Did the trade deadline just make the Finals more fun?
It never ceases to amaze me how LeBron James and his teams tend to stay in the news. But with how badly the Cleveland Cavaliers have performed the first half of this season, the conversation was truly warranted. James has historically favored fellow veteran players as teammates, which have always been exploited by young and athletic teams.
The pot boiled over though when Isaiah Thomas began to openly gossip about this team. GM Koby Altman had to get some sort of deal done. Shedding their old and bitter players for youth with enthusiasm, and doing so without trading their 1st round pick from Brooklyn in 2018 was a win in both the short and long term.
But their first big win came quickly against the Eastern Conference-best Boston Celtics. Cleveland’s dominance in the 2nd and 3rd quarter showed the rejuvenation of the squad, physically and emotionally. Bursting with angst and adrenaline, and with an opportunity to crash the Paul Pierce Party, they wanted this. They needed this.
It’s now the part of the season where we ask whether the Cavs are back. But the answer is still being formulated. What we know though, is that LeBron is reinvigorated. Storming the court during play in excitement of Jordan Clarkson’s shooting display, when just days prior he didn't even acknowledge Thomas in celebration after draining a game winner. The hope though, is to get back to the Finals.
LeBron will lead the charge, of course, but this new bench should keep the team afloat while Kevin Love nurses his broken hand. It’s also given Cedi Osman big minutes as he’s flown around on defense, even checking Kyrie with success on switches. Ultimately this three-game win streak, with all games on the road, has been a step in the right direction.
All that matters and will matter though is whether they’ll be able to contend for the title in June. For the last four seasons (minus the '16 Finals) the Warriors have had LeBron's number. They’ve been happy to let LeBron take the tough shots, so long as he’s not able to create for his teammates, but his new teammates should make it a more competitive matchup.
Guys with pace, athleticism, and the ability to stretch the floor are harder to gameplan for than one dimensional shooters (ie. Crowder, Korver, Frye), And as the Thunder have shown us this season, the Dubs are vulnerable against athleticism.
Golden State still has the advantage in star power. They’ll have four of the five best players in the matchup, but the Cavs may have the superior bench. However, the concern in the Bay is whether or not their bench is depleted or bored, and Kerr tried fixing their issues in their game against the Suns last Monday.
Kerr let the players man the timeout huddles & the after-timeout plays Monday. While the idea was taken in a negative fashion by some, it certainly worked, blowing the Suns out by 40+, even getting Omri Casspi to outscore KD (19-17 points). Without assets, or incentives to make a trade, this was a Cavalier-esque boost.
Ultimately, the goal is the title, but the process is just as important, and the differing paths being taken are emblematic of how both of these teams operate. Though the lenient structure the Warriors have molded works for them, the Cavs have embraced the chaos. Hopefully, though, it’s a sign that we may have a competitive series come June.