Wherever LeBron James goes, the highest wins total for an upcoming season generally follows. That's the case for the 2014-15 NBA season as the Cleveland Cavaliers have an 'over/under' of 59 victories on Sportsbook.ag's NBA odds. What's the smart bet?
Cavs on National TV a Few Times!
With all due respect to the San Antonio Spurs trying for back-to-back championships, the returns from injury of Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant, or whether Kevin Durant can win his first title, by far the dominating story line of the upcoming season is LeBron's return to northern Ohio. Miami Heat fans have the Spurs to blame. I don't believe James would have left Miami if the Heat had won a third straight title last season, and LeBron eventually admitted as much. But getting dominated by San Antonio gave Lebron James an excuse as he clearly wanted to find younger stars to play with in place of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Cavs do look like the next super team. Lebron James lost some weight this offseason and is still squarely in his prime at 29. He is the +150 favorite to win another MVP award on NBA odds at sportsbooks. Expect less of James down in the paint and banging bodies with the big boys but more of a fast-breaking James. He won't have to rebound or post up as much with the addition of All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who is in his prime at 26. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving hasn't even hit his prime yet at 22, but he was probably the best player on Team USA in the FIBA World Cup in which the Americans won gold.
Cleveland also has two other good, young, if inconsistent, players in shooting guard Dion Waiters and power forward Tristan Thompson. Veterans chasing rings are always going to follow James and the Cavs have added the likes of Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones in those roles. There are reports that future Hall of Famer Ray Allen will sign any day now as well. What's even more scary is that the salary cap is going to skyrocket in two years with the new TV deal, meaning the Cavs could have room to add yet another star who wants to play with LeBron.
Not a Perfect Team Yet
So what are the questions about the Cavs? Certainly how quickly they will come together and get in sync with so many new faces is one. In LeBron's first year in Miami, the Heat started just 9-8. There are also some defensive concerns. LeBron remains a great defender, and another reason he lost some weight was to chase around all those small forwards he will now be guarding. Irving isn't a good defender. Neither is Love nor Waiters, who will start at shooting guard.
Irving and Love also have questionable shot selections at times. Irving shot only 43 percent overall last year and 35.8 percent from long range. Kevin Love simply takes too many 3-pointers. With Allen (presumably), Miller and Jones on board the Cavs don't need that from him. Then of course there's rookie head coach David Blatt. He was very successful all over Europe, but the NBA is a whole new ballgame.
Winning more than 59 games isn't easy. Only one team did last year: the Spurs with 62. Injuries always play a role, and Blatt already has hinted he might gave James a game off here and there (in a back-to-back no doubt) to keep him fresh for the postseason. Irving has never come close to playing a full season. Love has yet to play every game in a regular season as well.
Also, the Eastern Conference should be improved off last season, when it was a joke. I believe seven Western Conference teams would have handily beaten any East playoff team other than Miami in last year's NBA Finals. However, the Chicago Bulls will be much better in 2014-15 assuming Derrick Rose can stay healthy. Toronto will be good, as will Washington and Charlotte. Atlanta, New York and Brooklyn will be very competitive. Indiana isn't a threat to win the conference title without an injured Paul George but won't be a pushover. Even the Heat will still be dangerous. OK, the bottom of the East -- Pistons, Celtics, Magic, 76ers, Bucks -- is still terrible. Then of course Cleveland has two games against every team in the very loaded West.
For our free NBA picks go 'Under' 59 wins. James' Heat teams won more than 59 regular-season games once: 66 in 2012-13 (obviously during lockout that wasn't really an option). James' original Cavs teams did it his final two seasons in Cleveland. There will be a learning curve. In fact, I favor the Bulls at +150 at sportsbooks to win the Central Division over the Cavaliers (-180).