-- CLEVELAND -- When the curtain comes up on these reinvented, reinforced, reinvigorated Cleveland Cavaliers, what can we expect to see for an opening act?
Sure, the talent is there, on paper, to conceivably coast to a championship. Yet, it rarely comes that easy in the NBA. Being the best on paper often ends up with that sheet being balled up and tossed in the wastebasket at the end of the season.
So, yes, the excitement is palpable for this team, but questions remain.
As good as the Cavs looked at times during their 5-2 preseason, there were hiccups. Most notably, there never seemed to be a time when LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all got cooking on offense simultaneously.
"We've been good at times and less effective at times," new Cavs coach David Blatt said. "Any time you have a new system, any time you have little continuity from the previous year, whether it be the roster or the coaching staff, then you're going to have moments when you flow and moments when you don't."
James called Blatt's offense unlike any other system he has run during his previous 11 seasons in the league. Love found it too radical, pleading for more traditional sets to be put into the mix so he could feel more comfortable.
Blatt has proved to be adaptable.
"We are doing some different things and I hope that it helps us," Blatt said. "But we've also tried to put in some things that are common, more common, to the guys and get them in a quick comfort zone, I like to call it. Because they've run these things before and they know what to do and how to take advantage of it."
Just think about the possibilities. As electric of an outlet-pass recipient Corey Brewer was for him in Minnesota, Love now has basketball's version of Megatron in James running fly routes. As talented as James' comrades Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were in Miami, he now has explosive teammates such as Love, Irving and Dion Waiters that defenses also will have to key on and thus free him up. As much promise Irving showed in his first several seasons, he'll get to build on his summer where he shined around top-tier talent with USA Basketball.
Whether he's just trying to keep things close to the vest, or if he truly sees the Cavs being a versatile, amorphous group, Blatt said you can't pin his team down. They run elements of a Princeton offense, as Blatt was a Tiger in college, but they're not relying exclusively on backdoor cuts and dribble handoffs. They don't use the pick-and-roll as frequently as most of the league, either, but you better believe with a prototypical pick-and-pop guy like Love on the roster you'll see that too.
"I think we're a team that's capable to play with different styles," Blatt said. "We surely have the ability to get the ball up the floor and to take advantage of early offensive opportunities, but we also have a good basketball IQ and players that can play in the half court.
"So I think we're versatile offensively with a lot of options and a lot of things that we can run to get to good spots and good shots. That's how I'd classify us offensively."
"How they're trying to do it, it's just have five-man basketball," Rose said. "Pass, cut, moving like your hair is on fire, no standing around, the basketball finds the energy, the energy finds the hot man, and you hope to get a good shot and have a situation where people never feel like they have to force their offensive flow."
What Blatt doesn't want to see on offense is too many attempts from the outside. Cleveland launched 27.7 3-pointers per game during the preseason, which would have put them No. 1 in attempts last season, beating out the Houston Rockets, who put up 26.6 shots from deep per game. As long as the Cavs players space the floor and share the ball, they are going to get open shots. Blatt just wants to make sure they don't always go for the open 3 when they can make the extra pass to get a higher percentage shot like a layup or dunk.
And don't forget about defense. Cleveland has the benefit of a healthy Anderson Varejao back in the lineup, one of the better paint protectors in the league. They also have James, who can guard any position on the court when engaged. But there will still be holes to fill. Neither Love nor Irving has the best defensive reputation, while Waiters admitted during the preseason he used to "freelance" rather than stick to regimented schemes. Blatt's defensive mantra of "ELC" (early, loud and continuous) could have his team patch up some of those deficiencies through pure effort, however, until they get completely comfortable making the right rotations.
More so than guarding opposing teams, the Cavs will have to guard against the pressure that will come from the outside if it looks like they are struggling early on.
It has been a mixed bag for recent super teams when the rubber finally met the road. The Boston Celtics opened up their championship 2007-08 season with a 103-83 win over the Washington Wizards. James and the Miami Heat lost their debut back in 2010-11, losing to the Celtics 88-80 as they stumbled to a 9-8 record to begin the year. The Los Angeles Lakers, revamped with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard for the 2012-13 season, lost their opener 99-91 to the Dallas Mavericks and four of their first five games, leading to Mike Brown's ouster.
While Cleveland should have a winnable game on opening night -- the New York Knicks are playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls -- the Cavs then play their next four games on the road. They'll be tested immediately. What happens if they stumble?
"Cleveland hasn't had a bump in the road yet, and until they have that first adversity where anything happens where they've got to fight through it, we don't know how they're going to be," ESPN NBA analyst Doug Collins said.
Blatt is strapped in, readying himself for the turbulence that will surely come. "Some coaches even try to create [adversity] so as to prepare for the onset of the inevitable," Blatt said. "That's the world that we live in. I don't necessarily believe in creating things that aren't real, on the other hand I'm very cognizant of the fact that adversity is part of the growth process for any team and how you work on a daily basis and how you prepare guys mentally and emotionally is the manner in which you deal with it."
The expectations are to dominate, not just deal.
"We got a lot of work to do," Blatt said. "We are honestly a new team. There's going to be highs, there's going to be lows. We got to keep ourselves in proportion. We got to work hard and improve on a daily basis and not get ahead of ourselves. Just play the day in front of you."
Time to open things up.