- Jason Miller/Getty
On the eve of the NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are probably not in the shape they’d hoped to be coming off an NBA Finals appearance.
The Cavaliers retained their core of an NBA Finals team, completed with Tristan Thompson’s $82 million contract, but it may be a while before they’re whole again.
Going into their season-opener against the Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers are riddled with injuries.
It begins with LeBron James’ back problems, which are verging on troubling. LeBron was deactivated in the preseason after receiving a second anti-inflammatory shot for his back in 10 months. An orthopedic surgeon told the Northeast Ohio Media Group last week that a third shot in the next six months could suggest problems for LeBron, even to the point of surgery.
While James practiced fully on Sunday, a positive sign, he warned last week he wouldn’t put “all my eggs in one basket” that he’d be ready for the season-opener. Even if he is ready to play, given the extreme workload LeBron has handled at his age, there’s a chance this is a lingering problem.
And LeBron’s potential injury is really only the beginning of the Cavs problems.
Kyrie Irving injured his knee in last year’s Finals, and it doesn’t appear he’s be close to returning. Irving is working his way back from a fractured knee cap, and hasn’t practiced yet with the team. While it seems he’ll be back before the initial January estimate, he still doesn’t have an exact return date.
Guard Iman Shumpert, fresh of a four-year, $40 million deal, will miss at least three months after undergoing wrist surgery, leaving the Cavaliers without their top perimeter defender.
Center Timofey Mozgov said his knee is “bothering” him and it has limited him in practice and preseason games.
“My knee is not – I wish it could be like it’s not bothering me, but it is what it is,” Mozgov told reporters. “It’s bothering me, but we’re still working on it. Not before the first game, but in the close future, we will be good. I hope so.”
If Mozgov isn’t able to go, or is limited going into the season, the Cavs will likely have to start Anderson Varejao, a 33-year-old center coming off a season-ending Achilles tear last season.
There are issues elsewhere in the front-court. Kevin Love is coming off of shoulder surgery that kept him out of most of the playoffs, and although he played in preseason, he appeared rusty, shooting 33% from the field.
Thompson, as noted, is back, but missed all of training camp and preseason, and may also be rusty after not playing since June.
As members of the team have repeated, the Cavaliers aren’t so much concerned with starting the season as they are with finishing it. The team started slowly last year, mainly due to chemistry and talent issues, and still finished hot, making the Finals pretty easily. This year, the Cavs are once again the easy favorites in the East, and they have the luxury of having talent and chemistry already in place.
However, as has been covered with the Golden State Warriors, health plays a huge part in a team’s season, and the Cavaliers are already off to a rough start.