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Five Key Questions: Cleveland Cavaliers

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By mid-July, Cleveland could kick woebegone for “Here Come the Cavs.”

Reality or dream sequence? The answers to these five questions will ultimately decide.

Armed with the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years, the ball could bounce the organization’s way with the top pick and the ability to spend this summer.

Prodigal son LeBron James seems a longshot to return to his Akron roots and the franchise he sent into a tailspin with his publicly torturous exodus for the Miami Heat in 2010. James went to four straight NBA Finals with Miami, and can opt out of his contract. Even if his high school sweetheart-turned-wife is ready to come home, James is faced with conflicted set of circumstances.

If there is no sense that James wants a second spin in Cleveland, the Cavaliers could push to package picks and veterans — former top-10 picks Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters are the most attractive, moveable pieces on the roster not named Kyrie Irving — to pull in a second weapon to pair with Irving. If the team would like his future to be with the Cavaliers, it’s time to build a contender or risk losing him when Irving reaches free agency.

That snapshot of the draft-week status of the Cavaliers only begins to unravel the subplots surrounding the franchise. Here are five questions for the Cleveland Cavaliers:

5. Did they get it right this time?

For the third time in three seasons, a new coach and new system is in place. David Blatt, a longtime European coach long sought for associate head-coaching spots — he was in line to serve as Steve Kerr’s No. 2 in New York, then Golden State — replaces Mike Brown. Blatt runs a motion offense that works best with athletic big men who can pass and knock down an open jump shot from 17-plus feet (Pau Gasol could be the budget buy, Kevin Love and Chris Bosh the pipedream fits). The roster will be tweaked, but not overhauled, based on the number of young recent draft picks combining to serve as the team’s foundation. Blatt thinks young. Peers described the 55-year-old as innovative. If the same tricks that helped funnel Blatt championships in Russia and Isreal and European points between can be effective, a relatively rapid turnaround in the meddling Eastern Conference is possible.

4. What’s the deal at No. 1?

Jabari Parker worked out for the Cavaliers after Andrew Wiggins and before Joel Embiid and the Duke forward would bring a skill set and fundamental base to move all around the rotation for Blatt. It’s possible — even likely — they get a better offer tied to the Philadelphia 76ers’ third overall pick and another player, such as volume scoring small forward Thaddeus Young. Philadelphia also has the 10th overall pick. With the 76ers deep in rebuilding mode anchored by the youngest roster in the league, it is important to the franchise to get this pick right, and Kansas’ Wiggins tops their draft board. In light of the foot surgery Embiid required last week and his growing durability concerns, Milwaukee would almost definitely select Parker or Wiggins at No. 2, and ownership said Monday that Embiid is not an option. That isn’t true of the 76ers, who have no qualms with the big man’s medical records and history shows no philosophical pause exists drafting players in the same position. Recall the 76ers last year traded for lottery pick Nerlens Noel, the Kentucky shot-blocking center who spent the entire 2013-14 season recovering from knee surgery.

3. Can the Cavaliers lure Love?

Would Kevin Love sign a long-term deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers? The answer can be known only if Cleveland opts to part with the No. 1 overall pick and several of the players it spent time developing the past few years. Shooting guard Dion Waiters and power forward Tristan Thompson are thought to intrigue Minnesota, but without the promise of a future pick, the Timberwolves are taking a large pace backward on paper by parting with Love for a fistful of complementary parts and a No. 1 pick that might not be a home run. And the other bind for the Cavaliers is timing. With Irving’s deal eligible for extension July 1 and the prospect of a potential reunion with LeBron James — we again acknowledge the major if factor here — the Cavaliers would be hesitant to empty their wallet for Love.

2. What’s the key to Kyrie?

The time is near for the Cavaliers to build a pedestal for Irving and hurl a max contract over his neck as the four-year, $23.198 million rookie deal that began in 2011-12 nears expiration. The team holds the option on his 2015-16 contract but does not want to see Irving hit that point with the same stance that is paving Kevin Love’s way out of Minnesota — this month or in February, via trade. Irving can earn $7.1 million in 2015-16, but don’t expect him to get through this season without being signed to a megabucks, near-max extension in the five-year, $90 million range. It’s only feasible for Irving to contemplate less than the max if the Cavaliers reel in a prize-winner in free agency.

1. Will LeBron come home?

To pass on a one-year, $20.56 million deal — or a five-year, $120 million whopper if he opts out of the 2014-15 payment and re-signs a max contract — James will need assurances aplenty that the arrow is pointing up for the Cavaliers. If a trio of All-Stars — James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — equated to a .500 record in the Finals with the Heat, what can James reasonably project out of Cleveland rebuilding operation with its third new head coach in three years? The moaning about Irving not being long for Ohio was real — he’s not thrilled with a mediocre roster in a perpetual dog paddle against the current. Adding James would be a boon — conceivably for all involved — with the only downside being the challenge for GM David Griffin to find a way to squeeze more talent onto the roster under spending limits. Of course, those are problems any front office would pine for where James is involved. Adding to the spicy speculation is a post on Instagram by James’ wife of a state map of Ohio that highlights Akron with the statement “The countdown is real! #330 (Akron’s area code)”

Cleveland can only hope.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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