Cleveland’s Cavs are reborn

I buy the new NBA 2K game every year. Anymore, it’s my video game of choice and the only game left on the planet that I still play way too much, as in sometimes playing all 82 games kind of too much. Maybe I have too much free time, maybe I just use my free time exclusively to play NBA video games and occasionally come up for air.

I’m an avid Cavs fan. Over the past four years as a college student in a market that doesn’t carry Cavs games on the local Fox Sports affiliate, I’ve found ways to keep up with my beloved franchise that was left staggering the summer before I left the Cleveland area for school.

Last season, two of my college roommates and I split the cost of adding NBA League Pass to our cable package in our house. We’re all Cleveland natives who have been friends since we were little kids, and even though the Cavs’ struggles were mighty last year, we watched religiously. We also watched the rest of the NBA, which set the stage for my personal excitement for the entire league to climb to an all-time high heading into this season. Sure, the Cavs are still the only major reason for all of this excitement, but I can’t wait to watch NBA basketball in general either.

League Pass and the NBA 2k franchise have made me not just a bigger Cavs fan, but a big fan of the NBA. In years past, I’ve bought NBA 2k on its release date and gone to work trying to fix the Cavs. I’ve done this an unhealthy amount of times, most often ending up with a starting five comprised of some combination of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tyreke Evans, Wilson Chandler, Serge Ibaka and more. Trade after trade would come, throwing away draft picks and whatever else to get to the point where the roster didn’t even look like the real Cavs anymore.

This was a good thing for the last four years, though, because it still somehow resembled something better than what the Cavs were actually putting on the floor. The last four years have been a bad combination of empty hope loosely centered around Kyrie Irving and the eventual realization that the Cavs aren’t even close. It’s the worst possible feeling as a fan.

Then came the afternoon of July 11. Like the agony of LeBron James’ departure, his return left a mark in the memory banks of fans who will remember where they were when they read the letter.

I know I’ll never forget being on my lunch break, scrolling through Twitter, seeing the headline from Sports Illustrated, being in some kind of weird, ecstatic shock and hearing “Oh my God, we have breaking news in the NBA” on local sports talk radio seconds later. This was in Louisville, Kentucky, where I’d had to defend my Cavs fanhood and hear all of the jokes about how LeBron left since my first day of college orientation in 2010. July 11 was a great day.

Everyone knows what happened next. From that day of the announcement forward, everything sped up. Rumors immediately started to fly about who would join LeBron. Andrew Wiggins and others weren’t in the letter, and the unnamed were eventually traded for Kevin Love. The “New Big Three” was born, and a tidal wave of optimism swept through Cleveland in record time.

So I bought NBA 2K15 earlier this month, and for the first time in four years, there wasn’t anything to change. I didn’t have to trade draft picks for guys who are good players on bad teams or sign free agents to shore up a bad bench. I just started playing. I lost the first few games, which was frustrating. Users error, I suppose. Still, nothing had to be altered, and when I got the hang of the game and won some games to increase the team chemistry (a real thing in the game), I was almost unstoppable.

This season’s Cavaliers team is already poised for greatness. It’ll probably take them some time to gel together, which is only natural. Maybe they’ll lose some early games just like I did in a meaningless video game. No matter what happens tonight, they’ll get better than they are right now.

A lot better.

We know that the Cavs are already favorites to win the Eastern Conference and eventually an NBA title. There’s no reason to set expectations any lower. If the video game is any indication, the Cavs will be the best offensive team in the NBA bar none once the kinks are worked out. They’ll be able to attack from all angles in any kind of situation and will be an absolute nightmare to defend. In time, all of this will be augmented by the complexity of David Blatt’s unconventional and exotic basketball mind.

LeBron will be able to run and won’t always have to facilitate the offense, though he still will occasionally because, well, he’s good at it and sees the floor in a way nobody else does. Kyrie Irving won’t have to feel overly burdened and can be the passer and scorer that he is. Dion Waiters can be Dion Waiters. Kevin Love can use all of those aforementioned distractions to score from (literally) all over the floor. Oh, and Love will be one of those distractions when the other guys have the ball and will team with Anderson Varejao to form a dynamic duo of rebounding.

Defensively, the process could be a bit longer. Since we’re predicating this entire preview on my video gaming experience (only the hardest hitting analysis here, folks), it seems as if energy and focused aggressiveness on that end will be the order of every game. No, Love, Irving and others aren’t known to be lockdown defenders, but five All-NBA defenders aren’t necessary on any title contender, let alone one with the offensive firepower the Cavs will bring to the floor every night. LeBron has said it before, but once the Cavs learn to defend together, they’ll be able to get enough stops to win the vast majority of their games.

That seems like a simple generalization of the season we’re about to embark on, but for once, it’s not hard to see how this team will be successful. There’s no need to search for the answers, they’re fairly plain to see. Blatt’s starting five will feature three All-Stars, one of which is the best player in the world and another who is at least in the top ten. It will score a ton of points and be an absolute thrill to watch night in and night out. Take it from my authoritative experience, everyone can score, run, shoot, jump and rebound. It’s a never-ending source of pure basketball bliss.

The microscope will be on the Cavs from the outset, which is good and bad, but something to embrace nonetheless. After some lean years, it’s time to enjoy the wild ride and never-ending coverage that comes with relevance.

Tonight will be an absolute party downtown, and this team deserves the pageantry. Cleveland deserves this kind of celebration. Kendrick Lamar, the Imagine Dragons, Kevin Hart and maybe more will appear in Cleveland for the Cavs’ home opener. If nothing else, just think about that for a second. Even crazier, all of this is only for the very beginning.

It’s not too far short of insane to think about how all of this has come together in a single offseason. It has to be the best offseason in professional sports history, right? All of the variables and scenarios that had to go right have been documented at length, and it is indeed incredible to see that it has all come together.

Now, we’re here at the dawn of a new NBA season, even though some of us are already well into December in a virtual world. We’ve been ready for something like this to be real for four years – no matter how impossible it has seemed – and the wait is finally almost over. The Cleveland Cavaliers are about to be back.

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