Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Offseason winners: Cleveland Cavaliers

It's that time of the year again. Fresh talent has entered the league via the Draft. Free agents have found new landing spots. Other players were traded. Some teams got better, others got worse to get better in the long run. The NBA landscape has changed a lot in 12 months. Just like I did last year and the year before, I will select seven teams that I believe will take steps forward from last season, be it marginal or not. Sometimes my selections are slam dunks, other times not so much.

My 2014 Offseason Winners are:


Hold on to your butts.

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers
The Love Boat has arrived in Cleveland
2013-2014 record: 33-49

I picked the Cavaliers last year, expecting great things from their young and talented core, but that sure backfired on me. I feel confident, though, that this year's squad will outperform the 2013-2014 team by a large margin. With four-time MVP LeBron James heading back home to join Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs managed yet another coup: the acquisition of 20-12 power forward Kevin Love for back-to-back top picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Life is good in Cleveland right now.

Former top pick/ROY Kyrie Irving, former No. 4 selections Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, oft-injured big man Anderson Varejao and guard Matt Dellavedova remain as the only holdovers from last year's hot mess of dysfunction. They should get plenty of open looks with superstars LeBron James (two years, $42.2 million) and Kevin Love sliding into the forward slots. Those moves alone make the Cavs the winners of the summer. And that's not even all.

Just like when James joined the Heat in 2010, sharpshooter Mike Miller (who became a hero in the '12 and '13 NBA Finals but was waived last July) followed the King, joining the Cavs on a modest 2-year, $5.5 million deal. So did James Jones, another former team mate of James in Miami, and versatile defender Shawn Marion, who helped the Mavericks defeat the Heat, 4-2, in the 2011 NBA Finals. Sure, Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, Spencer Hawes, Sergey Karasev and Alonzo Gee are gone, but John Lucas, Brendan Haywood, Alex Kirk, Malcolm Thomas, Dwight Powell, Erik Murphy and Joe Harris more than make up for their production.

2014-2014 prediction:

The last time the Timberwolves shipped a franchise power forward named Kevin to the Eastern Conference, his new team won the NBA title. Granted, Love's defense is not quite on Garnett's level, but LeBron's all-world D might rub off on him and Irving the same way KG's did on Pierce and Allen. Either way, this team is in win-now mode, and you can bet your bottom dollar that a championship is their No. 1 goal. GM David Griffin and head coach David Blatt know the stakes.

Update: The Cavs shipped Lucas, Thomas, Powell, Erik Murphy and two second-rounders (2016 and 2017) to the Celtics for veteran Keith Bogans and two second-rounders (top-55 protected in 2015 and 2017).

Update 2: Bogans was subsequently paired with another second-rounder and traded to the 76ers for a $5.3 million trade exception.

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