When the Cavaliers shook up their roster this past summer, an adjustment period was to be expected. The “Big 3” of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would need time to figure out how to play alongside each other. After all, the Miami Heat required a similar stretch when their “Big 3” initially joined forces. However, nobody envisioned the team struggling as much as they have over the first half of the season.
As of Tuesday, the Cavs are merely a .500 team at 19-19 and a distant fifth in the Eastern Conference. They’ve struggled to adjust to life without James, who is out with an injury, dropping eight of their last nine games. In the standings, they can only helplessly look up at the Chicago Bulls, who were expected to be their main competition for supremacy in the East before the season began. What started out as such a promising campaign has rapidly spiraled into chaos, with the futures of certain key figures being called into question. For this Cavs team, the answers to those questions can’t come quickly enough.
General Manager David Griffin has done his part to right the ship, completing two trades in recent weeks to bring in reinforcements on both ends of the floor. First, he acquired Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks. Both players, while flawed, can help the Cavs with certain weaknesses. Smith, a former recipient of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, should provide an occasional spark off the bench. The Cavs’ bench has been anemic thus far with an average of 24.7 points scored per game, the second worst mark in the league. With another scorer now in the fold, though, perhaps coach David Blatt can breathe a bit easier whenever he has to rest one of his star players.
Shumpert, on the other hand, offers competent defensive play, which is all too scarce on the team at the moment. The Cavs were never expected to play great defense with this roster, but their current average of 100 points allowed per game could still be improved upon. Shumpert will be counted on to help bring that number down, allowing the Cavs to get closer to the lofty expectations they’ve set for themselves.
Shortly afterwards, Griffin acquired Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets, albeit at the steep price of a pair of first round draft picks. The move was a response to the loss of Anderson Varejāo, who went down with a torn ACL in December and is out for the remainder of the season. Varejāo was a key cog on defense for the Cavs, providing excellent interior protection at the center position. Now, Mozgov will be expected to fill that same role for his new team. Once again, it all ties back to the Cavs’ porous team defense preventing them from reaching the heights they aspired to when the season began.
With the season only halfway finished, the Cavs certainly have plenty of time to right the ship and quell any doubts that pundits have about their ability to succeed. Of course, they’ve already endured more struggles than anyone anticipated, and nothing is guaranteed. Chances are, they won’t quite reach the lofty goals pundits and fans alike set for them back in October. However, they still have a chance to make this season a successful one with better play over the next few months.