The Cavaliers just aren't ready to compete for a title, yet
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
The party the Cleveland Cavaliers threw outside Quicken Loans Arena just before their first game of the season with the city acting like it had already won the championship looked silly even at the time. With the team now 5-7 and dealing with legitimate concerns other than just needing time for the players to mesh, maybe it's time to temper expectations about the NBA's newest super-team.
There's something to be said about continuity. An NBA team can't just be assembled with players who have never played with each other for an extended period of time and be expected to be the best team from the get-go. The 2010 Miami Heat reached the finals but didn't win the title until they found their identity as a team the next season. Sometimes it never works. The Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have yet to make a Conference Finals and the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers were a bonafide disaster.
The only recent example of the super group winning in their first year together are the '07 Boston Celtics. That year shouldn't be the norm for all "big threes" that follow it though, it truly was a special case. Boston featured three future Hall of Famers who would have cut their arms off to finally win their first rings and a proven coach to lead them. These Cavaliers are not those Celtics.
Just based on talent alone, the Cavaliers big three are better than Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were in 2008. But there are serious problems with Cleveland that didn't exist in Boston.
Interior defense was the issue everyone saw coming with the Cavaliers this season. I wrote at length about this before the regular season even started. Through Cleveland's first 11 games, opposing teams have shot 56.1 percent on them at the rim, the sixth-highest mark in the league. Love and Anderson Varejao do not make an adequate front court pairing on defense.
When he was in Minnesota, Love had a reputation of not being a good defender and not seeming to care on that end. Now playing on national television in Cleveland, everyone gets to see that Love may be an even worse defender than we all thought. Opposing players are shooting over 61 percent at the rim against him. That's horrific. Compare that to Nikola Vucevic, noted as also being a pillow-soft big man on defense, who allows 55 percent.
The counter-argument to that has always been that Love is so gifted on the offensive end that it makes up for his deficiencies on defense, but what this means for Cleveland is that they can never make him a small-ball five like the Heat did with Chris Bosh when they were winning titles. The Cavaliers need an interior defender to match with Love, and right now that player isn't on the roster.
Growing pains aren't only subject to players, it's been evident with head coach David Blatt as well. Blatt had a long and very successful coaching career overseas, but the NBA is a completely different animal. All of the maladies that come with the players being unfamiliar with each other and unfamiliar with the play calling are present.
Cleveland ranks in the bottom half of the league in assists per game, and less than half of the points they score per game are generated by assists. The Cavs are one of the worst teams in terms of getting catch and shoot opportunities, which means the plays aren't resulting in open jump shots.
When a team doesn't rely on getting scores from catch-and-shoot opportunities, they usually rely on drives to the basket. Cleveland is one of these teams, and so is Toronto. The Raptors are one of two teams that attempt less catch-and-shoot field goals than Cleveland, but they make up for it by being one of the better teams in terms of field goal percentage on drives to the basket and shots within 12 feet of the hoop. The Cavaliers are in the bottom half of the league in both categories.
Maybe it's too much too soon for Blatt. In the fourth quarter against the defending champion Spurs, Blatt burned up his last three timeouts in a span of less than a minute and played rookie second-rounder Joe Harris in crunch-time, who ended up getting the eventual game-winning layup scored on him. He doesn't exactly scream championship-winning head coach right now.
Then again, Erik Spoelstra faced a lot of the same criticism during the 2010 season with the Miami Heat that Blatt faces now. Then again, Spoelstra was an NBA lifer who had been with the Heat since 1997 and was familiar with much of the personnel on that team. When Blatt was hired, he hadn't even lived in the United States since before LeBron was born.
So are the Cavaliers to 2010 Heat or the 2012 Lakers? It's obviously too soon to tell. What isn't too soon to tell is that the Cavaliers aren't winning a title this year with the current roster they have. I'm not saying they need to trade Love or Irving, but they need someone who can defend the paint and someone to lead the second unit because Dion Waiters doesn't seem like he's capable enough.
It's not the team's fault that it will be labeled a disappointment if it doesn't win it all in its first year. Fans and the media see the talent that is brought together and don't even realize that it takes time for that talent to jell.
It's no secret why teams like the Raptors, Grizzlies and Warriors are doing so well. It's not only because of their talent, but because they have had the same core group for multiple seasons. There's no mystery to why the Spurs have been so consistently successful for so long, it's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich. The Cavaliers just don't have that rapport yet.
And that's a good thing for the rest of the league as far as this year is concerned, because once the Cavaliers get comfortable everyone else is in a lot of trouble.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo