Now that the return of LeBron James has restored the Cleveland Cavaliers to the status of dynamic team in the eyes of the NBA and its television partners, the question remains how prominent a presence that will be in the season ahead.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, the rumor mill has the Cavaliers hosting the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the season-opening game that will likely be broadcast on TNT. The official schedule will be announced later next month, which is later than usual, but a direct result of the shift in power among teams in the East after the free agency dust has cleared.
This rumor has some in the media excited, with DeAntae Prince of Sporting News noting that, “it would be great theater, especially when you factor in that James is 2-3 in the NBA Finals, and two of those losses came against San Antonio.”
While the Cavaliers will obviously be one of the featured teams on opening night, the idea that they’ll be hosting the Spurs is a concept that would go against what the NBA has done for its defending champions in the past. Since the James era began in 2003, every defending NBA titlist has opened up at home, no doubt because the presentation of championship rings always makes for good television.
If not San Antonio, then who? Most likely an Eastern Conference team, though the first matchup against the Miami Heat seems destined for later in the year (Christmas Day?), and likely in the Sunshine State in order to maximize the hype. After all, James’ first visit back to Cleveland came in a December 2, 2010 game at the Quicken Loans Arena, a loss that ratcheted up the collapse of the Cavaliers: in its next 35 games, the team was 1-34.
That would leave two other teams, the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, the only other likely candidates on the list. The Pacers went to the Eastern Conference finals last year, but lack the cache (i.e. potential viewing audience) that the networks crave. Meanwhile, the Bulls have Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, among others, to provide the star power needed to help develop into what the league and networks hope is a heated rivalry.
Regardless of what the final decision is, the Cavaliers will be a constant presence on the national television stage for years to come.