Rivalry Check is an ongoing series in which we preview 10 of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
New Faces: The Cavaliers became re-acquainted with Mike Brown as their head coach after letting Byron Scott go. Scott had a young, talented roster that needed time to develop, but he wasn’t given that time. The Cavs had a little more luck on the night of the draft lottery, getting the 1st pick only two years after getting the number 1 pick and using it on Kyrie Irving.
They used the number one pick to select forward Anthony Bennett from UNLV, which surprised everyone. They also drafted PG/SG Sergey Karasev out of Russia with the 19th pick and SG Carrick Felix out of Arizona State with the 33rd pick. As for the free agent market, they quietly waited until the Dwightmare was over to go about their business. Their biggest move was signing Andrew Bynum, who was able to get a two-year, $25 million deal (only $6 million of the first season is guaranteed if Bynum is waived before January 7th). Jarrett Jack signed a four-year, $25 million deal a season after leading the Warriors second unit. And Earl Clark signed a two-year, $9 million deal after a breakout season playing for the Lakers and former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.
Departures: The Cavs didn’t lose any quality players in free agency: Wayne Ellington, Omri Casspi, Mareese Speights, Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson, Kevin Jones, and Chris Quinn.
Season Outlook: Look for the Cavaliers to be the most improved team this upcoming season. The growing maturity of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson combined with the incoming draft talent of Anthony Bennett and their free agent acquisitions should lead them to their first playoff appearance since the departure of LeBron James. Look for Jarrett Jack to play a very similar role to the one he played last season with the Warriors, leading a strong second unit and playing along with Kyrie Irving to increase ball movement in a two point guard lineup. An exponential improvement of this team is dependent on the performance of Andrew Bynum, who will have the motivation to stay on the floor to fully guarantee his contract and the team option for his second year. Even if his play is non-existent like last season, Anderson Varejao is very capable of handling the workload.
Biggest Challenge for the Knicks: When these two face-off, I still see Kyrie Irving as the guy all eyes will be on. Irving consistently burned Raymond Felton to get to the hole. In three games against New York last season, Irving averaged 31.3 points and 5.7 assists. I think his scoring will increase and assists will increase against the Knicks this season because he has more help around him. The size factor may also give the Knicks problems, especially if Andrew Bynum remains healthy, but that remains to be seen. At the end of the day, the don’t have a player that can guard Carmelo Anthony effectively. So, I think the Knicks will take 3 out of 4 against the Cavs this season.