Cleveland should be sitting on top of the world right now, and that has nothing to do with baseball's Indians. LeBron James has improved his jumper, the one thing holding him back from making the game of basketball unfair for everybody else.
Still, even with James certain to be improved, you won't find many picking the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference again. Not right now, at least. Too much remains unresolved.
|LeBron and Co. would have more mo' if curly Anderson Varejao was under contract. (Getty Images)|
Varejao wants the type of payday that countryman Nene got from Denver, a salary of $10 million per season. That's more than three times the qualifying offer the Cavs have offered for Varejao to suit up this season. Although he's extremely valuable to the cause, it would be fiscally irresponsible for Ferry to relent and give him what he wants. Pavlovic doesn't want as much, but is in a similar situation.
Without two major pieces, the Cavaliers have little chance to maintain the positive vibes from their breakthrough season. Everyone in the rotation has moved up, and little-used guards like Damon Jones and Shannon Brown are set to pick up major minutes. Up front, Cleveland isn't equipped to survive without Varejao, but will try and get by with unheralded second-year forwards Cedric Simmons and Noel Felix. That's not going to get it done. Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can't hold things down on their own; if they try to, they will probably wear down once April and May come around.
This is not where Cleveland envisioned it would be after finally getting past Detroit and establishing itself as the new team to beat in the East. Free agents didn't come barging through their door with a desire to play with James. It's almost as if their run a few months ago never happened.
Although coach Mike Brown has stressed that his Cavs not rest on their laurels, momentum screeching to a halt wasn't in the plans, either.
"It's going to be a lot harder," Ilgauskas said about his team's chances to get back to the Finals. "We don't have the same team yet like we did last year. We still have a couple of pieces missing, but we still have some good players here. Hopefully we are going to be able to get it done."
Brown has been utilizing the preseason to see what his new faces can do, knowing he'll likely have to rely on a few of them to patch holes and build upon last year's success.
After back-to-back 50-win seasons and a trip to the league's biggest stage, this is not where anyone figured the Cavaliers would be. It's fine to have all these questions in October, but come March, there better be some answers. As it stands now, the Cavs are heading decidedly backward.
|Power Ranking: 12th|
|Projected record: 46-36, third in Central|
|Best-case scenario: The Cavs' young players continue maturing and use last season's experiences wisely in preparation for another lengthy playoff run.|
|Worst-case scenario: Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic hold out for months, and no one steps up in their place.|
|X-factor: Daniel Gibson took off last postseason, emerging as the No. 2 option behind James. He's a fearless shooter who needs to make strides with his ball-handling and defense, but he can solve a lot of concerns if he continues to improve.|
|Early season schedule: The Cavs open with Dallas at home on national television, so it's possible their weaknesses could be exposed pretty early. As if opening with the Mavs wasn't bad enough, they start a six-game West Coast road trip in Phoenix on Nov. 4.|
|2007-08 NBA Team Previews|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|New Jersey Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Denver Nuggets||Dallas Mavericks||Golden State Warriors|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Houston Rockets||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Seattle Supersonics||New Orleans Hornets||Phoenix Suns|
|Utah Jazz||San Antonio Spurs||Sacramento Kings|