Best-Case Scenario: Cleveland fans wake up and it was all just a dream. The whole thing was a sick and terrible nightmare. There was no “The Decision” and talents were not taken to South Beach. The LeBron James Cavaliers number 23 jerseys are found unburned in our closets and LeBron has followed his idol Michael Jordan and announced in a simple press release, “I’m back.” The Cavs win 60 or more games and their first-ever NBA title in 2011.
REALISTIC Best-Case Scenario: Mo Williams steps out of LeBron’s faded shadow and shines as he takes over the team leadership role. He averages a career-high 19 points and 6.5 assists.
J.J. Hickson realizes his potential and has a breakthrough season in Byron Scott’s Princeton offense. With extended minutes and a vastly improved mid-range game, Hickson averages a career-best 15 points and eight boards. Given the Cavs lack of other options, J.J. must elevate his game to new heights for this team to have any chance of success.
Antawn Jamison plays more like he did in the Wizards’ offense for six years, leading the team with 21 points a night and sticking near his career average of eight rebounds. Standing still and waiting for LeBron to pass the ball was not Jamison’s style, and that’s why he never seemed like a natural fit with the Cavs after the midseason trade last year. A motion offense with everybody involved should bring out the best in Jamison, if his 34-year-old body can withstand it.
Anderson Varejao continues to run around like a man on fire, but it won’t be as easy for him without LeBron feeding him from impossible angles. Still, in this best-case scenario, he will post numbers similar to last season’s nine points and seven rebounds per game.
The Boobie Gibson from 2007-08 returns, raining threes from all over the court and averaging 10 points a night. After being forgotten for the last two seasons, Gibson will have the chance to prove his worth under first-year head coach Byron Scott.
Wild Cards: Ramon Sessions sparks the bench unit with his gritty play and versatile game. Anthony Parker, whether starting or off the bench, continues to be a solid all-around role player and knock down threes. Jamario Moon and Jawad Williams and/or Joey Graham take advantage of increased roles to solidify the rotation. Leon Powe shows more progress in recovering from his 55 knee surgeries and adds a tough backup four or five. Ryan Hollins contributes…anything, really.
The Record: In the best-case scenario, the Cavs use their motion offense and stiff defense to pull of some surprises. They fight to the finish for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and edge out Amare’s Knicks with a 42-40 record to squeak in. Sadly, it was very difficult to convince myself that this will happen. More on that later—remember, this is the best-case scenario!
Worst-Case Scenario: LeBron James left Cle—shoot. Um, how about relying on Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison to lead your team to the playoffs?
Let’s get serious. In the worst-case scenario, everyone’s game drops off without the self-proclaimed “Chosen One” in the mix. This was a team built to work off of LeBron’s strengths, with a lot of spot-up shooters and some slashers who can make good on LeBron’s passing. It has some tough defenders, but has lost Delonte West and LeBron, the team’s best perimeter defenders. It is a cast of role players, with no real star to build around. They struggle to adjust to Scott’s Princeton offense, and finish second-to-last in the conference with 23 wins, LeBron’s old number serving as a reminder of what used to be.
Actual Prediction: There will be no shortage of growing pains for the 2010-2011 Cavaliers. I really do expect J.J. Hickson to have a career year, but I fear that Mo Williams and others will not be as effective without LeBron to feed them for open shots and layups. There will be improvement by players like Gibson who will feel at home in this offense. There is decent depth, but again everyone is a role player.
They will be competitive on a game-to-game basis, but the fourth quarter in the NBA comes down to which team’s star makes more plays. The Cavs don’t have that player, and will fall short in numerous close contests because of it. The other problem is the much-improved Eastern Conference. With Miami, Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, and Chicago all locks to make the playoffs, that only leaves three spots. Milwaukee and Charlotte were both in the playoffs last year and have a shot to go back, leaving the improved Wizards (Jon Wall), Sixers (Evan Turner) and Knicks (Amare) to fight it out with those teams. Barring a major injury to one or more teams, I don’t see where the Cavs fit in the playoff picture.
After two preseason games, I predict the team finishes with a 33-49 record, two less wins than they had in their first season with LeBron.