We are less than a week away from tip-off of the most anticipated Cavaliers season in franchise history. The preseason schedule has played out, training camp is over, and all that's left is to wait for the Boston Celtics at The Q on Tuesday night.
To tide us over, we've posed a few questions to three guys who know a thing or two about the Cavs - The Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst, NBA.com's Sam Amico and TheClevelandFan.com's own John Hnat.
How will the Cavs offense look with Shaq? Do the preseason lapses on defense really mean anything? And what can we really expect from Delonte West early in the year? Enjoy the insight appetizers as you get ready for the main course.
1. How will the Cavs' offense look different from last year, with the addition of Shaq and subtraction of John Kuester? How bad is the culture shock going to be?
Brian Windhorst, The Plain Dealer: Kuester's role was more in process than execution. The Cavs are still using the processes he put in, which made a significant difference. Though the biggest difference last season was Mo Williams. In late-game situations he will not be there to suggest a play but that was always done by committee and Mike Brown had the final call. Mike Malone is running things now and he's about as smart as any assistant coach in the league. However, bringing in Shaq is going to take some adjustment. From him, too. He is learning an offensive way he's never used and I suspect there's going to be some rocky times as he finds a comfort level. John Hnat, TheClevelandFan.com: For the first time since he ping-ponged up I-77 to Cleveland, LeBron James will be playing with a legitimate post presence in Shaquille O'Neal. And the big question of the 2009-10 season is how these two giants will play together. I think their games will actually mesh together very well - LeBron's game is based on distributing the ball, and Shaq is a very good passer for a big man. The danger with two big stars on the same team is that both will turn into black holes, but I don't see that danger materializing this year.
Sam Amico, NBA.com: The big difference will be the change at center, as Shaq plants himself near the basket and Z is basically a 7-foot-3 jump shooter. So although they both play the pivot, they have completely different styles. That won't only mean an adjustment in strategy from the coaches, but in how the players play on the floor. Mike Brown will need to be considerably more creative than he has ever been, especially now that Kuester is gone.
2. Should fans read anything into the Cavs' defensive lapses during the preseason? Why has the defense not played up to Mike Brown's expectations so far?
BW: I wouldn't read much into any preseason, this one especially.
JH: I don't think it is anything more than the combination of offseason rust and trying to incorporate three new players into the rotation. I doubt this will be remembered as an issue by December.
SA: Defensive lapses aren't all that uncommon during the preseason, particularly with a team that already knows what it has, who is going to play a lot, etc. That said, a sure sign of trouble is if the defense isn't up to par in the season-opener against Boston. One reason the defense may not be rock solid early is the addition of new guys - Shaq, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon - who are still learning its intricacies. And people forget what a key player Delonte West is defensively.
3. What newcomer has made the biggest impression on you so far, and why?
BW: Anthony Parker is so solid at everything he does. He'll never blow you away but he's so proficient at so many things. I doubt he's going to have many big-ticket games but I believe he's going to contribute in some meaningful way in nearly every game he plays.
JH: It's hard not to say Shaq, because of his size and presence. But I think Anthony Parker is going to prove to be a real find for this team. He is a true complementary player - a guy who can play defense, come off a pick and stick a jumper, and drill the occasional three-ball; and who doesn't need to have the ball in his hands all the time to be useful. That is exactly what the Cavs needed. He won't have huge box score numbers, but I think careful Cavs observers will recognize him as a very valuable player by next spring.
SA: Anthony Parker. He has been everything the team had once hoped to get from Wally Szczerbiak and Sasha Pavlovic - a lengthy wing defender who can curl off screens and bury the open mid-range jumper on offense. Plus, unlike Sasha and Wally, he doesn't make dumb mistakes.
4. Andre Barrett, Russell Robinson and Darryl Watkins were waived on Thursday, essentially penciling Jawad Williams and Coby Karl into the final two roster spots. Among the bubble players, who did you think would make the final cut, and why?
BW: Jawad Williams and Coby Karl, mostly for lack of competition. But I think the Cavs can do better and I think they should try. They could use another ball handler and there's some guys out there waiting for the phone to ring.
JH: I believed Williams would get one of the positions. He's a versatile player, and if you want to be a towel-waver on Mike Brown's bench, you need to be versatile. Maybe more importantly, he's a known quantity - he was with the team last season, and the Cavs know what to expect from him. Of the remaining players, I thought Karl would get the nod. Barrett is more of a true point guard, which the Cavs could use; but I think that Coach Brown feels that he has enough players on his Island of Misfit Point Guards (Mo Williams, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, and let's not forget that the real point guard on this team is LeBron James) that he can forego having a "true" one on the roster. Karl had the pedigree, the knowledge of the game, the hustle, and (here's that word again) the versatility to earn the last spot.
SA: I went with Jawad Williams and Coby Karl. Williams is a scorer in the truest sense, and I think the Cavs like his potential. Karl is scrappy and a strong ballhandler, and is the type of big guard Brown loves.
5. Do you think the preseason flu outbreak is going to hinder the team in any way early in the season?
BW: I think the team will start off a bit slowly for many reasons. One is the schedule, it is pretty difficult in the first month with a load of back-to-backs. Plus with the flu, the nagging injuries and the Delonte West situation they are not where they want to be yet. I think that will show up.
SA: I think there are a lot of factors that may cause this team to take some time to gel -- the flu being one reason, all the newness and a change of offense being the others.
6. Is the situation with Delonte West completely unpredictable? What can or should fans expect out of Delonte early in the season? Could his play be sporadic?
BW: Ultimately, I think Delonte will return to the player he was last season. The team doctors believe that if he follows the plan then he will stabilize. However, I think the lesson the team has to learn is Delonte is going to be volatile, and when he is, will be unpredictable. I believe this is something they should do a better job of planning for from now on. In other words, I'm not sure it is smart to count on him over the long haul.
JH: Yes. I think you have to view him through a pair of Butch Davis glasses. When he was coach of the Browns, Davis was famous for under-selling players' injuries. "He has a bump on the knee" meant "he won't walk for two weeks minimum." "We think he'll be out at least a month" meant "the priest is in the building to administer the last rites." And "he's day-to-day" meant that the day could be tomorrow ... or it could be three months from now. That's what I think the Cavs should expect from Delonte. He could be ready to play tomorrow, or it may take a little while. Fortunately, their roster is deep enough that they can absorb the loss of West for a significant period of time.
SA: Well, first, Delonte's play (on offense) has already been sporadic. That will probably always be the case. There's no telling how he will respond to missing all of training camp. Sometimes, guys use off-court issues to motivate them. Other times, it takes them forever to come around. Either way, we can't blame Delonte. Mood disorders are no different than any other disease. Let's just hope for Delonte's sake as a person he is able to, if not overcome it, at least manage it in the long run.