Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

Morning shootaround — July 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carter says LeBron made own decision | Jefferson excited about Hornets’ roster | Report: Turner, Celtics reach deal | Report: Van Gundy reassures Smith of Detroit future

No. 1: Carter: LeBron wasn’t pushed to pick Cavs – When LeBron James‘ letter was posted on SI.com detailing why he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent, some skeptics emerged about why he made that choice. Was it made to make his various handlers and such happy? Was it done to make Clevelander’s happy and restore his legacy and standing in his home state? James’ longtime business partner, Maverick Carter, spoke on an ESPN.com podcast and explained that James’ decision was exactly that — his decision:

Maverick Carter, LeBron James’ business partner, says he didn’t push James to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, nor did anyone else in the NBA superstar’s inner circle.

“This was a decision that LeBron made in his heart,” Carter told ESPN.com’s Jason Whitlock on the Real Talk podcast. “We didn’t push him to do it. We don’t push him to do anything. If he asks our opinion or what did we think about the pros and the cons, we help him think through it. We don’t push him.”

James decided to return to the Cavaliers on July 11 after spending four years with the Miami Heat. He opted out of his contract with Miami and signed a two-year deal to return to Cleveland, where he spent his first seven seasons in the NBA.

“Listen,” Carter said, “LeBron’s a 29-year-old man with lots of money, got a wife, two kids, one on the way. He makes his own decisions. He doesn’t need anyone pushing him any way, and a guy like that, you’re not going to push him either way. We’ll help him think through things and help him see through things, but he makes his own decision in his heart. Because, ultimately, he has to live with it. I’m not the one who has to show up and play games for any team.”

He also said that James and Dwyane Wade will be “friends for life” and that James told Wade before the Sports Illustrated article was released of his decision. Carter did not know exactly when James told Wade.

“Their friendship goes beyond basketball,” Carter said. “It’s bigger than basketball.”

He also said that he, as well as James, has nothing but good things to say about the Heat or their management.

“The Heat run a first-class organization,” Carter said. “They have one of the best organizations in all of sports. Just being around that organization, I think LeBron learned a ton about what it takes to be a championship organization and how it works.”

Morning shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs to ink Wiggins to deal soon | Report: Knicks looking to move a guard | Bird still puzzled by Stephenson’s departure

No. 1: Report: Cavs to sign rookie Wiggins soon — Normally, a first-round pick closing in on signing his first contract is not news in this space as the deals for all first-round picks are predetermined and basically just need pen to be put to paper. But in the case of the No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers — and his ties to trade talks dealing with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, we’ll make an exception. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out, the Cavs’ expected signing of Wiggins would, if nothing else, significantly delay any kind of Love-to-Cleveland deal:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to a contract in the coming week, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers’ delay in signing the former Kansas star has nothing to do with the prospect of Wiggins being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of Cleveland’s ongoing trade discussions for Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers, sources say, are merely exploring options for using their estimated $1.4 million in remaining cap space before signing Wiggins to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $5.5 million as a rookie.

The Cavs and Timberwolves have been discussing a Love trade since the return of LeBron James, with sources saying that Minnesota is insistent on getting Wiggins back in any deal that sends Love to Cleveland.

Once Wiggins signs, though, league rules stipulate that the Cavs must wait 30 days before trading him.

The Cavs’ delay in formalizing Wiggins’ contract has garnered extra attention because of the Love factor, but the reality is that this process is a fairly routine bit of salary-cap management that takes place this time of year with draft picks.


VIDEO:
Andrew Wiggins talks about being in the thick of the Kevin Love trade talks
(more…)

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love willing to waive option | Report: Bledsoe turns down Suns’ $48M offer | Cavs trying to recruit Ray Allen? | Report: J-Smoove on block … for right price

No. 1: Report: Love willing to opt in if traded to Warriors — As was reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski (and also reported by ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard), Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has reached out Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love to let Love know he’d like him to join the Cavs. Doing so would likely require the Cavs parting with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, as Broussard, Wojnarowski and Bob Finnan of The News Herald & The Morning Journal all point out. Another team believed to be in the Love mix, the Golden State Warriors, may still have a shot at him, too. According to Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com, Love is willing to opt into his deal for 2015-16 if he’s dealt to Golden State:

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are increasing their efforts to land Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love.

Love has recently been linked to trade talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James has even reached out and voiced his desire to play with him according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The Cavaliers are willing to let go of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Andrew Wiggins, but the Warriors are now willing to let go of Klay Thompson as well.

The Warriors have been trying to acquire Love without letting go of Thompson, but have come off of that stance because Love is willing to exercise his option for the 2015-16 season and put off becoming a free agent next summer according to a source.

