The Cleveland Cavaliers might be enjoying the best offseason ever. The Cavs making the top pick in this month’s draft, and signing LeBron James, the biggest free agent in NBA history, capped a stellar three weeks.
The rumor mill still has Cleveland preparing to make a run at Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love, so the celebration may not be over. However, LeBron James is safe and secure in the confines of Ohio and the Cavaliers are back on the map. Armed with James, three current No. 1 picks that the team has drafted over the last four seasons and a roster full of tradeable assets, Cleveland may be on the cusp of a return to the NBA’s elite. But even in a scattered and depleted East, how far can the Cavaliers go next year? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Who’s better than the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA’s Eastern Conference right now? Love rumors are swirling, but honestly they could keep their team as-is, start a slew of youngsters with James leading the pack, and still win 50-plus games. James is that good and the younger talent on the roster is that good as well. Kyrie Irving has shown his mettle and players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters have proved they can play. Miami and Indiana held a stranglehold over the East for the last few years but the Pacers’ implosion at the end of the season was extremely disturbing and James’ departure for Cleveland shifts the control that the Heat held for the last four seasons. Chicago may look to return to form if Derrick Rose nurses himself back to health, but the pieces are already in place for Cleveland to make a huge leap next season. They’ll be in the Eastern Conference Finals next season and a trip to the NBA Finals is definitely within reach.
Green: Unless they get Love, I can’t pencil this Cavaliers team into any type of Finals with so much youth on the team. I’m not completely sold on Kyrie and LeBron meshing well together. How will Irving react to James’ arrival after he butted heads at times last season with Waiters? I know Dion Waiters is no comparison to King James skill-wise, but there may be a connection ego-wise. Waiters wanted the ball in his hands just as much as Irving did last season, which may have caused friction between the two top draft picks. Irving won that battle, because he got his $90 million deal with the Cavs while Waiters has had to deal with trade rumors all offseason. Irving will now have to share the ball with the same man he was drafted two years ago to replace. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s a reach to believe he won’t be willing to take a backseat to the king. This is the same kid who told the great Kobe Bryant during a Team USA practice for the 2012 Summer Olympics that he would kick his a** in one-on-one. He even put his money where his mouth is and agreed to a $50,000 bet over the game. In Kyrie’s mind, he is the best player in the NBA, not LeBron. They both need the ball in their hands to operate. So who will it be?
Riley: But first, I want a definitive answer to my question: who’s better than Cleveland next season?
Green: It all depends on how the rest of free agency turns out. Carmelo is heading back to New York and Phil Jackson already has that roster looking better than last year with the additions of Jose Calderon at point guard and the drafting of swingman Cleanthony Early. Bosh re-signed to Miami and they are now working on resigning Dwyane Wade. Chicago will still be a factor, especially if Rose can return to his MVP form, and there’s still Indiana, who challenged Miami in the Eastern Conference the last two seasons.
Riley: All these possibilities and potentials, but I really just want a straight answer to my question. The intrigue with this club will be extreme and players are going to want to come to Cleveland for a change. James’ pair of titles justifies his greatness and the surrounding talent makes it a no-brainer for veterans trying to hang on for a season or two for a good run. I sincerely hope they keep last June’s top pick, Andrew Wiggins, because no one would run a scarier break than the trio of Irving, Wiggins and James. It’s going to be Lob City in Cleveland next year on the way to a deep playoff run.
Green: I see it didn’t take long for you to buy into the hype, Riley. I’m not sold, though. I think the best place for LeBron to win was in Miami. The Heat would have undoubtedly returned to the Finals for a fifth straight time had LeBron honored his commitment to the Miami fan base and stayed. But the idea of LeBron changing his mind and quitting on goals is old news now. Instead, the focus is on whether he can actually win one for the franchise he rudely abandoned four years ago. I don’t know if he can get it done eventually, but I do know for sure that if he does, it won’t be next season.