The Cleveland Cavaliers are reaching for their own place in history. The defending champs are looking to make it three straight trips to the NBA Finals in 2017 but it won’t be as easy as some may think.
LeBron James may be the best player in the league but even his presence alone does not guarantee a ring. He sure as hell helps but nothing is ever certain in a league where there are too many variables to consider.
My colleague, Robert Cobb seems to think a repeat is nothing but a formality but I don’t think he has examined how the league has changed since last June.
For starters, the Cavaliers alone are not the same team that fought back from a 3-1 Finals deficit against the Golden State Warriors. Gone is game changers Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov. Now, they must rely on the inconsistent skills of Channing Frye, trade talks rumors of Kevin Love and possible off-court issues now that a Kardashian has her hooks in Tristan Thompson.
Yes, things are different on the Cavs front but so are things East, North, South, and West of Cleveland.
The Charlotte Hornets have kept pace with the Cavs so far this season. While they are young and may slow down a bit, they may be the best team to offer the Cavs their first road bump in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls are a threat with Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo. The New York Knicks have a shot if they can ever figure out what type of offense best suits their talent.
But their biggest test in the East resides in Boston and Toronto. The Raptors have tasted success and failure in the same playoffs. For years the Raptors could not make it past the first round and when they did they rode that momentum straight to the Eastern Conference Finals where cold shooting destroyed any chance of an upset. But, the Raptors had their taste and are hungry for more.
The Celtics were built for two goals. To stop the Cavs reign and win a title. Much like the Raptors they have struggled in the first round but offseason moves have given the team a new outlook and the clear favorites to give the Cavs a run for the throne.
But, let’s say the Cavs make it out the East, what’s waiting for them on the other side may give them nightmares. If you think the East has improved, the West has taken steps to make sure they are not the answer to a trivia question 20 years later on Jeopardy.
The Spurs have reloaded with the retirement of Tim Duncan as they swapped him out with Pau Gasol. The Portland Trail Blazers have made essential moves to position themselves as players in the West. The Los Angeles Clippers are headed in the right direction as they have the chemistry and skills to beat any team in the league in a 7 game series. Then you have the Super Team.
Yes, the same team that blew a 3-1 lead and became the object of many memes. But even the Warriors felt the need to retool. Gone are Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and a few main reserves but they were replaced with younger and more explosive players. Kevin Durant is hungry. He’s out to prove a point and the Warriors are hoping they can get their chemistry down in time for a 3rd straight showdown with LeBron and Co.
Nothing in life is guaranteed but death and if the Cavs aren’t careful their run of the league may have just come to a halt.
They are good but so are at least six other teams that do not have a bullseye on their backs.