Cavaliers preview: In Cleveland, it's a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals or bust
Nothing short of a return to the Finals would be a disappointment in "The Land," as the kids say
Over the course of perhaps the wildest summer the NBA has ever seen, no one had quite an intriguing offseason as the Cleveland Cavaliers had.
The Cavs packed half-a-decade's worth of craziness into one four-month stretch, with the drama rising and falling like a Hollywood script. To think, a lot of people believe the best player in the world is going to leave the Cavs this summer, and it's barely even a storyline heading into the season.
But for all the twists and turns -- LeBron's undecided future, the Kyrie Irving trade, Isaiah Thomas' questionable health, a brand new starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love starting at center, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson bristling at their demotions -- the Cavs are still the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Whether it's to face the Golden State Warriors in a four-peat as everyone expects, or a surprise Western Conference challenger emerges, the goal and mark of success remains the same: Reach the Finals at all costs. It doesn't matter what their record is, and it certainly doesn't matter what seed they land in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Just get there. Anything less would be a disappointment. It just would. Yes, that is a lot of pressure, but such are the stakes when you have the best player in the world and multiple other All-Stars.
So, with the goal established, what do the Cavs need to do to achieve it?
Unfortunately, the primary objective -- being healthy as they enter the playoffs -- is not totally under their control. Isaiah Thomas is already out until sometime in 2018, LeBron James' ankle is bothering him, and Wade and Rose certainly have their fair share of injury history. Plus, just look at last season when Andrew Bogut went down with a broken leg a minute into his debut with them. This kind of stuff happens.
However, there are things they can do to manage their stars to give themselves the best chance at being fit for the postseason. First of all, don't rush Isaiah Thomas back whatsoever; make sure he sticks to his motto of the #SLOWGrind and is 100 percent when he returns. Furthermore, the Cavs need to effectively manage the minutes of LeBron, Wade, Love and other key contributors. If that means losing a few extra regular season games and dropping in the standings, or even eating a few fines for breaking the resting rules, so be it. If this team is healthy entering the playoffs, they'll win the Eastern Conference.
As for actually playing basketball, the big thing for the Cavs this season will be integrating all of their new additions and figuring out how their new lineups work together. They'll have an entirely new starting backcourt in Rose and Wade, Love is now starting at the center, Thompson and Smith have been moved to the bench, Crowder should an important role player, and then Thomas will be returning about halfway through the season. Even with all of the talent there, it will take some time to adjust. Luckily, the Cavs have plenty of it, as the regular season doesn't matter for this team in terms of wins and losses.
It's going to be a fascinating season in Cleveland, and one filled with all sorts of storylines we can't even begin to predict. But in the end, regardless of the drama-filled cul de sacs we turn into along the way, the journey, for a fourth straight time, will finish with the Cavaliers representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
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