The panic button had to be pushed for LeBron James and the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers after trading away Irving to the Boston Celtics went totally left. James was still putting up numbers but the team cohesion was in total disarray, and James’ time in Cleveland appeared to be coming to an abrupt and bitter end. The Cavs shook things up majorly with a massive overhaul that brought in as many as four new rotation players for James and company. George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson were all acquired on a busy trade day last week. Was it enough to save Cleveland’s season and send them back into the Finals? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this confusing but vital question.
Riley: Rarely do teams make changes on the fly during midseason and still find their way into the Finals. But Cleveland still has James, and he’s still the best player in the conference. Cleveland would’ve probably still made the Finals with the makeup they had prior to the trade deadline but we’ll never know at this point. The newly pieced together Cavs are talented and with James still running the show they’ll waltz into the Finals again.
Green: The East is wide open. Boston, Toronto and even Washington have a chance at dethroning the defending East champs as Cleveland won’t have a chance to gel before the playoffs start. Even Detroit and Milwaukee could be dangerous in the playoffs. This is the weakest team the Cavs have put together since James returned. Trading away Irving was the worst mistake the franchise could’ve made, especially with James likely on his way out after this season.
Riley: This potentially being James’ last hurrah in Cleveland makes it even more vital that the Cavs be a tough out. The players they acquired in those slew of trades are the type of role players that can blend in smoothly in various roles. Neither Hill, Hood, Nance Jr. nor Clarkson have ever been first or even second options on their previous teams. It won’t be easy but it won’t be impossible. Cleveland is now deep with young wings to fill in behind James and that provides a dynamic not many teams in the East can match.
Green: Kevin Love is still out and that adds another player who will have to get adjusted to the team. It’s too many pieces and too many “ifs” that’s going to determine Cleveland’s Finals run. I personally don’t believe that Boston and Toronto are as strong as their standings say, but Cleveland hasn’t shown so far this season that they can maintain a high level of consistent play over a sizable stretch of games. Past Cleveland teams have had clear defensive identities this deep into the season but this year’s version has been horrendous. Maybe they’ll receive a spark from their trade but team defense doesn’t click overnight. Unless that improves, any team in the East is definitely capable of putting the Cavs out early.