The Cleveland Cavaliers started off the 2014-15 NBA season playing like a bunch of guys who just met each other at YMCA open run. There was no rhyme or reason with their dealings on the court, which explains why the team got off to a 1-3 start. Once again, the viewing public began to question the formation of a super team.
Watching this Cleveland team form their chemistry will be one of the most intriguing things to witness all season. Two-time champion LeBron James has tasked himself to be a leader of men while showing players like Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters what it takes to actually win.
This isn't the first time we've seen an accumulation of superstar talent. Teams like the 1999 Rockets, 2004 Lakers, LeBron's 2011 Heat and even the 2013 Lakers all worked through the ups and downs of the regular season while trying to learn about each other in the process. All four teams achieved varying success in the regular season, but all failed to immediately reach their title aspirations.
But there is one newly-formed super team that was able to run the table in year one: the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.
That Celtics team, featuring three future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, posted a 66-16 record, the best single-season turnaround in NBA history. With a memorable run through the 2008 NBA playoffs, that Celtics club cemented their legacy as arguably one of the greatest teams in league history.
This present Cavaliers team could learn a few things from that championship squad. Namely:
Be a unified front from the beginning
In the span of 34 days, the Celtics went from lottery dredge to title contenders when they traded the farm for Garnett and Allen. With a nucleus in place, head coach Doc Rivers did everything in his power to create a unified front for his team. Rivers adopted ubuntu -- a Southern Africa concept that underlined the importance of selflessness, unity and teamwork -- and fine-tuned the concept during a preseason trip to Europe.
What transpired was a Celtics team that started 21-2 and a group of players that elevated themselves when the team succeeded.
What about Cleveland? Everyone's still trying to figure out the theme of these new Cavaliers. Is LeBron's way alone the right way? (Probably.) Is head coach David Blatt's philosophy going to work? (Who knows?) Should Irving be leading the way instead? (No.) What about Dion Waiters? (I'd pay all the money in the world to see it, but probably not.)
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Find and elevate defense-first role players
While a big focus of the 2007-08 Celtics shined brightest on Boston's big three, the Celtics were more dynamic because the role players on the roster were willing to share the ball and play exceptional defense. Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, James Posey and Tony Allen were all above-average defenders or better, and while each had their limitations offensively, they meshed well with the three offensive superstars on the roster. Boston held teams to 98.9 points per 100 possessions in their championship season, which ranked first in the league.
What about Cleveland? Players like Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are decent defenders, but Waiters and Mike Miller certainly aren't and gritty backup Matthew Dellavedova is injured.
It will be interesting to see if Shawn Marion eventually finds a way to be on the floor in the biggest moments. He can defend the rim, is a willing passer and remains a competent offensive player. The Cavaliers as presently constructed will try and overwhelm teams offensively from game to game. It's possible for that to work, but if Cleveland decides to make a roster change, I'd assume it'd be add more defensive-minded prowess on the roster.
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High Basketball IQ + a sense of urgency
The following are indisputable facts:
- Kevin Garnett is one of the greatest defensive big men in NBA history.
- Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.
Paul Pierce has the worst facial hair in NBA history.
- Paul Pierce is one of the craftiest offensive players in NBA history.
The Celtics were able to hit the ground running because those players didn't have much time to wait to win a title. That's what happens when your three best players are over the age of 30. Also, Boston's big three weren't as worn down with international duty or deep playoff runs, nor were they in the stage of their careers where they needed to establish their brand. Once the team was together, the chemistry building started immediately.
What about Cleveland? Saying the Cavaliers don't have high basketball IQ is unfair. LeBron is unquestionably one of the smartest basketball players to ever step on a court. Love and Irving are smart players, but don't have the stripes that the Boston trio did. Moreover, that Boston team was blessed to have Rivers, a coach with tangible NBA experience both as a player and behind the bench. The Cavaliers have a very intelligent coach in Blatt, but this is his first rodeo in the NBA and his adjustment to the league will take time.
In retrospect, we probably don't appreciate the run the Celtics made seven years ago. Three all-world players came together, put their egos aside, unified themselves immediately around their coach's ethos and plowed their way to an NBA title. That team was an exception to the rule that it takes super teams time to jell.
If Cleveland ever figures it out in a way Boston did, the sky's the limit. But that is what's required if Cleveland wants to immediately achieve its lofty goals.