BOSTON – It will take a lot more than adding a couple of backups for LeBron James to declare the current Cleveland Cavaliers roster better than last year’s.
It will take a trophy.
“The 2016 team won a championship,” James said. “Only time will tell.”
The Cavaliers, who open a tough March schedule against the Celtics on Wednesday night, are adding 7-footer Andrew Bogut, who chose Cleveland over Boston, San Antonio and Houston. Once he clears waivers and signs, Bogut gives the Cavs a big man to back up starter Tristan Thompson as they seek a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a chance to repeat as NBA champs.
The oft-injured Australian was the second spare part added by Cleveland this week. The Cavaliers signed point guard Deron Williams, a three-time All-Star expected to make his debut against Boston. (They also acquired forward Kyle Korver in January.)
“We’re pretty deep,” coach Tyron Lue said after the team’s shootaround at the TD Garden. “The biggest thing is to try to get everybody meshed together, who plays well together and who doesn’t. That’s going to be the biggest challenge the next few weeks.”
The Cavaliers opened up a roster spot for Bogut by waiving guard Jordan McRae, who appeared in 37 games this season.
Cleveland entered the matchup against Boston with a four-game lead over the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. While the additions are expected to help the Cavaliers down the stretch and into the postseason, the biggest boost to the newfound depth could come in an anticipated rematch with Golden State in the NBA Finals.
Bogut was a starter for the Warriors in 2015, when they won it all, and again last year, when they blew a 3-1 lead to Cleveland. James said there isn’t much that the Cavaliers haven’t seen from their potential Finals opponent, but that it’s too early to be thinking about that anyway.
“You guys are so fascinated about a Cleveland-Warriors matchup that it’s discrediting the rest of the league,” he told reporters. “If we’re fortunate enough to even get through the East, and they’re on the other side, we’ll see what happens in the end.”
Bogut’s agent, David Bauman, said the 32-year-old big man thought Cleveland offered him the best chance to win a title. He averaged 4.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in the playoffs for the Warriors during the two NBA Finals runs, but Golden State shipped him to Dallas last summer to help clear room for Kevin Durant.
After averaging 3.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in 26 games for the Mavericks this season, Bogut was traded at the deadline to Philadelphia in a deal for Nerlens Noel. Bogut and the 76ers agreed to part ways so he could join a contender, and on Tuesday night, he informed Cavaliers general manager David Griffin that he planned to join the team.
“He likes to compete and do whatever it takes to help his team win,” James said. “(I) respect that.”
With Kevin Love and J.R. Smith injured, the Cavaliers also added Williams, a teammate of Bogut’s in Dallas this season who was waived by the Mavericks and will serve as a backup for point guard Kyrie Irving.
Williams said the possibility of winning a championship was the biggest reason he decided to join Cleveland. But the ability to share the floor with James, a teammate from the 2008 and ’12 Olympics, didn’t hurt.
“Watching him every day, seeing him lead and seeing the type of work he puts into the game. It’s always something that was in my mind,” Williams said. “I’m happy I have the opportunity to play with him. I played with a great one — Dirk (Nowitzki), in Dallas, and got to learn from him. Now I get to learn from LeBron.”