The defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers open training camp on Sept. 29. They are the favorites on the NBA odds to win the 2016 title. But should Cleveland be the favorite? Let's examine.
LeBron Showed How Good He Was
First off, you shouldn't be shocked that the Cavaliers are title favorites. LeBron James' teams have opened as favorites ever since he left Cleveland for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. The best players win NBA championships. Last season was no exception as NBA MVP Steph Curry led the Golden State Warriors to their first title since the 1975 season.
That the Cavaliers with no Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving out with a knee injury following Game 1 even got it to six games was all because of LeBron, who was in his fifth straight Finals (previous four with Heat) and sixth overall -- he is now 2-4 in them. Michael Jordan, by the way, was 6-0 in the NBA Finals and none of his Bulls teams ever had to play a seventh game. Just saying.
But LeBron was an unbelievable one-man show against Golden State. He averaged 45.8 minutes per game, 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. He had two triple-doubles and nearly three more. It was arguably the greatest Finals performance ever and LeBron might have won series MVP honors had the Cavaliers gotten it to seven games even if they lost. Instead, MVP honors went surprisingly to the Warriors' Andre Iguodala.
So the point being: as long as LeBron as healthy and in his prime, which should at least be the next three seasons, his team is going to be a title favorite unless some other club forms a super-team by landing Kevin Durant this offseason (Miami? Washington?).
The Band Is Back Together
On Ladbrokes NBA odds, the Cavaliers are +225 title favorites. Next is San Antonio at +400, Golden State at +500 and Oklahoma City at +800.
The Cavaliers are back intact as they re-signed LeBron (of course, and he will test free agency again next summer only because he will get a raise with the NBA salary cap rising), Love, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova. Center Timofey Mozgov opted into his option year. The team also added a veteran point guard in Mo Williams.
The only question hanging over camp is the status of power forward Tristan Thompson, who really emerged in the playoffs as a rebounding dynamo once Love went out. Thompson, a free agent, still doesn't have a contract. The team is offering a five-year, $80 million deal, while Thompson wants $94 million over five. Look, Thompson isn't going anywhere. Just about no team has the salary cap to sign him at this point. Maybe Philadelphia but obviously Thompson isn't going there. At worst, he signs Cleveland’s one-year qualifying offer of $6.9 million and then is an unrestricted free agent next summer when the salary cap explodes and Thompson likely will get offers of $20 million a year.
As for the start of camp, the Cavaliers anticipate that Irving, Love, Mozgov and Anderson Varejao (who missed most of last season) will be ready to go. All four players are recovering from surgery. Irving (fractured knee cap) and Love (separated shoulder) will be active during camp, but on a limited basis. It's still likely that Irving doesn't play at least the first month of the season. Mozgov (knee scope) and Varejao (Achilles' tendon tear) are not expected to be restricted once camp opens.
This is clearly the most talented roster in the NBA from top to bottom. The most-talented team doesn't always win -- ask LeBron about that. His first Heat team had way more talent than the Dallas Mavericks that season, but the Mavs beat Miami in the Finals. Irving's injury history is a bit of a worry.
But the Cavaliers have one huge advantage that the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder don't: They play in the East. It shouldn't be that hard to get through the Eastern Conference playoffs, while Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are going to be in dogfights all the way through the West. I haven't even mentioned the L.A. Clippers, Houston or Memphis yet.
Cleveland likely won't finish with the best record in the league during the regular season, and I wouldn't recommend that on NBA picks, but it's a deserved favorite as things stand.