask these guys to go from their first playoff experience to being key cogs in a team going for a title. Plus guys like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are going to be asked to step up into bigger roles, then do that deep into the playoffs.

3) There are some other very good teams out there. There is no easy path for the Cavaliers, even if they are in the softer East. First, I’m in the camp that the Bulls are going to be very good (I’m betting on Derrick Rose’s knees to be healthy for most of the year). The Bulls right now have an identity as a team, something the Cavaliers will be searching for. If the Cavaliers do get to the Finals there are some very good teams waiting? Did you see the San Antonio Spurs dismantle the Heat in the Finals last year? Well they brought everybody back and are the team to beat. Oklahoma City will still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Clippers will be improved. There are questions.

I think Cleveland is going to win a ring or three over the next five seasons, but it may take them a year to get it all together. Much like as it took LeBron’s Heat teams a full season to really figure out a style that worked for them. I expect something similar in Cleveland.

  1. steelerfanforlife - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    Lebron is a basketball coward!!!

    • money2long - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      Tell me how he’s wrong

      • ProBasketballPundit - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        No. We’re all sick of the tired old LeBron haters. You can either appreciate him for what he is or pick another contending team to root for. Better yet, pick another sport.

    • avb300 - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:33 PM

      One thing that is understated is that the Bulls will also take time to develop a system for their new personnel. They added Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic who might not play much, but still is expected to play. On top of this is the Rose rust factor which is mitigated by him playing in the FIBA world cup but it’ll take time.

      The Cavs will definitely have more bumps and they have less playoff experience but it’s not going to be as easy as some people think it’ll be for the Bulls.

  2. rrhoe - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    Very well written article,now maybe all the new CLE fans can slow their roll,it will take time people.

    • sportsfan18 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      Yes, good points in the article.

      They play the games for a reason and that’s where it will be determined.

      But if the Cavs don’t win the East, these are good reasons why it won’t happen. The Bulls are good and a lot depends on the knees of D Rose.

      This is the Bulls best chance to win the East. I didn’t say they would win folks, I just said it was their best chance. The Cavs will better in 15/16 than they are this coming season.

      May the Cavs will be good enough to win the East this yr but not the title…

      I’m a Bulls fan so I hope not. The season will be interesting and entertaining for sure.

      • money2long - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Your comments are always long. I’m willing to bet people naturally skim your long winded opinions.
        You need an editor.

      • rrhoe - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        My only knock on the Bulls is that over the past two seasons they have found adequate bench players in Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin that they’ve had to rely on for scoring because they struggled to do so in the half-court offense. I know Nate was a big liability on defense but what he brought on offense was very much needed,same with D.J.,but between the two they should’ve went all out to retain one of the them. They cannot keep going into the season relying on Rose’s health,they have been fortunate to keep finding guys to fill a scoring role off the bench,but imagine if they could’ve kept one of them and had a healthy Rose.

  3. ProBasketballPundit - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    My list for why Cleveland won’t win it all this season:

    1) Chemistry. Thats it. Sure if they had Walter White they’d be a lock in this area, but look how the Heat struggled in 2010. They were 9-8 and losing to bad teams. Then they got it together before falling to a team with the ultimate chemistry in Dallas. There are a few candidates for great chemistry teams out there now; Spurs, Clippers, Thunder if Scott Brooks ever gets fired. Anyway, I expect some growing pains for Cleveland. You can’t understate the role of team chemistry.

    • zoomy123 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      OKC went backwards in my book; I think they would still beat CLE but Sam Presti is keeping that team back. They lost Fisher, Sefolosha and Butler, and replaced them with…Anthony Morrow. Neither Perry Jones nor Jeremy Lamb are ready for prime time in the playoffs and OKC’s lack of depth was exposed by SAS last year. Heck, if Chris Paul doesn’t choke away game 6 the Clippers probably beat OKC.

