Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The wait is finally over

We've been counting down the days for a while now, so it's hard to believe the 2008-09 NBA season is finally upon us. The Cavaliers will kick the season off in style tonight, facing the Boston Celtics at 8:00pm in front of a national audience on TNT. But what should we expect from the wine and gold this year? I see big things ahead...

Is this the year that LBJ will hoist an even better trophy?

First, my fearless predictions:

Overall record: 56-26
This is the deepest Cavalier team since LeBron has arrived. We've all seen what LeBron can do without a lot of help. So how will the team be now that it has depth? If they stay healthy I think they will finally take the Central division crown away from the Pistons. And that's just for starters...

NBA MVP: LeBron James
Who else is there? Spare me your Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Paul arguments. This will be the first of many of these trophies for King James.

Eastern Conference Champs: Cleveland Cavaliers
This is not at all dismissing the Celtics. I wasn't a believer in them at all last year. I didn't buy into the hype. But then I saw their suffocating defense in our playoff series and I knew I had underestimated them. They squeaked out a win in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year and that was basically their NBA title right there.

So what will happen this year? As I said, the Cavaliers are deeper. They won't have more midseason chemistry issues in turning over half their roster in a big trade. They didn't have the contract holdouts of last year. This team is focused and ready. Oh, and they have LeBron. I think they will grab home court advantage over the Celtics and that will be the difference in the end.

NBA Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers
Why the hell would I be wasting my time writing this blog if I didn't think that a Cleveland team would finally break through and win it all? I don't know which team will come out of the West this year, but I do know there will be no sweeping this Cavaliers squad when they get back into the Finals. Whether it be the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, or whomever... they will have to go through LeBron and his much deeper supporting cast. The Cavaliers have built a franchise around LeBron that expects to win multiple championships. And I think #1 (the sweetest one) will occur this June. And I can't wait to watch it unfold.

Of course with all I've said above there always has to be a little luck involved. I'm making the following assumptions, in no particular order:
  • LeBron James will stay relatively healthy. This means he won't miss any more than his typical 5-7 games with minor ankle injuries and such. True, the Cavaliers are much deeper than in the past. But let's not kid ourselves. #23 makes all these lofty hopes possible.
  • The front court players will also stay relatively healthy. The good news is that Anderson Varejao is in shape and in a contract year. I expect big things from him. More worrisome are the backs of Zydrunas Ilguaskas and Ben Wallace. We need those guys to stay off the injury report to have this team playing in top form. We also have Lorenzen Wright and JJ Hickson to assist, but at this point I don't know how fair it is to expect much from an aging vet and a rookie. Darnell Jackson could also end up in the mix once he recovers from the wrist injury.
  • Mo Williams will perform as advertised. I'm not so worried about this one. I know he has tremendous talent and the desire to fit in on the defensive side of the ball. I just don't want this to be the second coming of Larry Hughes. I had high hopes for him too and he consistently disappointed all of us. But I don't see Mo having those same problems.
  • We pull off another trade at the deadline. We have Wally Sczcerbiak's $14M expiring contract to play with and you know Ferry will use it at some point. This is the one wild card that could really propel the Cavaliers from contender to the team to beat. Ferry has shown us that he's not afraid to make a deal, but always with an eye on the summer of 2010. This will be the year that we will have to take on a contract past 2010, so it better be the right one for the Cavs this season and beyond.
This could be a special year for Cavs fans everywhere. It starts tonight with a chance to send a message to the defending champs the night they collect their rings and the banner is lowered. That should be motivation enough to start the season out right, even if the Cavaliers won't be watching.

Other Cavs Notes: Brian Windhorst gives a nice piece on coach Mike Brown... LeBron and the Cavs are following my lead by skipping the pre-game party in Boston tonight... Mike Brown is still evaluating the starting 2-guard spot... And Bob Finnan has another profile of the Cavs' head man.
"We don't need to be out there watching that, we need to get ready for the game," James said before the team left for Boston. Congratulations to them. But we're not [like] the fans of Boston. We don't need to be out there clapping for them getting rings."