Coming into the 2016-2017 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were all healthy, which is not something that could have been said the year before. Coming into the previous season, Kyrie Irving was still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Kevin Love was recovering from shoulder surgery, and Iman Shumpert was recovering from wrist surgery.
This season started well for the Cavaliers, and then in December, JR Smith broke his thumb against the Milwaukee Bucks. This has lasting impacts on the Cavaliers because of the offensive and defensive punch that Smith provides. Smith's shooting has been missed despite the trade for Kyle Korver.
Smith is the emotional heart of this Cavaliers team, and his presence has also been missed; it is obvious that the team cannot wait to get Smith back. News broke last week that Smith has been recovering quickly from his surgery and was seen warming up with the team sans the cast on his hand.
In addition to the JR Smith news that came out last week, some bad news on the Kevin Love front was reported: the All-Star power forward, who has been battling back spasms and knee pain this season, has been slated to miss the next six weeks after a knee scope.
The injuries have definitely had an impact on the Cavaliers, but, is it a kiss of death for the season or a blessing in disguise?
JR Smith could be back in as soon as three weeks. This will allow the veteran swingman to get his legs underneath him before the playoffs start in the middle of April, giving him about 15 games to get his shooting stroke down. The most interesting thing about Smith's return will be the possible lineup combinations that this will enable the Cavaliers to employ on the floor. Imagine a lineup with Irving, Smith, Korver, James and Frye on the floor at the same time. Who is guarded? Who is left open?
This is the benefit that can be found with the Smith injury: Smith had an interesting off-season, much in the same vein as Tristan Thompson, replete with contract negotiations, not wearing shirts, and off-season workouts with LeBron James and Co. This caused Smith to come into the season slightly out of shape in terms of his conditioning, and this was reflected in his shooting. Smith began the season slowly, his shooting was around 33% at the beginning of the season when it had been hovering around 40% last season. The benefit comes into the light in another way too: Smith, having broken his thumb, has been able to spend more time with his family, to be with his daughter who was born five months premature, and being able to be with his family has likely given Smith a greater appreciation for the things that he has in his life.
When facing a situation in life where the line between life and death is thin, teetering on the edge, it often allows people the opportunity to step back from it all, appreciate the things they have, take some inventory of what they're appreciative about, and to realize that while it may be fleeting and nebulous, truly living is something that people cannot do until they realize that they or someone they love is near the brink of death. Yes, it may sound dramatic, but when attempting to put yourself in Smith's shoes, life becomes that much more precious, and having gone through this, it would not be surprising to think that Smith may have a newfound lust for life and all that his life encompasses.
What does this have to do with basketball? His injury in December has protected Smith from further injury, and may have given Smith a newfound zeal for the game of basketball, the desire to play harder, and most importantly, to be with his other family: his brothers on the Cavaliers.
Kevin Love will be able to take six weeks off and rest both his knees and his back, which will allow him to heal up and rest up for the stretch run. Love has been playing well all season, and coming into the playoffs fresh will only benefit the team. Rather than trying to play through a knee injury and a back injury, it will allow him to heal up.
Once both Love and Smith are back in the lineup, this team will be stocked up to the brim with weapons. James will be able to pass to Irving, Smith, Shumpert, Korver, Love, Frye, Thompson, and potentially Richard Jefferson, and this will open the floor for wide open jumpers and driving lanes to the hoop. Any lineup that includes both JR Smith and Kyle Korver with LeBron James will put up points in a hurry
Injuries are not usually good for the team they happen to, but this team has such depth that missing Love won't hurt this team that much due to the presence of Channing Frye; Smith's absence has been smoothed over due to the much-improved shooting of Iman Shumpert and the addition of Kyle Korver. Adding all of these pieces to the team will undoubtedly show the Cavaliers at full strength, in time for the playoffs, ready to show the NBA what they can be when fully locked in and at full strength.
It has yet to be seen whether the injuries to the Cavaliers will be a kiss of death or a blessing in disguise, but the case can definitely be made that all of these injuries happened at the right time.