David Lee and Harrison Barnes are expected to be a part of the deal as well. No trade is imminent, but the Warriors are willing to do whatever it takes to land Love now – even if that means letting go of a franchise favorite in Thompson.

This news, though, contradicts the reports of Wojnarowski and Broussard to an extent. Both reporters say Love would like to play alongside James and would even consider a long-term deal with Cleveland if such a trade were to materialize. In short, these trade talks remain as unclear as ever.


VIDEO:
The Starters talk the Warriors being in the Kevin Love trade rumors
(more…)

Morning shootaround — July 17


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Pistons, Kings still talking trade for Smith | Spoelstra: No ‘regrets’ over LeBron leaving | NBA may rethink Draft lottery | Taylor opens up on Love trade talk

No. 1: Report: Kings, Pistons re-open J-Smoove trade talks — A few days before the 2014 Draft, there was buzz that the Pistons had engaged in trade talks with the Sacramento Kings with forward Josh Smith being the top name shifting from one team to another. In the weeks since, there hasn’t been much chatter on that front … until now. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the teams have started talking about a J-Smoove swap once again:

The Detroit Pistons and the Sacramento Kings have resumed trade discussions on a deal that could send Josh Smith to Sacramento, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com the Kings have continued to express interest in Smith and the parties are on the hunt for a third team that could help facilitate the deal.

As ESPN.com reported last month, Detroit and Sacramento have engaged in trade discussions that would potentially land Smith in the same frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Initial talks called for Sacramento to send Jason Thompson and either Derrick Williams or Jason Terry to the Pistons for Smith, but those discussions reached an impasse and were pushed into July along with the rest of both teams’ free-agent business, sources said.

Sources said the Pistons also seriously discussed various sign-and-trade scenarios this month that would have landed restricted free agent Greg Monroe in Portland, but the Blazers ultimately pulled themselves out of the race for Monroe by signing free-agent big man Chris Kaman to join Robin Lopez in the Blazers’ center rotation.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, furthermore, is known to be fond of splashy moves. And trading for Smith, given the lukewarm reviews of his first season with the Pistons, would certainly qualify as bold.

Another potential bonus is Smith’s close relationship with Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, whom Sacramento has been targeting in trade talks for some time.

The Kings, sources say, prefer to trade Terry rather than buy him out of the final year of his contract valued at nearly $6 million, while Terry has said he’s interested in a return to the Dallas Mavericks if he’s ultimately released and can get to free agency.


VIDEO:
Relive some of Josh Smith’s best plays as a Piston last season

(more…)

Blogtable: Free agency winners & losers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Carmelo, LeBron, Pierce … The Starters review the big offseason deals