      • bigmeechy74 - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        The night they made that AWFUL Harden trade I immediately said “Well they could’ve been a dynasty. Now they will never win a title. Ever. Zero.” I’m right. No chance the thunder ever win. They were my favorite team but now I hate them because of that dumb trade

      • rrhoe - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:28 AM

        All OKC needs is decent shooting guard that can defend but just as well knock down some shots and if he can average 12-15 pts a game they should be fine. I expect Steven Adams to relegate “Stone Hands” Perkins to the backup that he is but as you say,”if” Jeremy Lamb can seize the opportunity OKC won’t be as bad as people think they are.

      • zoomy123 - Aug 24, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        Why would OKC need more scoring? They need veteran glue guys that know how to close the deal. And they need to play smarter, especially Westbrook. In game 6 of the WCF Durant didn’t touch the ball in overtime until the game was over. WTF? Durant needs to show Westbrook who’s the alpha dog. OKC isn’t going anywhere until Durant goes through the same metamorphosis that LBJ went through. In overtime, while Westbrook was hogging the ball jacking up shots, Duncan was roasting Ibaka, lol. LBJ would never have let that happen w/ Wade and Wade wouldn’t have tried it because he knows the best player on the team gives the team the best chance to win. Scottie doesn’t take shots over MJ. McHale doesn’t take shots over Bird. And Wade doesn’t take shots over LBJ. Heck, does KD even have any historic or transcendent playoff performances? Nope. And as long as he doesn’t embrace his destiny–that all-time great level–he’s not winning any chips.

    • tv63 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:42 AM

      Scott Brooks isn’t the problem for OKC. They have never had a legit center. If anything it is Perkins that has held them down. And the thing that is laughable about all this talk on defense is that is the very thing that killed the Clippers as well. SPurs are solid no question. They have a fantastic system that is almost fool proof. They will have a bit of a slow start with Patty Mills out until Feb. but Popovich will find another way. He always does.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:27 AM

        They have a legit center now In Steven Adams. That dude is a beast. And Scott Brooks is absolutely the problem. You must be a fan of his “Clogged toilet” offense.

  4. zoomy123 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Did you just call Kyrie Irving a solid defender? LOL! He’s very bad…at best. Love is a better defender than Irving.

    • tv63 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      Have you watched him play in Team USA? He’s clearly improved. Can he keep it up in regular season is the question.

      • zoomy123 - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:52 AM

        Yes, but you shouldn’t confused ball pressure as a specific strategy with improved on-ball defense. There’s a difference. I’ve noticed that Kyrie has been constantly reaching in (wouldn’t fly in the NBA since FIBA is more physical) and he sometimes overcommitts causing him to lose defensive position and give up clear driving lanes. We’ll see how much he’s improved when the season starts.

  5. clevelandrox - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    well good thing there are no perfect teams out there. and if not for one of the most epic desire and efforts i have seen a team in the finals ever make and the epic fourth quarter failure of LeBron the Heat wouldve won in their first year…

  6. saint1997 - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    Defence is such a big worry for the Cavs, they’re lucky in the easy the teams that will be good (Bulls, Wiz, Raps and Pacers next year) are built on good D and im not sure how well they can push the Cavs shortcomings. The finals, on the other hand…

  7. samsonight1010 - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    Does nobody realize that OKC traded the wrong guard to Houston?

  8. 202folife - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Kevin Love nor Kyrie Irving can stay in front of anyone. Mark my words, the Cavs will have to make a drastic move (trading one of those two) before they can even sniff a title.

    • money2long - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      Just need solid defenders around them.
      No need for a trade of either one.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      Facts, 202folife.

    • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      If Love can’t stay in front of people then why were his defensive numbers so solid?

      Synergy – Points Per Play – Isolation Defense

      Kevin Love – 0.77 PPP – Rank 91
      Anthony Davis – 0.73 PPP – Rank 70
      Joakim Noah – 0.82 PPP – Rank 133
      Tim Duncan – 0.97 PPP – Rank 250
      Marc Gasol – 1.22 PPP – Rank 306
      Serge Ibaka – 0.80 PPP – rank 117

      Synergy – Points Per Play – Post-Up Defense

      Kevin Love – 0.72 PPP – Rank 43
      Anthony Davis – 0.81 PPP – Rank 98
      Joakim Noah – 0.78 PPP – Rank 69
      Tim Duncan – 0.79 PPP – Rank 78T
      Marc Gasol – 0.79 PPP – Rank 78T
      Serge Ibaka – 0.85 PPP – Rank 128

      • asimonetti88 - Aug 24, 2014 at 6:28 PM

        Are you trying to say that Kevin Love is a better defender than Anthony Davis or Joakim Noah?

      • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        You can draw your own conclusions. But as Kevin Pelton said, there aren’t any numbers that support the idea of Kevin Love as a defensive turnstile.

        Love’s Points Per Play allowed on defense is very solid, as you’ve seen. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus is above average. His Opponent PER allowed is also impressive.

        Love Opponent PER: 15.8
        Davis Opponent PER: 15.7
        Noah Opponent PER: 16.1

        His Defensive Win Share and Defensive Rating weren’t poor either.

        Love Defensive Win Share: 3.7
        Davis Defensive Win Share: 3.2

        Love Defensive Rating: 104
        Davis Defensive Rating: 104

        I believe people get the impression that he’s a bad defender because he doesn’t challenge a lot of guys at the rim as he tries to avoid foul trouble. People think that alone means he’s a weak defender. But that’s just a misperception based on a relatively small number of plays – all of which you’ll find on youtube.

      • hauts81 - Aug 24, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        Love didn’t receive a single vote for NBA All-Defense. Hell, even James Harden got 2 votes! Some obscure stats might be in his favor but the eyeball test is not. He’s a lousy defender.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:08 PM

        Yeah, it’s a funky thing. Defense is hard to pin down with any sort of certainty. And Harden getting 2 votes would have others argue for the unreliability of that voting system.

        But when it comes to Love at least you cannot argue that he’s a turnstile based on most of the ways we rate defenders statistically. The best you can do is say it is your opinion that he’s a bad defender and that you think most people agree with you. But, you know, “most people” have been wrong before.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:15 PM

        What’s really fascinating to me is that LeBron and Love both do some of the same things in an attempt to stay out of foul trouble.

        Early in games, LeBron will also let guys go buy him or not challenge shots at the rim – he will just let a guy lay it in over jumping up and risking early foul trouble. You can see that all the time. Haters think LeBron is favored by the refs because he rarely gets in foul trouble, but they don’t realize that this is the kind of thing that he does to stay out of foul trouble.

        But no one ever really comments on that when James does it. Well, they started last season, but before that they never did (probably because Miami’s team defensive efficiency started to slide so people started watching LeBron more closely). So it’s a strange perception thing. Other players don’t get the perception penalty that Love gets for doing the same things.

        …in my opinion.

      • hauts81 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:45 PM

        I won’t go so far as to say he’s a turnstile but he doesn’t put up much resistance on opposing players. And that whole argument of him backing off on D to avoid foul trouble is bollocks. He averaged 1.8 fouls a game last season while the Wolves allowed 104 points a game. Just watch him. He will leave his feet to grab a rebound but can’t be bothered to do the same to contest a shot. Most of the time he just stands there and doesn’t even put his arms up. It’s pathetic.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        “His 1.8 fouls per 36 minutes were the fewest of any regular big man last season (no one else was below 2.0 per 36), and not coincidentally, the Timberwolves allowed the league’s lowest rate of free throws per field goal attempt.”

        -Kevin Pelton

        Not bollucks. No other big fouled less than he did per 36 minutes (Love only played 36 min a night so his averages are all basically per 36 min numbers as well).

      • hauts81 - Aug 26, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        It is bollocks. You don’t average less than 2 fouls a game because you’re worried about getting in foul trouble. He just didn’t care about playing defense.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:18 PM

        How did LeBron finish 2nd in DPOY voting while averaging less than 2 fouls a game then?

        LeBron has averaged less than 2 fouls a game in 5 of the 6 seasons he’s been an All-Defensive player.

        So you can take your bollocks and shove them where… wait, no, don’t do that, that’s gross.

      • hauts81 - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:42 PM

        1. LeBron is a much better defender than Love. 2. LeBron is a megastar and megastars get a little more leeway from the refs on what they can get away with.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 27, 2014 at 6:48 PM

        I forgot what we were talking about, but Love is not a bad defender. He’s a lot better than you think and the majority of his defensive metrics tell that story.

