The Cavs have locked down their first NBA Championship in franchise history. Other than Lebron James being a Free Agent, the main core is still under contract. If the Cavs want to repeat as Champs, these are the questions that may have the most dramatic effect on the Cavs chances to make it two in a row.
1-Will Lebron Resign with the Cavs?
Some may think this is crazy to even suggest that Lebron would leave Cleveland after winning a title. How could Lebron even think about not staying in Cleveland and defending his title? I get that, but consider this, Lebron has fulfilled his promise to the city of Cleveland and no matter what he does, he will always be the city’s hero. If Lebron wanted to go play with his Super Friends in L.A. or anywhere else, he would be welcomed to do it. Now that Lebron has won a title in Cleveland, what else would bolster his legacy more than going to a third franchise and leading them to a title? What if he were to go to the West to win a title to get away from the constant criticism that he dominates the inferior East? How about teaming up with the Clippers with CP3, Wade, and Melo? All it would take is the free agent signings of LBJ and Wade and a Griffin trade for Melo. You just never know. The biggest question for the Cavs chances to repeat is whether Lebron comes back.
It’s clear now that OKC was the best team in the league this year, outside of the Warriors and Cavs, and is the team most likely to knock off the Warriors in the West next year. Sure the Spurs won more regular season games, but the Thunder showed in the Playoffs (by beating the Spurs and taking the Warriors to a Game 7) that it is the worst match-up for the Warriors and would be an amazing match-up against the Cavs. The Thunder’s defensive versatility and length forced the Warriors into lots of turnovers and got them out of rhythm. The two Thunder stars create mismatches for every team. If Durant leaves the Thunder for the Spurs or Warriors chances of a Cavs repeat decrease dramatically. If Durant goes anywhere else, the Cavs repeat odds will go up.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both have player options for 2016-17. Duncan doesn’t need the $5.5M, but that is a lot of money for anyone. Duncan will not stick around if he feels like he can’t be competitive or if he needs to have his knee operated on. Duncan averaged a career-low 21.8 minutes per game, and his 5.9 PPG and 4.8 RPG are proof that Duncan was regulated to a minor reserve role this season. His numbers make him look more like Rosho Nesterovic than a Hall of Famer and I have a hard time seeing Duncan finishing his career coming off the bench as a marginal back-up. Ginobili’s story is much like Duncan’s. His production is not what it used to be. He averaged only 6.7 points in less than 20 minutes per game in the Playoffs and, after a horrendous injury this season, Ginobili may call it a career. Losing Duncan and Ginobili is more about losing leadership and experience than anything else, but the Spurs will also need to find productive veterans to fill out its bench. Will the Spurs be reinventing themselves next year under the leadership of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard? Can Aldridge improve his defense? If Duncan and Ginobili are gone this will effect the chances of the Spurs having the chemistry of knocking off the champs.
4-Does Lebron leave Cleveland or push for major changes?
Lebron pushed for the Kevin Love deal because he wanted to win now rather than to wait for Wiggins to develop. Well, he has won now. The question is even if he chooses to resign in Cleveland will he push for other major changes to the roster? This is his team. If Lebron pushes for a Kevin Love trade (which I would bet is the most likely), will the Cavs look like next season? I have a hard time seeing Lebron carrying as heavy a load as he has his entire career, but who he surrounds himself with will determine if he can win another title next season. Love scored just 20 points and grabbed just 18 rebounds in Games 5, 6, and 7 combined. Will Lebron and the Cavs view this as simply a bad match-up for Love or will they conclude that with Tristan Thompson playing so well that Love is just not the right fit? If the Cavs traded Love to L.A. for Blake Griffin, that might be scary. The questions remain, what is Love’s trade value right now and what can the Cavs get in return?
5-Can the Warriors stay healthy?
From Coach Kerr and Steph Curry to Iguodala and Bogut the Warriors will need to stay healthy next year if they want to bounce back and win a second title in three seasons. Part of the most difficult part of winning is staying healthy despite the heavy minutes resulting from long Playoff runs year after year. Curry has played 198 games over the past two seasons and Thompson and Green are both over 200. Curry’s Playoff injuries illustrated that this is not the same team without Curry at one hundred percent. The MVP makes the engine go. The fact that Curry pulled out of the Rio Olympics to rest his knee is evidence that his knee is still bothering him. I would also not be surprised if I heard news that Curry needed his shoulder scoped as well. When an off-the-wall injury rumor pops up in the Finals, there is usually some truth to it. A shoulder injury would explain the uncharacteristically erratic shooting we saw in the Finals (that we didn’t see any other time during the season). And while this is still a good team without Curry in the line-up it is not a championship team. He’ll need to be 100% to go for his second title in three seasons. If Klay or Draymond were to have a major injury, it will be equally difficult to compete for a title without them.
6-What will Happen with Richard Jefferson and JR Smith?
With Richard Jefferson retiring in the wake of the Championship celebration and with J.R. Smith an unrestricted free agent, what will the Cavs do to fill those two rotation spots? Jefferson, Smith, and Lebron are the only three rotation players the Cavs need to resign. Delavedova is a Restricted Free Agent, so that will matter a bit, but I do not see Delly attracting a huge offer that the Cavs will be unwilling to match. So, who will Lebron recruit to come play with him if Lebron chooses to resign? Will the Cavs resign Smith or let him walk? How the Cavs fill out the roster will have a lot to do with their ability to repeat as Champs.