> Who are the winners & losers in free agency thus far? Also, which free agent on the market is still ripe for the picking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d like to get clever here, but I’ll leave that to the crew below and stick with the “A” material here. LeBron James made the Cavaliers the biggest free-agency winners since the Heat four years ago. Losers? Either the Lakers, who got snubbed as if they still were back in Minneapolis, or the Rockets for their mighty whiffs on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, and what I think were shaky decisions adding Trevor Ariza (contract year!) and subtracting Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Best guy left? I understand why he’s still on the board – can you say “restricted?” – but as an impact addition, if someone managed to pry him loose, I’d go with big man Greg Monroe of Detroit.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Winners: Cavs, obviously. Champion Spurs kept their core together for another run in 2015. Bulls didn’t land Carmelo, but that’s a nice consolation prize in Pau Gasol.  Mavs did a good job with combined salaries of Dirk and Chandler Parsons and plugged that hole in the middle with Tyson Chandler. Losers: Pat Riley and the Heat. Despite keeping Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, then signing Luol Deng, you are always losing when the best player in the game gets away. The Rockets were left holding an empty bag when Bosh spurned off and also let Parsons go to Dallas. Lakers wind up with Jeremy Lin, but still have no coach and are without Gasol. Hard to see them being relevant again by October. Eric Bledsoe is now the top name still out there, but the Suns insist they’ll spend what it takes to match and keep him. Since Stan Van Gundy also insists he’s keeping Greg Monroe and Lance Stephenson is headed to Charlotte, who else is out there?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously the big winner is Cleveland. They got the King Fish. Chicago nabbing Pau Gasol and Dallas winning a restricted free-agent game of chicken with rival Houston to get Chandler Parsons are also winners. Miami, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers are the big losers. As for free agents still out there, Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe has yet to receive an offer sheet, and probably because teams know the Suns will match. As for unrestricted free agents, Andray Blatche is a pretty talented big man, who comes with baggage, and there seems to be very little talk of him. There’s also 36-year-old Shawn Marion, who seemed to be a perfect fit in Miami had LeBron strayed, but now appears to running short on options.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are obviously the winner. Getting LeBron James not only changes a roster, it alters the mood of an entire organization. Plus, while Kyrie Irving was not a free agent, getting his extension done at the same time, and done quickly in another positive statement, made it the best July possible. Loser: Rockets. Most every team misses on a free agent, but Houston moved assets and still came up empty on Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, lost Chandler Parsons and turned to Trevor Ariza as a save. We’re still waiting to see what happens with Eric Bledsoe and Phoenix.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest winner is obviously Cleveland. The biggest loser is Houston. Not only did the Rockets miss on the big free agents they were targeting, but they traded away their depth in order to do so. Defense and shooting should be priorities across the board, so Shawn Marion and Mo Williams are two available guys that could contribute meaningful minutes. Either would be a good fit in Houston and Williams could also help Atlanta’s backcourt. (For the record, my original answer was Anthony Tolliver, writing that he’d be a good fit with the Suns. Right after I sent that in, he agreed to terms with them.)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s still a bit too early to declare an extended list of winners and losers. But there is no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in a major way with LeBron James deciding he was ready to come home. Anytime you score the No. 1 player on the planet, you’re the official winner of free agency. Surprisingly, the Heat rank high on my list. They rebounded nicely from losing LeBron by keeping Chris Bosh from going to Houston. The Bulls make my winners list, too, snagging Pau Gasol. The Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, two of the biggest aggressors for superstar players on the market this summer, came up empty. And while I love risk takers, they’ve landed themselves on top of the losers list for me. This list is fluid, though, and could continue to grow depending on how several teams finish off their free agent summers.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe loser has to be Houston. (Well, Miami, too, but other than that.) The Rockets gave away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and let Chandler Parsons go as well, all to clear room for Chris Bosh, who stayed in Miami. Then they overpaid (for a second time) Trevor Ariza to fill that void. For a winner, how about Washington? They lost Ariza but picked up Paul Pierce, who will be terrific to be in John Wall‘s ear for two seasons, at a completely reasonable price. I also like Atlanta getting Thabo Sefolosha, the Human Lisp, at a reasonable price, giving them two (with DeMarre Carroll) stoppers on the wings. And I love Memphis getting Vince Carter to fill that wing scoring void they’ve had forever.

Blogtable: Thoughts on LeBron?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Cavs GM David Griffin talks about LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

> It’s been five days since LeBron James shook the NBA with his latest decision. What are your last thoughts on his move and its effect on the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even commissioner Adam Silver said he was “moved” by James’ homecoming essay. That’s great, and because of it, I trust the two-year term of his Cavs contract is solely about signing a fresher, bigger one in 2016 – he cannot leave Cleveland again that quickly and have a shred of credibility left. But I think this was about basketball more than James let on, because the Cavs have a budding supporting cast on the fast track now. Impact on the NBA? We’re back to a “tandem” rather than “trio” world again, as far as superstars congregating. With 30 needy teams, spreading the firepower thinner is a good thing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The two-year contract he signed in Cleveland with an out next summer could have the longest-lasting effect. It signals that he’s playing year-to-year from now on and it could be the first step toward the elimination of max contract ceilings in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: He definitely took the sentimental approach over the business approach in terms of picking a team. He took the business approach in terms of structuring a two-year contract in which he can opt out after NEXT season. Now, the thinking on this is to maximize his salary as the salary cap increases with each season, and perhaps by leaps and bounds once the league’s new TV deals are secured. But if James hesitates at all to re-sign with the Cavs, his talk about coming home for all the reasons he listed will be hot air. The effect on the league is that now Cleveland holds the ace and not Miami. Veterans seeking a ring will be drawn to the Rust Belt instead of South Beach.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That there can’t be any last thoughts yet. James’ decision could still have a ripple effect, with players who previously might not have been interested in signing for less to join the Cavs now more open to the possibility. Kevin Love wouldn’t have sent Cleveland a signal before that he would be very interested in staying as a free agent next summer. The presence of LeBron changes that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The reason I was surprised LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 is the same reason I wasn’t surprised he returned in 2014. He’s a loyal dude. Akron and his friends and family from Akron/Cleveland have always been close to his heart. He knows that he needs more than one more championship to get in Michael Jordan territory, but he also knows that Cleveland hasn’t won a championship in 50 years. To bring a title to that city would mean more (to him and to the people he cares about) than winning two or three more somewhere else.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In retrospect, and after reading LeBron’s own words, his return to Cleveland should not come as a surprise to anyone. It’s clear that even while he was taking the Miami Heat to The Finals year after year, his heart was actually somewhere else. Northeast Ohio in particular. It’s a game-changer for the league, no doubt. The Cavaliers go from afterthought to an Eastern Conference contender with LeBron’s return. In fact, the impact his homecoming will have cannot be quantified in any traditional manner. Just by returning to Cleveland, this guy is going to lift the spirits of an entire fan base, region and, really, a state. I lived in Cleveland (for a short 14-week stint) when LeBron was still in elementary school. And I’ve had family there my entire life, so I know how serious they take their sports teams and heroes. They’ve never had anyone like LeBron, homegrown, to latch on to. So to lose him four years ago in dramatic fashion only to see him win it all twice in Miami, their joy in getting him back now cannot accurately be displayed in words. If he actually comes home and wins a title, brace yourself for absolute pandemonium.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It makes the East much more competitive from top to bottom. There isn’t that same excellence in the top teams as in the West, but it makes it much harder to delineate the best teams in the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, Toronto or Washington won the Conference, with Atlanta, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte in the mix as well. LeBron returning home is a nice narrative, but that doesn’t give Cleveland a rim protector or a coach proven in the NBA just yet.

