When LeBron James announced he was coming back to northeast Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, we were all giddy. For the first time since James left, a team from Cleveland was considered a favorite to win a championship.
Thoughts of 70 wins danced in our collective heads. After all, how can any team beat the wine and gold, with their “Big Three” of James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving.
Well, we found that out three times in the first week and a half of the NBA season.
Look at the teams that are off to fast starts this year. Golden State is 5-0, and although they have a new coach in Steve Kerr, their personnel is largely unchanged. Memphis is 6-1 with for the most part, the same cast and characters.
Houston lost Chandler Parsons to free agency, but they still have James Harden and Dwight Howard, and picked up Trevor Ariza to replace Parsons. The best team in the Eastern Conference so far? Toronto is 5-1, and they are largely the same team they ended the year with.
The Cavs have five, repeat five players who were wearing Cleveland uniform last season (Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Matthew Dellavedova). That’s a lot of new players to get to play together.
We remember the year after the “Miracle of Richfield” season of 1975-76 when the NBA and ABA merged and the ABA players on teams not absorbed into the NBA were dispersed around the league. The Cavs were successful enough the year before and therefore went in to the 1976-77 season with the same roster that ended the previous season.
The wine and gold started out 16-4 that season, but as the new players were assimilated into their new teams, the Cavs faded and finished 43-39 for the season.
It takes time for new players to get used to playing together.
We have seen that in the first five games. How many passes have gone out-of-bounds because a teammate broke a different way from what the passer thought?
And certainly the lack of knowing each other takes its toll of the defensive end. Good defense is a product of helping each other. For example, big men cover up if a guard allows his man to get by, trusting that the guard then picks up the man he vacated.
Yes, practice helps, but you really only develop that trust by playing in games together. That will come as the schedule gets played out.
Since the Cavs turned over two-thirds of its roster, things like this are going to take time, even if the old players were replaced for the most part by either all-stars (James, Love) or veterans of many NBA seasons (Mike Miller, Shawn Marion).
It also didn’t help that the schedule maker had Cleveland play four of their first five games away from the friendly confines of The Quicken Loans Arena. Going 2-2 on the first trip of the season isn’t really that bad.
So, James is correct in telling fans and the media to relax. He and his new teammates are still learning to get a comfort level on the floor with each other. The new coach, David Blatt, is still learning what combinations work offensively and defensively.
Fans want the success to be instantaneous, but it rarely is.
If these same problems are still occurring when the calendar turns to 2015, then people can begin to worry.
We understand people in Cleveland aren’t patient, but they need to be just that.