“CLEVELAND…THIS IS FOR YOUUU!!!’. It’s been two months since the conclusion of the 2015-2016 NBA season, which saw the Cleveland Cavaliers hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. After decades of title droughts combined with negative media attention, the Cavs silenced critics with the only possible solution. Winning a championship has seemingly never lifted so much weight off a team’s back. Ever since LeBron James announced his decision to return home to Cleveland, the entire league has watched the team under a microscope. It was championship or bust and the team certainly delivered.
With the 2016-2017 season only a few months away, all off-season discussion has been on Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. They are the favourites, no doubt, but the Cavaliers are certainly eager to defend their title and give them a run for their money. A third straight Finals with these two teams seems inevitable. So that sparked the big question, do you fix what’s not broken? Despite winning the championship, the Durant decision has sparked Cavaliers’ rumours to possibly make them a better team. Rumours included signing then free agent Dwyane Wade or trading for All-NBA’s Russell Westbrook or DeMarcus Cousins. Those options have all been put to rest. Wade has returned home to Chicago, Westbrook has signed an extension with OKC, and Cousins is…Cousins. At the end of the day, the Cavaliers have the right pieces to repeat as champions. After all, you are the champs until you are the champs no more. Let’s take a look at how winning the championship will only make the Cavaliers better for the upcoming season.
Any time you are the Head Coach of LeBron James, you are on the hot seat. Mid-way through the season, the Cavaliers fired then Coach David Blatt despite riding a 3 game winning streak and having the best record in the Eastern Conference. Assistant Coach Lue took over and was put under immediate pressure, facing criticism for his inability to control a locker room full of egos. Come post-season, Lue made history by becoming the first coach to win his first 10 post-season games. The Cavaliers also became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. Now that Lue has a Championship, his job should be safe and finally give the Cavaliers some coaching stability.
Hampered by injuries throughout the beginning of his career, Kyrie was hungry for vengeance against the Warriors after missing last finals with a knee injury. The injury extended into this past season forcing Kyrie to miss the first 2 months of the schedule. It even prevented Kyrie from making the all-star team for the first time since his rookie season. Going head to head against MVP Steph Curry was the key match-up of the series. Kyrie noticeably outplayed Curry, keeping the Cavaliers alive with 41 points in game 5 and capping off his stellar playoff performance with one of the most clutch 3 point shots in NBA Finals history. Now Kyrie is competing in the Rio Olympics and, barring an epic collapse, will probably win a gold medal just like his 2 teammates. All tension between Kyrie and LeBron seemed to end with the victory, as the two men shared a gracious hug. Their relationship has always been key for the Cavaliers going forward.
This is a man who knows his role, does his role, and does his role at the best. He may not get the same amount of credit as the Big 3, but he is certainly a big reason the Cavaliers won the championship. A lot of eyebrows were raised (particularly DeMarcus Cousins) when Thompson was given a 5 year, $82 million contract.. After splitting starting duties with Timofy Mosgov for the most of the regular season, Tristan was named the full time starting centre for the playoffs. Averaging 9 rebounds a game, Tristan allowed the Cavaliers to finish defensive assignments and give them those extra possessions. With his size, strength, and athleticism, he is one of the hardest players to box out. Tristan is certainly the X Factor for the Cavaliers each and every night. If he is at his best, Cleveland can defeat any team in the NBA. Now that he can call himself a Champion, seeing Tristan play with even more confidence will surely be a thing of beauty.
The Cavaliers took a risk when they traded star prospect Andrew Wiggins to acquire all-star forward Kevin Love. Seeing Wiggins grow into a stud while Love had his struggles certainly sparked a lot of hate towards the 2x All-NBA player. There were also reports of Love feeling excluded in the locker room and not getting along with other players. He was the topic of many trade rumours, as many analysts questioned if he was the right fit alongside LeBron and Kyrie. Love was a 25+ point scorer in Minnesota and everyone knew he would have to make the biggest adjustment with only one ball to share in a game. The struggles continued into the playoffs and Love appeared to be cracking under pressure. However, he settled down when it mattered most and did what he does best. Love shot above 41% from beyond the arc in the playoffs and had 14 rebounds in the deciding Game 7. If helping win the championship was not enough to end any potential trade rumours, Coach Lue stated Love isn’t going anywhere.
Let’s not forget about the poster boy of the NBA. LeBron James left a lot bad tastes in the city of the Cleveland when he elected to go to Miami and win multiple championships. With some unfinished business, LeBron decided to come home and try to bring that ever elusive trophy to a city starving for a championship. Despite playing his heart out in the 2015 playoffs and the Cavaliers losing the other two members of the Big 3 due to injury, LeBron still received criticism following the loss in the Finals. He knew that in order to gain everyone’s respect, he would have to win some more. After a long season and gritty Finals re-match, LeBron’s near triple double average pushed the Cavaliers en route to his third championship and Finals MVPs. As if he wasn’t already in the discussion, LeBron solidified himself among one of the greatest players of all time. This was arguably his most emotional championship. More importantly for Cleveland, LeBron does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. He signed a 3 year, $100 million contract extension officially becoming the highest paid player of all time. LeBron also gave a public statement that it’s time to re-sign fellow teammate J.R. Smith.
The Cavaliers are set to open the season on October 25th vs. the new look New York Knicks. Now that the parades and celebrations have settled down a little, players have already begun preparation in Los Angeles. The road to back-to-back has officially begun!