The life of a defending champion is supposed to be an easy one, right? LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers finally delivered a title to the city that was getting used to losing. In particular, the 2015 NBA Finals that saw James’ supporting cast succumb to injuries while he faced the Golden State Warriors and media scrutiny by himself.
What a difference a year makes. The King and his squad came back from being down 3-1 against the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors for a storybook ending to the 2016 season.
However, there is always more expected from you when you’re the best player on the planet. James has made the gym his second home again this offseason, and he knows what it takes to be great. As other teams have restocked and assembled championship caliber teams, James has kept his focus. Beyond that, his focus has motivated his teammates to strive for the greatness James knows they are capable of. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have reached their full potential as well, and will be hungry for another NBA title.
Back-to-back championships are one of the hardest feats to accomplish in professional sports. James was able to pull it off in Miami, but the NBA landscape has changed significantly since then.
Here are three keys for the Cavaliers to return to the winner’s circle in 2017 and become NBA Champions once again.
Re-Sign J.R. Smith
What a time to be alive. J.R. Smith has gone from NBA bad boy to a cornerstone of a championship team. His looming contract extension has become a distraction heading into the regular season. James has been outspoken, pleading with the Cavs to get a deal done. Smith changed his game drastically over the past year, especially on the defensive end, making him a crucial piece of the team.
Aside from needing to rebuild chemistry heading in to a new season, the distraction has led to unwanted media attention and an unhappy locker room. Usually giving J.R. Smith a raise is a questionable decision, but he has earned more money and the right to ask for it. The Cavaliers need to focus on the vastly improved Boston Celtics and the super team out in Golden State. Instead, J.R. Smith and the Cavs’ stalemate is taking precedent.
An obvious one, but nonetheless, this is crucial. Kyrie Irving is one of the most talented players in the NBA, but is also injury prone. His absence from the NBA Finals two seasons ago was the deciding factor in his team coming up short. LeBron James is the closest thing to an iron man that the NBA has seen in a long time, and the stress he puts on his body is like any other player. He will undoubtedly challenge NBA record for minutes played by the time he retires if he continues at this pace. It’s a challenge he welcomes, and it only means that he is playing deep in to the postseason as well.
The supporting cast of Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and veteran Richard Jefferson also have to focus on their health. NBA Championships are a team effort, and if one of the crucial pieces goes down then the stress on the remaining players only increases. James has began to document and commentate team workouts, and they have become a team building experience rather than hard work.
Game Plan for Golden State
LeBron James has now played in six straight NBA Finals, an accomplishment only a few men in NBA history have ever accomplished. Their rivals, the Golden State Warriors are well on their way to a third straight trip to the NBA Finals. With the addition of Kevin Durant, no one in the league wants to see the Warriors in the regular season or playoffs. Their stacked team is unprecedented and they will be the team everyone is looking to beat. James and his crew of Cavaliers already defeated the Warriors following a 73-9 regular season so what’s one more superstar?
In all seriousness, James and Head Coach Tyronn Lue need to start game planning like…now. Defense will have to take precedent for the Cavs this season as the Warriors will be able to put up prolific numbers. Cleveland needs to stick to the game plan and follow the lead of LeBron James. The 2017 NBA Finals will look a lot like this if they are able to do so.
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