Next season is going to be fun for LeBron and company, and terrifying for everyone else.
Photo via @HoopsArena
The NBA's Eastern Conference is undergoing a sea change in the wake of LeBron James's decision to leave Miami for Cleveland. A series of high-profile player moves have turned conference on its head—there's no real favorite as of yet in the race to make it to the Finals and lose to the Spurs. Welcome to the Inscrutable East, our offseason rundown of the teams that matter.
Let's get this over with: Obviously, LeBron James reappearing in Cleveland automatically makes the Cavaliers a top-two seed in next spring's playoffs. Even without trading for Kevin Love or signing Ray Allen, a roster including LeBron, Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Andrew Wiggins, and Tristan Thompson—and coached by the creative David Blatt—should, barring injury, contend for the Eastern Conference crown. The media-driven narrative of LeBron's "redemption" or of his and Dan Gilbert's reconciliation? Hooey. Leave those childish notions on your bedroom dresser next to the ground-up lines of Sweet Tarts you were about to snort. We do not need media, or, fan-driven wish fulfillment storylines where we're going. No, friend, we're pointing the prow towards the future and letting the tabula rasa that is the 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers fill its own pages with LeBron as the stylus.
Oh, but I see, you are still here. You are dissatisfied with the notion of waiting for the regular season to unfold. You expect some sort of shape or outline to fill in the roiling chaos that LeBron has left in his wake. An option to soothe your workaday malaise in the long offseason before you. [audible sigh] OK, then let us consider the implications in more formal terms. So be it, let's talk Summer League and beyond…
If you were too busy having a social life two Fridays ago, I feel bad for you, you missed a wholly entertaining matchup between some of the strangest and youngest, funnin' and gunnin' NBA bigs around. For you see, that Friday was Cavs-Bucks live from our nation's gambling capital. In the immediate aftermath of LeBron's Decision 2.0, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Anthony Bennett's, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more all took the court and destroyed expectations for rookie leagues. While nothing all that remarkable happened—because it's the Summer League—Wiggins dropped a nifty 18 points and, more importantly—heartening?—Anthony Bennett's reanimated corpse roared to life against some actual NBA players and scored 15 points. For Bennett the sterling debut was merely the start of his Summer League 2K14 Tour of Vengeance, as the youngster racked up 13 and 14 against the Spurs on Sunday before passing the "Didn't See THAT Coming" baton to Matthew Dellavedova, who on the following Monday had an ultra-efficient 19 points in 29 minutes against the 76ers. Now, yes, let's all reach for the box of Morton's Kosher in our kitchen cupboard and take a few grains of it. This is the Summer League, of course, but the early returns on Cleveland's last two number one draft choices are pointing upward. If Bennett continues his "Luigi Death Stare" approach to actual basketball games this fall, you should get thee to an online sports book before Cleveland's championship odds get prohibitively stupid.
In non-Summer League news, Mike Miller has signed a two-year deal with the Cavs. Miller's presence in Cleveland will primarily consist of being a perimeter offensive threat and, along with Kyrie or Dion Waiters, stretching opposing defenses and making them pay when doubling or tripling the King. Miller, who by no means had "bad" seasons with the Heat, did seem to return to form last year with the Memphis Grizzlies as he played in all 82 games (for the first time ever) and had his second best percentage from beyond the arc ever. The grizzled vet will, as has been the case for more than a few seasons now, serve nicely as not only an offensive complement to LeBron's one-man-dreadnought routine, but will serve just as admirably as a soothsayer and buddy to LeBron in the locker room. Presumably if the Cavs manage to win a championship, Miller and LBJ will seize the momentum and ask someone (maybe me?) to co-write their oft-delayed buddy-cop film, Funnin' + Gunnin: Dunk Justice.
The addition of James and Miller, when combined with Kyrie's ongoing ascent and the continued development of Bennett, Wiggins, Waiters, and Thompson will take some tweaking and massaging before it all hums along in harmony. To say nothing of what will need to be adjusted to if Love winds up on the doorsteps of Quicken Loans Arena. This team will by no means be a clicking, well-oiled testament to Swiss craftsmanship on opening night. But if there is a basketball mind capable of figuring it all out it's Blatt, the adaptive mind behind a rejuvenated Team Russia that won Olympic bronze two summers ago in London. He has won league titles at his various stops in Israel, Turkey, Russia, and elsewhere in Europe, employing a adaptive basketball knowledge that takes its foundation from the Princeton Offense but is happy to steal a page from other books.
When LeBron announced his move, the basketball world shook with the steps of one of its giants walking back toward home, and those reverberations are still being felt in the free agent landscape, but no matter where LeBron decided to go, this Cavs team was planning on doing something different with the hiring of Blatt. Now with LeBron on the roster? This Cavaliers team, young and as untested as it is, should be giving opposing coaches nightmares. An on-court genius like LeBron teamed up with an off-court luminary such as Blatt? Along with three number one draft choices in Irving, Bennett (stop smirking), and Wiggins? Cross yourself and pray for the Eastern Conference when this storm shows up on the hardwood in October.
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