The Cavaliers are the defending champions, but there are some subtle differences entering this season.
So are the Cavs overall better? Or worse?
Last year at this time, everyone was wondering if David Blatt and LeBron James could co-exist. This year, that's not a concern. Tyronn Lue has the respect of James and the rest of the team.
In fact, it's been said James has never liked playing for a coach as much as he does Lue. When a team's star admires the man in charge, your chances at a title will only improve.
Also, Lue has a full season with his team. Last year, he led them to the championship with no training camp and little time to prepare in between games.
Everyone is healthy and Mike Dunleavy arrived via an offseason trade. Dunleavy offers veteran know-how and a lethal outside shot in reserve.
But the bench is more than Dunleavy. Iman Shumpert appears healthy. Free agent signee Chris Andersen likes to "hit people," in the words of Lue. Richard Jefferson didn't retire. Jordan McRae can really score. Channing Frye and James Jones can really shoot.
Also, most of these key components were here last season. They have a firm grasp of their roles. That counts for a lot.
For the first time ever, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson enter the season as champions. Any athlete will tell you that creates a different vibe, a vibe of confidence, a vibe of understanding how to win when it means the most.
There are no doubts now. There is no more "what if?" The Cavs believe they can capture a championship, and now they have the rings to prove it.
BACKUP POINT GUARD
Rookie Kay Felder looks like a nice player with a bright future, a potential second-round steal. He could garner major minutes on a lesser team.
Now, the Cavs are without Matthew Dellavedova (traded to Milwaukee) and Mo Williams (retiring, or so the Cavs say). That leaves Felder as just about the only man to spell Irving.
The Cavs like Felder. As Lue said, adding his young legs to an older mix is only a good thing. But he's probably not the backup on a championship team. Neither is Shumpert, who will fill in until Felder returns from a concussion.
And neither is James, especially if you're trying to limit his regular-season minutes.
Obviously, this is nitpicking. Yes, it's an issue the Cavs need to fix. But they have until at least, like, March to figure it out.
Clearly, the good outweighs the bad. It's really not even close. With continued good health from key players, it will be difficult for anyone (yes, anyone) to get in the way of this Cleveland basketball machine.