"The Crossover" is a season preview series we're running here at Raptors HQ in which we'll talk to other SB Nation team sites in the Eastern Conference to give us an idea of what to expect from the competition, what their expectations are for both their own team and the Raptors.
1. What would constitute a successful season for the Cavs this season?
In a way, it's already been a success. I know games are not won on paper, but the Cavaliers signed LeBron James as a free agent this offseason. The roster is light years ahead of where it was last season. Regardless of what happens on the court this year, the franchise is in a much better place. But to give you an answer that is a little bit closer to what you were asking, it seems that most Cavaliers fans seem to think this team should make the Eastern Conference Finals. I tend to think a little more highly of the East than most, so that might not be fair for a team with so many new faces on both the roster and the coaching staff.
Still, a team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, or Kevin Love has a great shot at the Finals and that seems to be what most are looking for when thinking about success.
2. Are there any concerns with David Blatt as a rookie coach, especially on a team expected to contend now?
Absolutely. He's a huge question mark. Is he a highly qualified and well recommended question mark? It appears so. But it's a new game, new rules, new roster for David Blatt. He is no stranger to high stakes, as both the Russian national team and his time with Maccabi Tel Aviv (whose fans don't believe the team should ever lose) should give him a bit of preparation for the media crush. He's already been outspoken on a few political issues regarding Israel, and he has a history of being very blunt, both with players and with media. It wouldn't surprise me if there was some controversy with Blatt once or twice this year.
All this said, no one seems to be disputing his mind or ability to communicate, basketball or otherwise. How steep his learning curve is will go a long way to determining what the team's ceiling is.
3. What are your expectations for Dion Waiters this season?
I have no clue. I really don't. His physical skill set is exactly what the team needs. He's strong, and capable of playing physical defense. He's a very good spot up shooter. What he has tended to do over the first two years of his career, though? With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers need a shooting guard that will defend, shoot, and keep the ball moving. Waiters has liked the ball in his hands, and while he is a gifted passer, the ball tends to stick when it gets to him. He has struggled to finish at the rim in his career, and you'd think that would improve a bit as the Cavaliers have gone from zero spacing to plenty in a hurry.
Waiters alternates between saying the right things and going off script. He will say he needs to work on getting better off ball, and that he spent the summer working on his spot up shooting. He will then say he would love to play point guard. He will say he's been spending the summer watching film. He will then say he wants to emulate Dwyane Wade. So I think Dion is the wild card. If he buys in and plays to his skill set he might be the guy who puts the Cavs over the top. He is talented. If not, he might be the most likely trade candidate.
4. What are your expectations for Tristan Thompson this season?
This is another one that is tough to project, but it seems that while Thompson may not have Waiters' natural ability or talent, he will likely be much more willing to buy into a role and fit in. On paper, Thompson lost his starting role to Kevin Love, and you might wonder what type of minutes he will get. But when you look and see that Anderson Varejao is the only other credible big on the roster next to those two, it becomes clear Thompson will have a prominent role, off the bench or otherwise.
I'm higher on Thompson than most, and I think he could really thrive in a bench role playing with floor spacers. He could be a classic case of a guy who simply was overexposed over the first few years of his career. Drafted as a project big, Thompson has played more minutes in his first three years as a Cavalier than any Cav over the last FOUR YEARS. He has had to guard the other team's best big almost exclusively over the last two seasons. Finally, while people have said he plateaued a bit last season, and the season long stats reflect that, his numbers actually took a healthy step forward once Cleveland severed ties with Andrew Bynum. It's a crucial year for Tristan. It'll be fascinating.
5. In your mind, from an outsider's point of view, where do you think the Raptors will finish in the division and in the East?
I'm pretty high on Jonas Valanciunas and I hope he continues to step up with the Raptors. The Atlantic division figures to be horrendous so Toronto finds themselves in a nice spot. We all end up being wrong about this stuff, but I see the Cavaliers as the best team on paper. After that, the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Raptors, Heat, and Wizards could finish in any order and it wouldn't surprise me. I'll be particularly interested to see how Terrence Ross performs.