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NBA Team Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers

Perry Missner

Missner covers the NBA, college football and college basketball for RotoWire. A veteran fantasy sports writer, Missner also serves as treasurer for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

He’s ba-ack! After four years away “at college” in Miami, four Finals appearances, and two championships, LeBron James has returned to Cleveland where he spent the first seven years of his career. Perhaps the best news for Cavs’ fans is that James has brought plenty of reinforcements to ensure that the team plays in the postseason for the first time since 2010 (when he left). Kevin Love has joined his 2012 Olympic teammate and former Heat players, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, and James Jones will provide additional support from the perimeter. Shawn Marion has also climbed aboard the LeBron train to make the Cavaliers the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference. Rookie head coach David Blatt will try to turn his long resume of international success into a long run in the playoffs in his first foray in the NBA.

Much like LeBron’s Heat teams, the Cavaliers will have a Big Three and try to fill in around the superstars. James, Love, and Kyrie Irving should continue to see superstar-level minutes. The Cavaliers may take a page out of the Spurs’ book and try to keep James a little fresher by reducing his playing time from the 37-minute to a more manageable number. With Miller and Marion, the team has plenty of depth at small forward. Irving and Love are both young, but have suffered a variety of injuries throughout their careers. Managing their playing time may be wise as well. Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao should fill out the starting lineup. Tristan Thompson, who had started all 82 games the past two seasons, should be the first forward/center player off the bench. Like all of the Cavaliers, Thompson should see a dip in minutes, which will hurt his overall fantasy value. Because the team has James, it does not need a traditional point guard. Behind Irving, Matthew Dellavedova may see backup minutes as a perimeter defender and 3-point launcher. Speaking of threes, Allen will continue his role of defense stretcher with his new team in reserve minutes.



Anderson Varejao:
The good news for Varejao is that he was able to stay relatively healthy in 2013-14 and appeared in 65 games (starting 29). Injuries have been a concern throughout the Brazilian big man’s 10-year career and he only played 81 total games in the three years after James left. When he is on the court, Varejao is a rebound hound who collects missed shots on both ends of the floor. He likely won’t average more than 30 minutes and will lose rebound opportunities to Love, but Varejao will collect his share of double-doubles.

Brendan Haywood: The veteran center did not play in 2013-14 after sustaining a stress fracture in his foot. He could still find a role with the Cavaliers as a rim protector because the team does not have another big who excels in blocking shots.

Alex Kirk: Kirk had a very nice three-year career at New Mexico but did not get drafted. He played on the Cavaliers’ Summer League team and only stands an outside chance of making the roster. The 7-0 Kirk projects as a space eater, but not much more.


LeBron James:
If James needs any motivation in his return to Cleveland, it may be that he lost his Most Valuable Player award and his top fantasy billing to Kevin Durant last season. He seems more interested in winning than putting up big numbers, which is not to say that his production was disappointing in his last year in Miami. It appeared as if James had lost a good deal of weight over the offseason, so he may spend more time on the perimeter with the Cavaliers. This may result in a corresponding reduction in rebounds, but James’ excellent efficiency from the past three seasons should also continue. Even with the aforementioned reduction in minutes, James should be picked in the first half of the first round.

Kevin Love: Love got his wish to leave Minnesota as the Timberwolves sent him to Cleveland in a blockbuster deal that netted the Timberwolves two number one draft picks (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) as well as Thaddeus Young. With the Cavs, Love may not see quite as many offensive opportunities (he took 18.5 field goals and 6.6 3-pointers per game in 2013-14), but his overall efficiency may increase significantly. The 6-10 power forward hit 45.7 percent of his field goals last season. If he can bump that conversion rate closer to 50 percent, he should continue to be a worthy first round pick.

Tristan Thompson: Thompson will get squeezed out of the starting lineup after the addition of Love. The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft has been one of the most consistent Cavalier players over the last two seasons with 11.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. He will not see 31 minutes, so his counting numbers will decline – perhaps precipitously. If he can continue to improve his mid-range jumper, he could find a quality role in the team’s second unit. However, he will be a back-end drafted player in fantasy leagues.

