Washington (AFP) – LeBron James will have an overhauled Cleveland Cavaliers supporting cast this season as he tries to reach an eighth consecutive NBA Finals and again dethrone Golden State as champion.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James won two titles in four seasons with the Miami Heat and begins his quest to match the feat with Cleveland on Tuesday when the 2017-18 campaign opens against visiting Boston and ex-Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving.
The Cavs lost to Golden State in the 2015 finals but took revenge by winning the 2016 crown, James fulfilling his vow to bring a title to Cleveland, only to watch Golden State add Kevin Durant and roll to the title last season with a 16-1 playoff mark.
Several clubs made roster changes designed to challenge the Warriors, with the Cavs adding experience and talent at the risk of becoming an older team with injury concerns.
But in the end, they remain powered by “King” James, whose finals streak is unlike anything seen in the NBA in half a century.
“We all know who the big dog is, so everybody else has got to get in where they fit in,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said. “If you’re going to come in here with an ego, you shouldn’t have signed here.”
New Cavs guard Dwyane Wade, 35, was the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player and is an ex-Heat teammate and long-time James pal while new backcourt partner Derrick Rose, 29, was the 2011 MVP but has been nagged by knee injuries for years.
Wade averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists with Chicago last season.
“I think he brings another championship DNA, championship pedigree,” James said of Wade. “He brings another playmaker who can get guys involved and make plays and also just has a great basketball mind.”
Former Cavs guard Irving, who averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists last season, was traded to Boston in a deal that brought over starting forward Jae Crowder and guard Isaiah Thomas, who isn’t expected to play before January due to an injured right hip.
– Everyone must sacrifice –
Shifting roles have meant Kevin Love taking a center spot rather than serving as a forward and two more returning standouts, Smith and forward Tristan Thompson, have been relegated to reserves.
“It’s not about who starts the game,” said Thompson. “It’s about who is in the game in the fourth and who is finishing it.”
The Cavs, who also added 36-year-old Spanish guard Jose Calderon, must now blend the talent into a team over an 82-game campaign to peak for the playoffs.
“You’re a part of a team and you’re going to have to sacrifice something to be here,” Wade said. “This is all about winning. It’s comforting. No matter what everyone’s role is, when you’re on the floor you figure it out. And we’ll be fine.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is confident his revamped roster can mystify rivals and become formidable offensively.
“With the starting lineup, they all can push it out on the break if they rebound the basketball,” Lue said. “Guys who can make plays, good cutters, good slashers. We also can space the floor. We have a lot of weapons. We’ve just got to put them all together so they all play well together.”
– ‘Peanut butter and jelly’ –
James compared the versatility of the rebooted Cavaliers to his Heat squads.
“We have the versatility and the ability to fly around with the athleticism that we have and the IQ we have as well,” he said.
“We can do a few different things defensively. When things break down, when you have versatility and you have speed, it allows you to cover for mistakes.”
Wade snubbed several other offers to play again alongside James, saying they go together “like peanut butter and jelly.”
“I look forward to playing alongside my brother LeBron,” he said. “We’ve already won two championships together and I hope we win a third.”