Immediately after LeBron James committed to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the storylines were about a return home and a making up with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. But on the surface, this is about James joining a team he believes in.
First-year general manager David Griffin and first-year head coach David Blatt will have their challenges in developing a plan that fits this bunch. According to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, adding James to the Cavaliers projects for a 52-win team next season, a great improvement from last season but nothing that reads title contender.
Still, a core that includes Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins sold itself to James, and a team that includes four No. 1 overall picks and six top-5 picks could be very good with a little internal growth and the right roster tweaks.
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Andrew Wiggins (1st-round pick), Dion Waiters, Matthew Dellavedova (non-guaranteed), Joe Harris (2nd-round pick)
SF: LeBron James, Anthony Bennett, Carrick Felix
PF: Tristan Thompson, Dwight Powell (2nd-round pick)**
C: Anderson Varejao, Brendan Haywood**
King of Cleveland
The right offensive mix
Blatt will have time to study how Miami coach Erik Spoelstra utilized the best player on the planet, but James likely won't operate the same way with the Cavs. The roster, as is, has Irving and James acting as the playmakers with the shooters around them searching for easy buckets.
Irving will get his share of ball-handling duties off pick-and-rolls, especially.
James might have the luxury of standing in the corners or on the wings, taking advantage of penetration from Irving, Wiggins and Waiters. This means two things: 1) James will have opens looks and 2) he will create a lot more havoc with the second pass, allowing Cleveland's other scorers to break loose. Imagine Irving kicking it to James hanging on the weakside, then James swinging the ball against the grain of a shifting defense, or driving past a scrambling defender to find another shooter.
Both Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova shot 37 percent from three-point range last season, and Irving is a career 38 percent three-point shooter (though he's best off the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy Sports). Harris, a second-round pick, hit 40 percent or better in three of his four collegiate seasons at Virginia, and fellow second-round pick Dwight Powell can also stretch the floor at power forward.
What about the defensive end?
The biggest hole for the Cavaliers is on the defensive end, and like James' last few Miami teams, the issue is in the paint. Haywood was out all of last year and is viewed as a cap asset -- he is being paid just $2.2 million this year but has a non-guaranteed $10.5 million owed next season, which could either be released or used to acquire a significant rotation player. Although Thompson is a double-double threat, he's a below-average shotblocker and a limited offensive player.
Varejao is individually a fine defensive player, but the trick will be filling in the minutes around him. Health is an issue for him as well.
Cleveland will rely upon an athletic perimeter group of players to play aggressively with ball denial and strong hedges. The Heat succeeded in the last four years with a scrambling defense, and the younger Cavs could do the same with a little more length and a little more pop.
Wiggins' role -- maybe not this year as much -- will take the pressure off James on the defensive end. If the rookie focuses his energy there, he could take his time to organically grow into a bigger offensive threat as James and Irving carry the team.
What are the front office priorities?
The rumors of a Kevin Love deal add an asterisk to an analysis of this roster, because it'll definitely look different if the Cavs work out a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love would allow Cleveland enough space for Irving and James to attack off the bounce, but he'd also give them a low-post presence to play inside-out. How he and James would develop a rapport playing off one another would be fascinating. Silver projects Cleveland to become a 60-plus win team if Love were traded for Wiggins, Varejao and draft picks.
The more realistic options to fill out this roster include James' former teammates. Mike Miller, Ray Allen and James Jones could add shooting to the Cleveland roster, and all three have been linked to the team. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports James has talked with Miller specifically about joining him with the Cavs.
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
The trick for Cleveland will be using its exceptions and veteran minimum contracts to add depth in the frontcourt. On the perimeter, standing mostly pat is fine for a team that wants to mature. James will help with that.
In his Sports Illustrated letter announcing his decision, James admitted this team isn't ready to win a title.
"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."