Shawn Marion: After spending five years playing next to Dirk Nowitzki , Marion traded his Maverick uni to play with LeBron. Like the rest of the Cavs, his minutes will decrease and it will be fascinating to see what his role will be. Marion can defend multiple positions and should come off the bench to play 20 minutes per game (or more when the Cavs go small).

Mike Miller: After spending a year away from James, Miller rejoins the four-time MVP in Cleveland. He played in 82 games for the first time in his 14-year career in 2013-14 with Memphis. His role as 3-point bombardier should not change and he has limited value as a 3-point streamer.

James Jones: Jones has spent his 11-year NBA career as a designated 3-point shooter. He spent the last four years in Miami next to James in this role and that should not change on his new team. Jones will take at least 60 percent of his shots from long range and have minimal fantasy appeal.

Malcolm Thomas: Over the last three years, Thomas has appeared in 23 games for four different franchises. If he makes the squad, his minutes will be limited to deluxe garbage time.

Erik Murphy: Murphy could be a backup stretch power forward at some point in his career. He spent his rookie season with the Bulls before getting cut in April.

Dwight Powell: Powell was a second-round pick of the Hornets who sent him to Cleveland along with Haywood for Scotty Hopson. He averaged 14.0 points and 6.9 boards for Stanford as a senior last season.


Kyrie Irving:
After three years as the top option in the Cavaliers’ offense, Irving will have to adjust to playing with two superstars. He won’t have the ball in his hands as much and will need to learn how to function in Blatt’s Princeton-style offense. While there will be some adjustments for the 22-year-old point guard, Irving could be in for a great season in which he gets much easier shooting opportunities. Like Love, Irving will lose field goal attempts but could see a corresponding increase in field goal percentage. The former Duke Blue Devil played a career-high 71 games last season.

Dion Waiters: It appeared at times over the past two seasons that the coexistence of Waiters and Irving was tenuous. Both players like to have the ball in their hands and direct (as well as sometimes dominating) the offense. That won’t fly with the new Cavaliers as Waiters will have to take a new role to heart. The good news is that Waiters improved his 3-point shot last year and hit 36.8 percent of his long-range shots. His minutes should stay relatively level and he will get plenty of open looks.

Ray Allen: Allen will have the exact role with the Cavaliers that he did with the Heat the past two seasons: he will come off the bench and launch 3-pointers. He hit 1.6 3-pointers per game in 27 minutes in 2013-14. Allen’s minutes could be squeezed even more as he backs up Waiters in his 19th year in the league.

Matthew Dellavedova: As an undrafted free agent, Dellavedova found a role under coach Mike Brown as a perimeter defender and offensive distributor. He could find the same role under Blatt who should enjoy his hustle. Minutes will be highly limited, so his fantasy value is limited.

Joe Harris: Harris was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. He brings perimeter defense and 3-point shooting from his days at the University of Virginia. Harris may spend a great deal of the season on the NBDL’s Canton Charge.

John Lucas III: Lucas will challenge Dellavedova for backup point guard minutes. He is limited by his 5-11 stature and is coming off his worst shooting season (32.6 percent from the field, 29.8 percent on 3-pointers) with the Jazz.


Dion Waiters:
Waiters came out of Syracuse billed as the next Dwyane Wade. While he may have neither the feel nor the athleticism to fulfill those claims, he will get a chance to play next LeBron James. While James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving will get most of the fantasy love, Waiters could go overlooked and should be a decent contributor. If he buys into coach David Blatt’s system, the third-year guard should get enough offensive opportunities to be a nice bargain for fantasy teams.


Anderson Varejao:
When he is healthy, Varejao is a dominant rebounder. The keyword is “healthy.” Throughout his career, the distinctively-haired center has played his way out of the lineup with injuries. Varejao is now 31 years old and will give up rebounds to Kevin Love. While he stayed healthier last season, he still missed 17 games. Concerns about injuries, opportunities, age, and playing time all make Varejao a questionable fantasy selection.