How good can the Cavs be?


VIDEO: LeBron James: On Returning to Cleveland

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James is back in Cleveland, leaving Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh behind and joining a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he took his talents to Miami in 2010. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star, but he’s also just the second No. 1 pick in 10 years to not make the postseason in his first three seasons.

As he wrote on SI.com, James knows that this is a different situation than the one he had upon arriving in Miami.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.

But the Eastern Conference looks to be wide open. And if you have the world’s best player and some decent talent around him, you have to be considered one of the favorites. But how good can the Cavs be this season? That’s a question that requires a two-part answer. To truly contend, you need to be very good on both ends of the floor.

Offense

The Cavs ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possessions. They improved on that end after trading for Luol Deng, but weren’t much better offensively with Irving on the floor than they were with him on the bench.

The Cavs’ coaching change could have changed things by itself. David Blatt has coached one of the best offenses in Europe over the last few years.

And obviously, the addition of James means that we can just throw last year’s numbers away. James’ teams have ranked in the top six in offensive efficiency each of the last six years.

The last two seasons in Miami were the best of those. The Heat found their space-the-floor offensive identity in the 2012 playoffs, complemented James with a bevy of shooters, and basically eviscerated opposing defenses for two years straight.

So, with the Cavs, just how good they are offensively (Top 10? Top 5?) is going to be a matter of how much shooting they can put around James.

Last season, the Cavs had two guys who shot better than 37 percent on at least 100 3-point attempts. Both of them – Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles – have left via free agency.

So the pressure is on Irving (35.8 percent from 3-point range last season) and Dion Waiters (36.8 percent) to improve from beyond the arc. No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins should be adjusting his pre-camp training to work more on corner threes. And Cavs GM David Griffin obviously has to make shooting the priority as he pursues other free agents (like Ray Allen and Mike Miller).

Playing with James should make everybody a better shooter. According to SportVU, Waiters shot 41.6 percent (72-for-173) on catch-and-shoot threes last season.

Irving will need to learn how to play off the ball. The good news is that he can’t be a worse 3-point shooter than Dwyane Wade. But Irving was better on pull-up threes (38.8 percent) than he was on catch-and-shoot threes (32.1 percent) last season.

A huge key for Miami was having another forward (Shane Battier mostly, Rashard Lewis in the 2014 playoffs) who can spread the floor offensively and defend opposing bigs (somewhat competently) on the other end of the floor. Maybe that’s Anthony Bennett some day, but right now, Cleveland doesn’t have that guy.

With the best player in the world and a smart head coach, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs not ranking in the top 10 offensively. But without enough complementary shooting, it’s also tough to see them in the top five.

Defense

Cleveland was one of the most improved defensive teams last season, allowing 2.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in 2012-13 (as league efficiency improved). They ranked 13th on that end of the floor overall, but got worse defensively (and ranked 20th) after the Deng trade.

Again, we can throw that all out with the coaching change and the addition of James, who has the ability to be the best defensive player in the league when he has enough in the tank to do it. If Blatt’s system can take some of the offensive load off his shoulders, James can get back to contending for DPOY after what was his worst defensive season in several years. It will help that Irving can play more games and carry a bigger offensive load than Wade could.

But Irving’s defense has to improve. If he isn’t staying in front of the ball, the Cavs’ defense will break down early and often. Also key is Anderson Varejao‘s health. He’s Cleveland’s best interior defender, but he’s played just 146 games in the four years since James left. (For comparison, James has played 381.)

