CLEVELAND – Winners of five straight—and five of their last six—the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be turning things around at the right time.
A pre-season favorite to win their first NBA title after the return of LeBron James and trading for Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers at 24-20 are not where many experts slotted them in January.
Throughout their first 44 games, Cleveland looked disjointed, inconsistent and shaky on defense, and at times lost, flaky and unorganized on offense.
Whether or not this is due to the proverbial honeymoon in the team adjusting to its rookie head coach in David Blatt, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving learning to be a true point guard, and not having to carry the offensive scoring load or Kevin Love not having to worry about be the main guy—as he was for so long on some mediocre teams in Minnesota—the return of James along with a young, yet inexperience roster, unaccustomed to winning proved to be a struggle.
An opening night loss to the New York Knicks did little to dampen the hype and expectations of a title in a championship-starved town such as Cleveland,as the new “Big Three” of James, Love and Irving was rightfully given a pass, because—like the Miami Heat—struggled early out the gate.
As injuries began to take their toll, the Cavaliers would gradually be exposed as “soft” and “fragile” by both the media—and even LeBron himself—after blowing a 19-point lead to the Toronto Raptors, and losing 110-93 in November.
Cavalier supports and apologists everywhere would guffaw in unison, “it’s early” or “talk to me in June” gradually turned to “fire Blatt” or “LeBron/Love are leaving in 2016” it became clear that Cleveland was the new favorite target/lightning rod by both the fans and media.
Haters everywhere would magically come out of the proverbial woodwork to bash the Cavaliers when they lose in posting—or even blogging—the newest “LeBron is leaving Cleveland” rumor or talk of the discord and ESPN-manufactured rumor of player unrest.
With Anderson Varejao and James going down in succession to injuries, more fuel was thrown onto the Cavaliers hate parade. With no Varejao, Cleveland was forced to play Love and Tristan Thompson at center. With James out, Cleveland played like Cleveland pre-Lebron, in looking hapless and lost as ever.
Couple in “The Shove” and the “Cava-dears” were the NBA’s wine-and-gold version of the Titanic going down in flames.
Enter The Trades.
In a blockbuster three-way deal with Oklahoma City and New York, the Cavaliers shipped proverbial ballhog Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City for Smith and Shumpert.
While some called this move an act of desperation, as it failed to address Cleveland’s glaring need for a rim protector, Shumpert was still nursing a shoulder injury, but many saw Smith as an older more-inked version of Waiters, due to his tendency to hoist shots religiously.
While Waiters has continued to showcase his “talents” down on the Great Plains, Smith has given the Cavaliers exactly what they needed in a true shooting guard, as someone who can create his own shot, deadly from long-range, and appears to have an immediate chemistry with both LeBron and Irving.
Since joining the Cavaliers, Smith has averaged 15.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists while Waiters has averaged 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Clearly, Cleveland won that trade, as Smith has infused the Cavaliers with another scoring option outside of the “Big Three”
48 hours after trading for trading for Smith and Shumpert, Cleveland traded two future first-round picks—including the one obtained from the Thunder in the Waiters deal—to land their much-needed big man in Mozgov.
To say that the addition of the 7’1 250-pound Russian center has been a godsend for the size-deprived Cavaliers is the understatement of the year as he has averaged 10.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in eight games with Cleveland.
With the additions of Shumpert, who is more of shutdown wing defender, Cleveland addressed their biggest needs in two trades.
In averaging over 100 points in their five-game win streak, it seems that the moves of finally paying off, but then again talk to me in June.
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