The 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers will face stiff competition as they seek to repeat as NBA champs. They’ll have a target on their backs the size of Lake Erie, and they’ll get each opponent’s best shot as they fight their way back towards the Finals.
Everyone knows what this team is capable of now, and the rest of the NBA has had an offseason to react to the Cavs’ ascent. Their path won’t be easy, but it’s still Cleveland’s title to lose. If the Cavs repeat in 2017 it should only surprise those who aren’t paying attention.
Here are five reasons the Cavs can win it all again:
1. Kyrie Irving is just entering his prime
It’s easy to forget that Kyrie is still just 24 years old. He entered the league in 2011, wowing us all with his old-man skills as Pepsi alter-ego “Uncle Drew”. Kyrie has always been an elite ball-handler, with the ability to finish difficult shots at the basket. He’s lived up to expectations as a former #1 pick, but is still learning to be an NBA point guard and has faced criticism for his shot selection and defense.
Kyrie had a huge postseason for the Cavs, averaging over 25 points per game and hitting the title-clinching shot against the Warriors. He will never be a true distributor at point guard, but can remain an elite scorer playing alongside LeBron James. Fresh off a gold medal with Team USA at the Rio Olympics, Kyrie is looking to build off the growth he has shown in 2016. If he can take his game to another level this season, you can bet the Cavs will too.
2. Tyronn Lue should bring stability to the locker room
The Cavaliers never seemed to be comfortable playing for David Blatt. The hire was strange from the beginning, as Blatt had no NBA head-coaching experience, and no real relationship with the stars on the team. The Cavs went 83-40 under Blatt, reaching the Finals in 2015, but Blatt’s tenure in Cleveland was mostly defined by shaky decisions and a fractured locker room. The team was never able to rally around him, and he often seemed overwhelmed by the NBA stage.
When the Cavs promoted Tyronn Lue to head coach in January, they wanted someone with the players’ ear who could bring a more up-tempo brand of team basketball. Lue earned the players’ respect with his intensity and basketball knowledge, and he remolded the team into the juggernaut that would win it all. Cleveland went 43-19 under Lue, earning him the rare distinction of being an NBA champion coach without a full season under his belt. He still has a lot to learn about coaching at the highest level, but Lue showed great poise during the Cavs’ title run and should continue to grow as a leader in the NBA.
3. Nobody in the Eastern Conference is on Cleveland’s level
2016 was a landmark offseason for the NBA. Thanks to an influx of new TV revenue, teams spent record amounts in free agency and several stars found new homes. The Cavs didn’t have the cap space to make any major moves, but they resigned LeBron and kept their core mostly intact. While the rest of the Eastern Conference had a prime opportunity to load up against Cleveland, it doesn’t look like the balance of power has shifted just yet.
The Atlanta Hawks brought in All-NBA center Dwight Howard, but lost Al Horford in the process and don’t appear to have gained much ground on the Cavs. The New York Knicks made some big splashes, acquiring Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose to play alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. These veteran additions should make New York a tougher playoff out, but they’re still a long way from unseating the Cavs in the East. Meanwhile, the Wizards got better and the Celtics are on the rise, but the Cavs are still strong favorites as LeBron looks to win his seventh consecutive Eastern Conference title.
4. Golden State has all the pressure
Sure, adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team is pretty scary. They’ll break some records this year and likely cruise to the top of the Western Conference. But they’ll also face tremendous pressure to win each night, and anything short of a title will be a disappointment.
The Cavs only have to play Golden State twice before a potential Finals rematch. They can take care of their own business while the world lauds the Warriors for the next six months. LeBron knows what it’s like to join a star-studded team and fail to win it all. Golden State will have a microscope on them all season, and it should take a bit of scrutiny off the Cavs’ repeat bid.
5. LeBron James is still the King
What more can you really say about this guy? He’s shown for the last decade that any team he plays on has a chance to win it all. LeBron enters this season in a new strata as he looks to bring another title to The Land. He’s got a lot of NBA minutes on his legs – and he won’t be able to will his teams to victory forever – but as he showed with his chase-down block of Andre Igoudala in the final minutes of Game 7, LeBron still has the ability to make magic when he needs it.
The Cavs look primed and poised to make another run at an NBA title.
Bet against LeBron at your own peril. He still holds all the cards.