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NBA PM: How Will Irving Return Affect Cavs?

The return of Kyrie Irving will change things for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But is that a good thing?

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers better off without Kyrie Irving? Looking at it objectively, some could argue that they are.

Irving is a ball-dominant, shot-happy guard who takes some offensive control away from LeBron James and opportunities away from Kevin Love.

Without him, even as James has routinely called out the effort, execution and hunger of his Cavaliers, they enter play on December 16 as the number one team in the Eastern Conference.

Without Irving, the Cavaliers are scoring 104.6 points per 100 possession, as opposed to 107.1 last season. Similarly, the team has seen an improvement in points allowed, as well, as they have allowed just 96.7 points per game thus far in the early going of the 2015-16 season as opposed to 98.7 over the course of last season.

Obviously, with such a small sample size, the evidence here is far from conclusive, but it is interesting. It also stands to reason that injecting Irving back into the lineup and dedicating the lion’s share of guard minutes to him will have an adverse effect on the team’s defense.

The question as it relates to Irving—aside from the obvious one relating to how his return will affect his team—is whether he, Love and James can prove that they are truly willing to play the game not just with one another, but for one another.

Without question, James is the greatest player seen by an entire generation of basketball fans, but after 11 years and five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, he has begun this season somewhat showing his mortality. Fortunately, for Love—who has been driven by the fact that he has not earned the reputation of being a winning player—the result has been a more prominent role in David Blatt’s offense. Unsurprisingly, without Irving, Love is both shooting and scoring more, and from a body language standpoint, he seems to be in higher spirits than throughout the course of last season.

As the Golden State Warriors have transformed before our eyes, they have done so mostly with natural progression. A brief look at the recent past will prove the inevitable truth that familiarity, continuity and chemistry all play an important role in developing a winning basketball program. As the Warriors have become a more cohesive basketball playing machine, one could surmise that the same will become of the Cavs, whose 16-7 record through 23 games is two games better than the 14-9 turned in last season.

Couldn’t the same occur with the Cavaliers?

In theory, it could, but as Irving gets set to return to the lineup, he and Love—both with something to prove—must learn to complement one another in order to fully unleash the potential that the Cavaliers collectively possess. In the end, that is what is most beautiful about the Warriors. Overflowing with talent and oozing with potential, individual agendas and the hunt for personal accolades yield to the endgame of winning.

As the Cavaliers begin their slow march toward what they hope will be a second consecutive run to the NBA Finals, it is only with that type of cohesion that they can fulfill the ultimate goal.

With the Warriors and Cavaliers set to meet for the first time since Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals on Christmas Day, the dichotomy between the two teams becomes all the more interesting to observe with Irving’s now imminent return to the lineup.

And as the two teams get set to square off on Christmas Day, on the bright side for the Warriors, at least the team can rest assured that it won’t be the Cavaliers who hand them their first loss of the 2015-16 season.

If things break right for LeBron James and his crew though, with new faces, more talent and the pain of last year’s loss guiding them, it may very well be them who hand the Warriors something much more meaningful—their last loss of the 2016 season.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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