2016-17 Central Division Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers

Feb 1, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) guards Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Cavaliers won 111-106 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) guards Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Cavaliers won 111-106 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Much like the Indiana Pacers, the Central Division made a lot of moves this offseason. Here, we profile the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the second in a series of previews of the other teams in the division.

Read the Milwaukee Bucks profile here

The Indiana Pacers aren’t the only team in the Central Division that has had some shakeups this offseason. The rest of the division made some moves as well, and it’s worth taking a look at how things might end up based on these changes.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers are the least-changed in the division, they are the champs. All eyes are on them. We look at how — and if — the Pacers can compete.

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Cleveland Cavaliers Basics

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Season Record:
57-25: NBA Champions

Last Season Record vs the Pacers:
3-1 (including one OT win)

Vegas Projected Win Total:

Key Additions:
Chris Andersen, Mike Dunleavy, Kay Felder

Key Losses:
Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov

Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview

What is there to say about the Cavs that hasn’t been said already? LeBron James returned to his hometown city, and we were all witnesses as he, with the help of Uncle Drew, broke the curse and brought home a title.

LeBron’s Finals performance — this is not hyperbole — will go down in the annals of history as one of the all-time great stretches of basketball.

Not only did he lead his team back from a 3-1 series deficit, but he wrestled the Larry O’Brien Trophy away from the unanimous MVP and the greatest regular season team of all time by leading the entire series in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. In the final three wins, he scored more than 40 twice and closed out the title with a triple double.

The Cavs are going to be very good again this year.

LeBron James is one of the greatest players in NBA history, and he’s still in the prime of his career. Kyrie Irving either “stopped playing selfishly,” or simply matured as a player (he’s still only 24!!!) in the Finals and hit the single biggest shot in Cleveland history. Kevin Love is still an All-Star caliber stretch four who looks healthier than he’s been since he was in Minnesota.

But the 2016-17 Cavs are more than just a “Big Three.” Up front, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are two of the best rebounders in the entire league. A full season of Channing Frye should add some size and versatility, while the addition of Chris Andersen will, at the very least, provide 15 minutes of hard-nosed defense and six fouls. While an injury might exploit a lack of depth on the front line, employing a mutant robot the size of Karl Malone with killer court vision and blazing speed helps to smooth over some of those issues. Further, Richard Jefferson proved last year in the Finals that he is more than capable of spending some time as a playmaking/small-ball four.

On the wings, the Cavs might have the most depth they’ve had in more than a decade. In addition to LeBron, Iman Shumpert looks as bouncy and spry as he’s looked since he was a young, enticing rookie in New York. Earl Smith, III just got PAID, but his shooting and athleticism are vital cogs in a lineup that has occasionally struggled to stretch the floor. Mike Dunleavy and Jefferson may not have much left in the tank, but they should be good for a combined 30 minutes a night of craftiness and guile. People inside the organization also have high hopes for Jordan McRae, a born scorer from the University of Tennessee who has steadily improved since he was drafted in 2015.

If one wanted to nitpick, the Cavs appear to be incredibly thin at point guard. Kyrie Irving is amazing, but he’s also struggled to stay healthy ever since he was at Duke. The Cavs chose not to pay Matthew Dellavedova to stick around, and in doing so, lost an important chemistry guy who was typically part of the team’s best defensive lineups. Delly’s replacement will most likely be Kay Felder, a 5’9” bundle of energy with incredible court vision and instant likability. Felder is one of the greatest passers in college basketball history, and he’s already become one of the crowd’s favorite players. The staff is quietly optimistic that Felder will turn into a quality role player, and perhaps provide some juice to a bench unit that really struggled last year without LeBron or Kyrie on the floor. A Kyrie injury would definitely hurt this team in the short run, but again, the whole “LeBron James can do everything” aspect eases that pain quite a bit.

The firing of David Blatt midway through last season was one of the bigger shocks of 2016, but Tyronn Lue’s emergence proved that it was the right move. Lue never appeared out of his depth in the postseason, and earned the respect of players around the league with several important mid-series adjustments. It will be interesting to see how he chooses to use his team’s improved depth in order to spell his superstars throughout the season. Will LeBron coast into the playoffs, or will he make one more run at an MVP, an award that would bring his total to five and tie two guys named Jordan and Kareem? Regardless, Lue has the cache to keep his team and his superstar focused on the ultimate prize. One need look no further than last season to see how important regular season awards ultimately are.

What This Means for the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers made a lot of changes over the summer and hope to ride Paul George’s “Team USA bounce” to an improved record in 2016-17. Yet, barring an injury to LeBron James, the Cavs are in an entirely different tier.

One might envision a scenario in which the Pacers challenge that Cavs for the division title, but such a scenario would include a healthy dose of injuries and/or complacency from a Cleveland team that was just looking to get into the playoffs healthy.

Paul George is one of the few LeBron James foils on the planet, and has played him about as well as anyone over the years. Unfortunately, the Pacers don’t have an answer for Kyrie Irving, nor do they really have anyone capable of slowing him down the way George Hill might have.

Realistically, the Pacers will be fighting for moral victories against the Cavaliers in 2016-17. Can they stay close enough to the Cavs to keep Paul George committed to Indiana? Just how close is Paul George to LeBron James? Will Myles Turner improve enough to offer hope for the future? These are the questions the Pacers will hope to answer as they, in all likelihood, finish below the Cavs in the Central Division for the third straight season.

Cleveland Cavaliers Bottom Line

This team is loaded. After winning the title last season, the Cavs probably improved their depth and also got healthier. And lest one was worried about a “season after hangover,” Kevin Durant’s move to San Francisco should keep this team, and especially LeBron James, hungry.

Next: Too Low? GMs Pick Pacers to Finish 4th in the East

Anything less than a trip to the Finals would be an incredible shock for Cleveland in 2016-17.