The Eastern Conference in the Days of LeBron

The 2018 soap opera which I like to call “Days of LeBron” is sure to keep us entertained for the rest of this NBA season. But it’s getting old; we are now 50 games into the NBA season and has anything actually changed since 2016-17? The same three teams are at the top of each conference and the Warriors and Cavaliers remain the Vegas favorites to make the Finals. Sure, I’ve enjoyed the spicy LeBron leaks from Brian “No Neck” Windhorst, but the King’s intrigue is beginning to run its course.  LeBron has his exit plan engaged, but most believe he will finish the season in the Land and have the privilege of losing in the NBA finals for the sixth time.  The Eastern Conference landscape is the same as it has been the last four years. The Celtics and Raptors are above average, LeBron is running the Circus in Cleveland, and the remaining teams are mediocre to terrible. I mean, the Heat are currently 4th in the conference—while Spoelstra is a great coach, you can’t convince me they’d be any better than fighting for the eighth seed in the West.  Scott Brooks is in Washington doing what he does best: securing his team’s status as “good, but not title contenders.” Despite Giannis’ greatness, the Bucks are a hot mess, and don’t kid yourself: Victor Oladipo can’t lead a Cinderella Indiana team out of the first round. If we didn’t split the All-Star selections by conferences, the East might have nine of the NBA’s 26 best players.

I say all of this to stress how bad the Eastern Conference is and point out how blessed LeBron is to have to play such a dysfunctional group of teams year in and out. With that said, the Cavs should be more concerned than in the previous three seasons.  Since 2009, Lebron’s teams have never had worse than the second-best point differential in the conference, and that includes their usual end-of-season relaxation. This year, however, the Cavs’ point differential of +.5 ranks 14th in the league, only slightly better than the Dwight Howard-led Charlotte Hornets and the guard-less New Orleans Pelicans. The Cavs  supposed “mid-season savior,” Isaiah Thomas, still can’t play defense and is nowhere near the scorer he was with the Celtics, but he wants everyone to know that the Cavs’ mediocrity is not his fault! This Cleveland team has red flags EVERYWHERE. Jeff Green is the best defender on a defense which has given up a league 5th-worst 109.4 points per game, every player other than D. Wade has a suitcase packed for when GM LeBron decides it’s time to package some shipments, Tristan Thompson has been inflicted with the Kardashian curse, and the team is 24th in the league in rebounding.  Not only are off-the-court issues more prevalent than in years past, the numbers are shouting that this is a bad basketball team.

Of course, some team in the East will have to step up and dethrone King James for any of this to come to fruition. And I’m not convinced that this will happen: unsurprisingly given their reliance on first- and second-year players, the Celtics have hit a wall and the Raptors—well, they’re still the Raptors.  But I think there is a way for Boston to make the Finals.  If the Celtics can retain the top seed in the East (a big “if”), the Raptors could tire out a veteran Cavs team in a six or seven game series, which just might allow the Celtics to hammer the nail in the coffin on the LeBron Era. However, the “worst” GM ever (according to many), Danny Ainge, has to make moves before the trade deadline to give his team a shot.  They currently have an $8.7-million injury exception which they can use to acquire a bought-out player such as Kenneth Faried or Greg Monroe, which would add front-line depth to a relatively small roster and increase the team’s rebounding abilities. While adding a big man is essential, Gordon Hayward making the greatest comeback since Kyle Schwarber’s 2016 World Series is invaluable to the team’s Finals chances. Hayward has been practicing, walking without a practice boot, and has expressed interest in a potential comeback this season.  Even 15-20 minutes per game from Hayward would be enough to bolster a Celtics offense which has been nothing short of horrendous without Kyrie and/or Al Horford on the floor.

Now for the Cavs.  This might be the year Cleveland has to make a trade to win the East, and the Cavaliers own rights to Brooklyn’s 2018 lottery draft pick. Owner Dan Gilbert, who’s looking to sell the team, may throw his favorite city, Detroit, a bone by overpaying for Avery Bradley.  I do think the addition of Avery Bradley would help the Cavs defensively and probably secure their 2018 Finals bid. And the next ten years would prove that God really hates Cleveland, as they ride with aging Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley while LeBron and D-Wade end their careers on the Banana Boat in Houston. After all, Houston has great strip clubs and a quick glance at LeBron’s Instagram tells us that the only thing he likes more than young LeBron are perfect booties.

-ukfootballbamabasketballfan (@LucasBrooks17), NBA Contributor

 

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