Fall is slowly creeping into northeast Ohio.
The signs are everywhere: the cooling temperatures, the changing leaves, the college football season hitting its stride, the Indians limping to finish their season while flirting with a franchise record 12-game losing streak, the Browns once again trying to figure out that whole "football" thing (while the Browns' weekly embarrassments surprise me about as much as the sun setting, I still don't get how the Tribe managed to get within one loss of tying a record skid).
That's right, Cleveland. Even though summer has just passed, it'll only be a short while before another dreary winter sets in and stubbornly refuses to leave.
But even with all the dismal fall recurrences here on the lake, northeast Ohioans can be optimistic about one thing in the coming week: The Cavaliers begin training camp on Monday.
Despite last season's early exit from the playoffs, the Cavs enter 2009-'10 with both a bolstered swagger and heavy hopes.
This preseason will likely bring with it the biggest expectations for a Cavs team in the history of the franchise. It wasn't until the 2008-'09 season was but a few months old until talks of a title began to surface in Cleveland.
This year, the Cavs add to their already deadly arsenal a bigger, stronger frontline (Shaquille O'Neal and Leon Powe) and a few lengthy, defensive-minded guards (Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon).
These two areas, widely considered Cleveland's biggest weaknesses last season, were exposed and abused by Orlando in last year's playoffs.
Dwight Howard was allowed to do pretty much anything he wanted in the paint while Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Mickael Pietrus used their height to accurately shoot over the Cavs' small backcourt.
While many outside Cleveland might not see it, the hapless states of the Browns and Indians, while helping to get fans psyched about this season's Cavs team, may also be applying excessive stress on the James gang.
The fact that the Indians are as far away from a .500 record as the Browns are from double digit scoring could simply tighten the squeeze on Cleveland's lone hope for a title within the next five (at least) years.
From Facebook to the Flats, Clevelanders—painfully maintaining their ironclad faith with the Browns and having abandoned the Tribe long ago—everywhere are turning to the "Q" and investing mass shares of their hope in LeBron and Co.
We've seen what can happen to a team when undue pressure is placed upon it (2008 Indians, anyone?).
However, LeBron James has been the exception to the rule during his reign in Cleveland (understatement of the decade). He has single-handedly rescued a dying franchise from the gutter and carried an uninspired team to the realm of the NBA's elite.
But can James, now teamed with an aging O'Neal and on the eve of an expiring contract, finally deliver a starving (not just in sports) city full of increasingly impatient, rabid fans to greatness?
Many feel that if the Cavs can't do big things this year, James may be well on his way out of Ohio. With the added pressure of being Cleveland's lone contender, doing so will be James' biggest mountain to climb yet.
But if James is to lead Cleveland to a championship, this the year to do it. The Cavs' roster (on paper) is loaded from top to bottom and has what it takes to compete with the other powers of the Eastern Conference in a seven-game series.
Plus, James has done nothing but take on and exceed the loftiest of expectations since entering the league under labels such as "savior," "chosen one," and "king."
Yes, the Cavs tanked in last season's Eastern Conference Finals. And yes, Delonte West, an integral piece of the Cavs' puzzle, seems to be in a bit of trouble. The Celtics and Magic also added some pretty big names during the offseason. Also, Clevelanders are going all in and placing their remaining sporting hope squarely on the Cavaliers.
With so much pressure heading into '09-'10 campaign, it could be easy to forecast yet another Cleveland sports disappointment looming on the horizon.
But with an improved roster and James in the fold (for at least one more year), pressure might be just what this city needs.
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