Elsewhere, the Cavs just don’t have any proven defenders. With another coaching change, their young players have to learn a new system. And the fatigue factor (four straight years of going to The Finals) still applies to James.

Without that Battier-esque “other” forward, James will either have to defend bigs (which he doesn’t like to do) or play more at the three. Two true bigs on the floor could help with paint protection, but will hurt the offense. Still, this may be the end of the floor where they truly need a year or two to develop before they can call themselves title contenders.

James will make the Cavs much better. They will surely be a top-five team in the East. But as he said, his patience will be tested. The Cavs are likely a year or two (and a player or two) away.

Bennett starts strong as summer soph


VIDEO: Anthony Bennett talks about his double-double in Cavs’ win

LAS VEGAS – David Blatt, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new head coach, was backed up to the concrete-block wall as far as he could go. A semicircle of media folks, with flip-cams, records and the stray pen and notebook, pressed forward Sunday afternoon at the Cox Pavilion.

Made sense Blatt was in high demand. After all, barely 48 hours had lapsed since LeBron James stunned the sports world with his announcement that he was returning to Cleveland. Andrew Wiggins, the intriguing No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in late June, had just played his second pro game. Then there was Blatt himself, a rookie in this league after building an extensive and impressive reputation internationally, who just learned he would have the planet’s best basketball player at his disposal.

Only, no one wanted to talk about that stuff. The first three or four questions Blatt took all were about a guy who averaged 4.2 points, appeared in only 52 games last season and missed 145 of the 225 shots he launched.

“What is this, the Anthony Bennett Show?” Blatt said, laughing.

Actually, yeah, it kinda was. Moments earlier against San Antonio’s Summer League squad, Bennett scored 13 points and hauled in 14 rebounds in the Cavaliers’ second victory of this event. In the opener Friday, he scored 15 points with seven rebounds against Milwaukee.

Bennett reined in his shot a little Sunday, shooting 5-for-8 compared to 6-for-16 in the opener. But he still oozed confidence, along with the sweat that glistened off a body in far more professional shape these days. The No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft has shed 15 pounds, as he tells it, but it actually looks like more; he has leaned down and worked hard to gain definition and more freedom of movement.

“It wasn’t really that tough,” Bennett said. “My body is kind of weird. I can gain weight fast, I can lose weight fast. So it was just me maintaining it. Watching what I eat at night.”

The way he looks and has played so far, if that was the Anthony Bennett who had shown up for training camp in October, the Cavaliers might have been on to something. Then again, they might not have Wiggins right now because a productive Bennett might have meant more victories and fewer lottery balls.

Instead, offseason shoulder surgery wiped out summer league for Bennett and a slow uptick in picking up the pro game and his dubious conditioning ganged up on the regular season. He was a non-factor, nowhere to be found in Rookie of the Year voting or on the all-rookie teams. The meager stats he got were often of garbage time variety.

Everywhere the Cavs went, Bennett said he was doing fine, biding his time, ignoring the critics. But after his happier performance Sunday, he admitted that wasn’t entirely true.

“Most definitely,” he said. “Just putting a lot of pressure on myself. Things weren’t going right for me. Just everything just collapsing, just building up. I got down on myself. I spoke to the coaches, they helped me out a lot. Told me to keep working.”

Those were the Cavs’ old coaches. The new coaches feel the same way – what a shock! – and Blatt, the newcomer, says it is clean slate time all around.

“AB has been good since Day 1, since I came,” Blatt said. “He’s really working hard to get himself in shape. He’s really, really trying to do a lot of different things on the court to help the team win, and not be under pressure to do one thing. … It’s a work in progress but he’s doing a great job and I hope he continues in the same fashion.”

Bennett, a native of Toronto who attended high school in Las Vegas before his single season at UNLV, has plenty of support in the stands. That has boosted his confidence even more.

“I see my high school principal here,” Bennett said. “A couple of teachers here, my AAU coach, a couple of friends. I just feel more relaxed, more calm.”

Calm before a potential storm. James’ return to Cleveland has changed the entire Cavs atmosphere, and a young guy like Bennett – along with Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Wiggins – might find themselves winning more and speeding along their learning curves.

The alternative, though, is that Bennett might wind up instead in a trade package with a couple of those teammates, should Cavs GM David Griffin and Timberwolves president/coach Flip Saunders ever see eye-to-eye on a possible Kevin Love deal.

If that means Bennett is showcasing himself for Minnesota rather than Cleveland, so be it. Showcasing is better than warehousing, which is how his 2013-14 season went.