  9. moseskkim - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    A big key for me is keep varejaos mintutes lowwww he ALWAYS gets hurt. I love his game. Can hit 15 footer and hustles like a beast. But if they dont have at least him as a big man, they have no chance. Keep him at 25 to 30 and play small ball with love and bron marion waiters irving. I love their players. I think thwy can win it all this yr. Yes irving and love have no playoff games but bron is the head of that ship and guys like marion and miller will help. So many good players its almost unfair

  10. j0esixpack - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    The Cavs will be fun to watch – the “no defense” will be “no problem” as they have the ammunition to overwhelm teams with offense

    However, come the playoffs, when they are up against other excellent offensive teams, that lack of D will be a HUGE liability – especially if they make it to the Finals

  11. lenbias34pt - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    The East will get better.

    So while I’d agree the Cavs will probably be better in a year or 2 so will the Wiz, Raptors, Charlotte, ATL and I do like what the Celtics are doing for the near future.

    Also Love, Waiters and Irving have brutal injury histories. Extended pressure and playoff games won’t make staying healthy easier.

    You Can’t bet against Lebron but their brief history has shown you should bet against Love, Irving and Waiters.

    It’s going to be a great plot. One theme I can’t get behind is that Lebron returned for any other reason other than to play for a more talented team. Which he surely has in Cleveland.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Which is why it will be interesting to see if he bails on Cleveland yet again either with an option next summer or after the two year deal is up the summer afterward. Regardless of the new TV deal being in place by then, allowing for contracts signed in 2016 to have higher maximums, it doesn’t mean he is staying there.

    • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 5:48 PM

      In looking at the Wiz, Raptors, etc. we still do not see any players on those teams who can make up the talent gap that LeBron and Love created. They just don’t have good enough players.

  12. DonKellyBaby - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    My prediction:

    Cavs beat the Thunder in 6.

    OKC trades for Greg Monroe before the deadline, too.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      They won’t even make it out of the East.

    • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 5:49 PM

      That was my early off-season prediction as well.

  13. canucks30 - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    The Cavaliers have the best basketball player on their team.

    LeBron James.

    In the NBA, that is all that really matters.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      Who won the 2014 Finals?

      • 00maltliquor - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        The best coach.

      • canucks30 - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        Who won the 2012 and 2013 Finals?

        How about 1991-1993 and 1996-1998?


        2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010?

    • canucks30 - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      LeBron James will win multiple championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers over the next decade.

  14. holleywood9 - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Irving a solid defender?? What are you watching. He continuously is rated a far below average defender.

  15. sisisisisisisi - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    won’t be long before lebron fire his coach & GM & Love whining and wanted out of Cleveland

  16. pukpokito - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    The Biggest thing that can hold the Cavaliers back: INJURIES. You forgot to write that sir. While LeBron is durable.Especially now that he is even in better shape to run with these younglings. BUT Love, Irving, Varejao, Miller all have struggled to have a complete or close to complete a season. They have missed a certain number of games for a few seasons now and that can create a lack of balance on the Cavaliers and might stretch them and will eventually cost them in the end.These injury prone players must do what they can to stay healthy.

    To me that will be the biggest thing that can hold them back.

  17. jolink653 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    Why are people still so hung up on the Harden trade? Yeah, he can score but what has Houston done with him and Howard and the rest of the talent there?

    OKC couldn’t have kept KD, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden together and still put a championship-caliber roster around them. They don’t have any problem scoring without Harden and Ibaka is so much more valuable than Harden for the skill set he brings. Look how much the Spurs series swung without a healthy Ibaka in the lineup. With him healthy, they would have beaten San Antonio and probably would have squashed Miami in the finals. I’m really sick of hearing people talking about how much the Harden trade crippled them. OKC has had just as much success without Harden, and once the Perkins contract is off the books and they can add other players while developing Adams, they’ll be a title contender for awhile

  18. Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Irving is AWFUL defensively. Not solid. Love is horrid also. Stop trying to sugarcoat this.

