July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

James keeps Cavs afloat

There are so many things wrong with the Cavaliers right now, it’s hard to know where to start.

That’s why this piece will focus on the one overwhelming positive surrounding this franchise, the one reason this team can never be counted out: LeBron James.

At present, the defending Eastern Conference champions — boy, that trip to the NBA Finals seem like a long time ago — don’t have Anderson Varejao, who continues to hold out, and did not sign Sasha Pavlovic until Tuesday.

Cleveland’s bench, which has a disproportionate number of Browns (Shannon and Devin, in addition to head coach Mike) and Joneses (Damon and Dwayne), isn’t worth a plugged (Demetrius) Nichols, a second-round pick who was cut by the New York Knicks and signed by the Cavaliers on Monday.

There’s no (Donyell) Marshall Plan, either, because the 34-year-old’s legs are shot, which is making it increasingly hard for the 14th-year pro to get in proper shooting position.

The team’s offense, meanwhile, continues to be fairly offensive, its saving grace stemming from the fact it has one player so supremely talented, so good and so smart about the game, he covers up for a multitude of errors by coaches and teammates.

Yes, folks, the Cavaliers have their own personal, one-man James Gang. The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder is so fast, so strong, so athletic and so multitalented, there’s always reason for hope.

While he has spoken out on several occasions — and justifiably so — about needing all his “soldiers,” it also looks like James is relishing the opportunity to put the Cavaliers on his shoulders and carry them until general manager Danny Ferry resolves the troubling talent issues that surround this team.

It looks like James, who recently pronounced himself better prepared to start a season than he’s ever been, is rested, ready and determined to dominate in any and every area.

Given that the talent on the Cavaliers bench is among the worst in the league — it did get better with the signing of Pavlovic — it would not be the least bit surprising if the 22-year-old put up some mind-boggling numbers early in the season and went on to win his first NBA Most Valuable Player award.

James will still play the game the right way, meaning he will be unselfish and try to get his teammates involved early. But if those teammates aren’t getting the job done — or if a good effort from them still isn’t proving to be enough — it wouldn’t be shocking to see LeBron go Kobe on an opponent.

That’s not the Akron native’s style, but it seems like he realizes he may have no choice but to put the Cavaliers on his shoulders and carry them at various points this season, which could lead to a plethora of huge scoring nights.

Tonight’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks looks like one of those nights, which is why James will probably have to put up monster totals in not just points, but rebounds and assists as well if the Cavaliers are to start their season in style at Quicken Loans Arena.

The six-game West Coast road trip that starts next week will be another time when James will simply have to will his team to a few wins if Cleveland is to avoid a sub.-500 start.

To be frank, the fifth-year pro will have to do that numerous times throughout the season if the Cavaliers don’t add more talent (and maybe even if they do).

Given all that, the normal tendency is to think James will have to carry his team so much that his back will give out before the season ends. That’s a valid concern, but it’s also important to remember this: James is not normal.

We are talking about a 6-8, 250-pounder — in actuality, James probably weighs five or 10 pounds more than that — who has almost no body fat.

We are talking about a young man who, if he suddenly decided he wanted to play football, could easily bulk up to 280 or 290 pounds, play tight end and still run the 40-yard dash in about 4.5 seconds.

We are talking about a young man who Cavaliers strength and conditioning coach Stan Kelker believes could bench press 400 pounds in a matter of months, should that become his primary objective, he’s so freakishly strong. As it is, James already tests off the charts in many of the physical fitness drills the Cavaliers do, and he’s still getting bigger, stronger and faster.

For all those reasons, the belief here is James’ performance on the basketball court will also be off the charts this season.

It’s going to have to be if the Cavaliers are to have any chance of being successful.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.