These Cavs have King James' seal of approval

As the lights came up and the credits rolled at the conclusion of the premiere of a documentary about him and his lifelong friends at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, LeBron James openly admitted he had to wipe away tears.

It was the first time, LeBron said, when he'd allowed himself to cry since he was in eighth grade and his AAU team lost in the national championship game when his game-winning shot attempt rattled out.

Hard to dispute him, but there was no doubt some water in his eyes as he slumped in front of his locker at the TD Banknorth Garden in May. Exhausted physically and mentally after a tight Game 7 loss to the Celtics, it was a difficult conclusion to what was truly the best individual season of his five-year career. It was an emotional time for James, who nearly had carried his team to a stunning playoff upset for a second season in a row.

An hour later, he arrived at the podium in the news conference room and, with Cavs general manager Danny Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert standing in the back, openly said the team's roster needed to be upgraded. Not unlike, it was assumed, how the Celtics remade their roster to become a champion.

Over the summer, Ferry traded for point guard Mo Williams, re-signed guards Daniel Gibson and Delonte West to balloon Gilbert's payroll to more than $90 million and drafted two promising big men in J.J. Hickson and Darnell Jackson. Most of it took place while James was in China with the Redeem Team.

It was hardly a Celtic-esque makeover, yet when James arrived home with gold medal in hand, his attitude was markedly different. Without much prompting, he was effusive about his excitement for the season.

"This is the deepest and most talented team we've had since I've been here," James said. "This is the most excited I've been going into a season. We have a great chance to compete for a championship."

Are the Cavs really that much better than the 44-38 outfit that was knocked out in the second round last season? Or is it simply a case of preseason euphoria combined with the natural high of having Olympic gold put around your neck? Maybe a little of both.

The Cavs were plagued by an array of misadventures last season, some of their own doing and some not. The holdouts of Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao a year ago completely robbed the team of any mojo it had coming off of its first Finals appearance in 2007.

There are no excuses for us now. We should be able to go out and dominate.

-- LeBron James

All of training camp was conducted under a black cloud and that was before a 10-day trip to China disrupted the body clocks just two weeks before the season began. The Cavs then played perhaps their toughest November schedule ever with 10 road games. It was followed by James' finger injury, which caused him to miss five straight games, kicking off a skid from late November to early December. Overall, James missed seven games and couldn't finish two others due to injuries last season, and the Cavs lost them all. It was the most games James had missed in a season due to injury.

It added up to a 9-13 start the team never fully recovered from. Especially considering once Pavlovic and Varejao finally signed, both were knocked out for huge chunks of the season with injuries. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed the most games due to injury in six seasons and the Cavs dealt with some more schedule quirks that bothered them. One was that 17 of their 21 back-to-backs put them on the road the second night, the worst ratio in the NBA last season. They went 5-12 in those games.

Add to that several weeks of instability that followed February's team-rocking, 10-player trade that brought in West, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith.

So perhaps they didn't deserve better than the East's No. 4 seed in the postseason, but the Cavs felt they were better than their record. That seemed to be reinforced when they dispatched the Wizards in the first round and gave the Celtics their stiffest test in the postseason.

With significantly more roster stability this October, no 15-hour plane flights or six-game western road trip set for the second week of the season, the Cavs feel they are destined for a smoother start. That says nothing of what they really hope to correct, which is their massive offensive woes over the past several seasons.

With Williams, the Cavs believe they'll be able to transform themselves into a more up-tempo team that can get two things they desperately lacked: a second scoring option and some easy baskets in transition.

He may not be Chris Paul or Steve Nash, but Williams is the best offensive point guard the Cavs have had since they traded Andre Miller for Darius Miles back in 2002. Plus he fills another hole that was rather glaring. Other than James, who won the scoring title last season, the Cavs really didn't have anyone who could create his own shot.

This, as frustrated fans and analysts have lamented for years, made the Cavs easy to guard in half-court settings as teams just shaded everyone toward James and things stagnated.

"My job is to come in here and push the ball and get things moving," Williams said. "That is what I do. I have been doing it my whole career so it isn't new for me."

Though he's coming off two offseason surgeries, one to his thumb and another to repair a sports hernia, Williams has been a highlight of the preseason. With the encouragement of coach Mike Brown, he's been pushing the ball at every chance in games and practices. He even caught a few teammates by surprise by starting fast breaks off of made baskets, an unheard-of technique in Cavs-land recently.

Combined with West, who is an above-average ball handler with quickness, and Gibson, who has improved his athleticism after undergoing surgery on a chronic ankle problem in the summer, the Cavs feel like they'll have a new offensive dynamic this season.

Brown has even adjusted his defensive principles by planning a three-guard lineup that will press -- a tactic he has rarely used before. That includes some plans to use James at power forward in a small lineup.

"I'm not saying that we're going to try to be the Suns or the old Kings and get a shot up in seven seconds," Brown said. "But we have some different personnel now and this suits them and we're trying to take advantage of it."

What it seems is that the Cavs are trying to take advantage of more of James' talents. Playing power forward and having a pushing point guard better resembles the style he excels in while playing with Team USA -- a style he enjoys but almost never experiences during the NBA season.

Whether it will actually work is a matter of conjecture. Brown has gotten his teams to play championship-level defense but has not excelled as an offensive instructor. Williams had some chemistry issues playing alongside star Michael Redd in Milwaukee and has admitted that he has not devoted himself much to defense in recent seasons. The Cavs' two starting big men, Ilgauskas and Wallace, are both well over 30 and don't seem suited to run.

Nonetheless, James is in the best shape of his career, the schedule is more favorable, and there is no shortage of optimism around the team.

"There are no excuses for us now," James said. "We should be able to go out and dominate."

Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.