    Still trying to figure out how the collusion wasn’t punished.

    • antistratfordian - Aug 24, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      Love is not horrid in defense. He’s solid. Irving is a different story, but he’s still developing and he’s been playing some solid D this summer for Coach K.

      Love was good enough to rank 43rd in the entire league on Post-Up defense last season according to Synergy. That’s higher than Joakim Noah who ranked 69th. Love also ranked higher than Noah on Isolation defense (91st vs 133rd).

      Overall, Kevin Love and Joakim Noah both allowed 0.84 Points Per Play on defense last season. They tied for 108th in the league.

      Noah is a better P&R Roll Man defender and a better Off-Screen defender.

  19. seasickcecil - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    Keep believing LJ is going somewhere:

  20. ganksus - Aug 24, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Wow. No mention of the Heat in all these comments. All building up to say if Miami wins the East it was all fixed, right?

    • nickjackalson - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      wish they would, yet they won´t

      loved watching Wade back when he had legs

      next year his contract will make him look bad & prevent the Heat from winning

      playoffs, sure, why not

      semifinals, maybe even the conference finals (not really buying this)

      no finals, no title

      no way ever

  21. lacolem1 - Aug 24, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    Where is the plethora of mythical rim protectors people like to point to? Other than Hibbert, Noah, Ibaka, Howard, and a few others, the pickings are pretty slim. Today’s NBA is about team defense. While the Spurs put up decent shot blocking numbers, they didn’t win the title because modern Duncan was the Duncan of old around the rim. The Cavs were one of the most improved defensive teams for most of last year (I think they trailed off near the end), and I’m willing to bet they’ll be much, much better this year.

    And as for the other teams having identities? Do any of us really know what the Bulls will be now that they’re reintroducing a high usage player on offense, whose not exactly much better than Irving on defense? How will Gasol fit? Is Gibson really a starting PF? What happens near the end of games when Gasol’s on the bench and teams hone in on Rose? Not to mention they’ll be relying on guys like Mirotic. There are a LOT of question marks with that team. At least with the CAvs I know, well, Lebron’s the best player on the planet.

    The Spurs? No questions there. What about OKC? We know what they are, but are they good enough to finally take the next step if everything doesn’t go their way as far as health. Do we really trust the Clippers? Other than those three, is there a LEGIT contender in the West?

    The Cavs will be fine. Of all of the teams with question marks, the have the largest room for error because of their depth.

  22. AZ Dem - Aug 24, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    What is this three, four, five seasons from now stuff?

    Love’s a free agent next summer, and unless CLV wins the championship, he’s gone. Probably GSW. BOS is also a contender.

    LeBron is definitely going to opt out next summer. This upcoming season is just an audition for Cleveland’s management. He left because of managerial dysfunction. I don’t think anything has changed. But we will see. I think it’s only 50/50 that he resigns with CLV. If they don’t win the title.

    And what if Kobe suffers a career ending injury, which is within the realm of possibility. I’m a Boston fan from the Havlicek/Cowens era, so I hate the Lakers. But if I’m LeBron, if Kobe is out of the picture, I’m going to Los Angeles. Southern Cali is a great place to live if you’ve got a lot of money, and the business opportunities in the entertainment industry are the best in the world.

  23. campcouch - Aug 24, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    Points 1 and 3, I can see, but the time old playoff or Finals “experience” story is nonsense. Players have succeeded during their first trips to either. They have a few guys on the team with rings and the players who haven’t reached either have been in the league for a minute and/or played in the Olympics. They shouldn’t be overwhelmed by anything.

  24. genericcommenter - Aug 24, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    This is interesting, because when I and others pointed out that Love was not an all-around player and that just adding him to a team would not make it a contender- there were a lot of down-voters and people who talked up what a team-changing superstar Kevin Love is.

    Now, you are saying that adding Love to a team that already has the best overall player in the NBA, is not going to make them contenders? Wow. I won’t disagree, but I wonder how the 99% of the people here who thought Kevin Love alone, WITHOUT Lebron, would make most teams and instant contender are going to feel about that one.

  25. seasickcecil - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:30 AM

    The Cavs need a rim protector.

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