Are the Recent Moves Enough to get the Cleveland Cavaliers Back on Track?
Cleveland Cavaliers 2015
J.R. Smith now playing alongside Lebron James
So far Lebron's return to Cleveland has resulted in wildly inconsistent performances from the Cleveland Cavaliers. This has the Cavaliers with a winning record currently, but they are not at the top of the Eastern Conference. A place where they hope to be by season's end. With Lebron James suffering from fatigue and Kyrie Irving suffering a recent injury, it became apparent that the rest of the Cavaliers roster is not good enough to be a top contender in the NBA this season. Management for the Cavaliers responded by trading Dion Waiters in a three team deal that brought back Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. They then traded two future first round draft picks to Denver for center Timofey Mozgov. This fills the Cavaliers need for a big physical presence in the middle of their defense, along with a shooting guard to complement the skills of Lebron James and Kyrie Irving. While Mozgov and Smith may have not been the best players available, given the Cavaliers current situation with highly paid stars on the roster, they will have to settle for what these two players can provide. With this in mind, a further look at what these players provide will help to present a clearer picture on the Cavaliers ability to get back on track.
Mozgov is not a very well known player to NBA fans after putting up very pedestrian numbers in Denver for the past few seasons. At 7 feet and 1 inch tall he is an imposing presence in the middle of the paint whenever he is on the court, and the Cavaliers needed exactly that to achieve their goals for this season. After Anderson Varejao was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, it became necessary for the Cavaliers to bring in another center to provide depth in the front court. Mozgov should be able to benefit from the presence of Lebron James and Kyrie Irving the same way Varejao did over the last few seasons when he started to average nearly a double-double after Cleveland drafted Kyrie Irving. Mozgov has enough offensive skill to provide the Cavaliers with a scoring presence in the post, especially with Lebron James setting him up for good offensive looks. Most of Mozgov's impact will be felt on the defensive end of the floor where he should serve as a rim protector and shot blocker throughout the remainder of the season for Cleveland. If Mozgov proves to be a great rebounder for the Cavaliers, they will slowly become one of the better defensive teams in the NBA with both Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov cleaning up the defensive boards.
Smith faces a significant transition as he joins a Cavaliers roster where he will not be able to take the number of shots that he accustomed to taking. As a volume scorer who can create his own shot, J.R. Smith will now be relegated to being a role player that complements the Cavalier's stars. As a player with significant athleticism, Smith will be asked to make his initial impact with the team by providing great defense before his scoring opportunities will increase as given to him by his teammates. The transition here for Smith as a player who dominates the ball, will be to find a way to complement James and Irving without always having the ball in his hands when he is on the floor. Smith will likely be asked to be a spot up jump shooter who stretches the floor with long distance shots. Once Smith is able to establish his catch and shoot ability, he will then have the opportunity to create looks closer to the basket by utilizing a pump fake from the perimeter. With Lebron James and Kyrie Irving having a huge say in what happens on the floor, J.R. Smith will have to share the basketball the way they do in order to gain their trust in him as a role playing teammate. With strong defensive work ethic and smart shot selection, J.R. Smith can be exactly what the Cavaliers were looking for in Dion Waiters before the trade.
How will playing time be distributed?
Initially both Mozgov and J.R. Smith will have to work hard to show that they can complement James, Irving and Kevin Love in the Cavaliers starting lineup. With Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson already complementing the efforts of their star teammates, the newcomers will have to earn their minutes with strong showings off the bench. With Shawn Marion being an aging veteran and J.R. Smith being an extremely athletic player in his prime, it should not be too difficult for Smith to earn starter's minutes quite quickly. For Mozgov competing with a young and effective Tristan Thompson, the job will not be nearly as easy for him. With Thompson averaging nearly a block per game, and nearly a double-double, the Cavaliers are in good position with whoever is earning playing time of the two players competing to be the center for Cleveland. With this situation where the team now has plenty of depth as well as competition for starting jobs, the Cavaliers are now in great position to reach their potential as they play out the 2015 part of their season schedule.
Will the Cavaliers get to the top of the conference by season's end?
Despite some of the bad losses recently for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they are now positioned to make a strong run at the top spot in the Eastern Conference. When both Lebron James and Kyrie Irving return from injury there will be more than enough talent in Cleveland to win nearly every game they play. If each of the new players are willing to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team, then the Cavaliers will be able to meet their full potential in 2015. Losing Anderson Varejao was a big loss for the Cavaliers when it happened, but now being able to turn to Timofey Mozgov will help them to overcome that loss. With the Atlanta Hawks currently at the top of the Eastern Conference standings without any transcendent talent to match what Cleveland has in Lebron and Kyrie Irving, the top spot in the Eastern Conference appears to be still very much within reach for the Cavaliers. With bench depth now intact, the Cavaliers can now turn to Iman Shumpert to give them quality minutes in the absence of Lebron James, along with spelling him at the point forward position after his return. With most of the 2015 schedule left to play for the Cavaliers, they will look to put it all together in a run that attempts to match what the Heat were able to accomplish in the second half of the 2013 regular season.