MAKE THE MOST OF MO
Even as he was piling up 40-point games against the Warriors in the Finals, LeBron James still had 11 more assists than all of his teammates combined, a reflection of Cleveland's obvious playmaking deficiencies once Kyrie Irving went down with a left knee injury. General manager David Griffin's hands were mostly tied by the need to retain so many of his free agents this summer, but he was able to add a little dynamism by signing 6'1" guard Mo Williams to a two-year, $4.3 million deal.
The 32-year-old has played for five teams in the last four seasons, but he's an ideal fit in Cleveland, where he made his only All-Star appearance, riding shotgun to James in 2009. Williams's score-first mentality and quickness off the dribble should help the Cavaliers avoid the stand-and-watch-LeBron approach that did them in against Golden State, and his career 37.9% three-point stroke makes him another catch-and-shoot target for James's crosscourt lasers. Although Williams isn't a pure point guard, that's not really an issue: He can play off the ball when he's sharing the stage with the stars, then take over offense-initiation duties with the second unit.
A narrow role should suit Williams just fine, as he's capable of creating some easy looks for James, keeping defenses honest with his outside shot and providing a jump start when the offense is lagging. (See his career-high 52-point outburst with the T-Wolves last season.) When he returns around January, Irving will be James's primary sidekick, but Williams is a worthy addition to the posse.
A rival scout sizes up Cleveland
They had one real series in the East last year, and I don't see it being much harder this year. Who else in the conference got substantially better? No one.... David Blatt is a very, very sound coach with sound philosophies. It's just like in the NFL: LeBron James is his quarterback, and LeBron will get the credit if they win and Blatt will get the blame if they lose.... LeBron is still easily the best player in the league. He hasn't "slipped" yet physically, but he's making a point to pick his spots a lot better. He knows that he doesn't need to take over every game in December or January.... The questions I have about Kyrie Irving are all defensive. You can always attack him. Part of your offensive game plan should be to involve him in as many pick-and-rolls as possible. He should watch how Mike Conley slides through picks and sticks to game plans about when to go over and when to go under.... The major thing to keep an eye on: They struggled to share the ball when their three stars were healthy. You saw the chemistry improve with Tristan Thompson because he doesn't need the ball like Kevin Love. Blatt needs to help Love—give him a bigger package of post plays, give him some isolation touches, maybe stagger his minutes so he's the go-to guy for the second unit.... Timofey Mozgov is going to get paid next summer. He made the transition so quickly after the trade. He became their defensive identity.... When teams like the Warriors go small against them, they need to find better smaller lineups. If there's a rematch in the Finals, they should play LeBron at the five, have him take on Draymond [Green] and then flood the court with four little guys who can shoot.
COACH DAVID BLATT
(2nd season with Cavaliers)
2014--15 RECORD 53--29
(1st in Central)
PG KYRIE IRVING
21.7 PPG; 5.2 APG; 46.8 FG%; 41.5 3FG%
SG J.R. SMITH
12.7 PPG; 2.5 APG; 42.5 FG%; 39.0 3FG%
SF LEBRON JAMES
25.3 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 7.4 APG; 48.8 FG%
PF KEVIN LOVE
16.4 PPG; 9.7 RPG; 43.4 FG%; 36.7 3FG%
C TIMOFEY MOZGOV
9.7 PPG; 7.3 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 55.5 FG%
SG IMAN SHUMPERT
7.2 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 41.0 FG%; 33.8 3FG%
PG M0 WILLIAMS*
14.2 PPG; 6.2 APG; 39.7 FG%; 34.2 3FG%
C ANDERSON VAREJÃO
9.8 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 0.6 BPG; 55.5 FG%
NBA rank in usage percentage for Kevin Love last season (21.6%), which placed him just behind Roy Hibbert. In 2013--14, his final season with the Timberwolves, Love had a usage number of 28.4%, 11th highest in the league.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (LOVE)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JAMES)
NOT FADING AWAY James turned 30 last year, but he showed no signs of slowing—especially in the Finals, where he averaged 35.8 points and 13.3 rebounds a game.