God must really hate Cleveland—or so we thought, as the city’s greatest claim to fame might just be having a river that caught on fire and a sporting history that many wish would go up in flames.
The Move. 10-cent beer night. The Curse of Chief Wahoo. The Drive. The Decision. Johnny Manziel. The list goes on and on.
But maybe — just maybe — Cleveland’s fortunes have finally begun to turn around. We talked about the seven thousandths percent chance the Cleveland Cavaliers had to win the NBA draft lottery in three of the last four years, and then we all became witnesses to LeBron James’ return to the Wine and Gold as he leaped over every bridge he burned on his way out the door.
James’ letter to Sports Illustrated vowing to bring a championship to Northeast Ohio already put this story on a level too over-the-top for any Hollywood script, but the fun didn’t stop there. With James in tow, the Cavaliers added championship veterans Shawn Marion and Mike Miller before trading the last two number one overall draft picks, (the ones they got under the most unimaginable of odds) Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, to Minnesota for perennial All-Star Kevin Love.
Cleveland and God certainly look like they’ve reconciled in the past few years.
With LeBron, Love and Kyrie Irving forming a new core trio and all indicating plans to stay in Cleveland for the long term (a phrase that many thought would never be printed) the Cavs transformed from a young team spiraling out of control to a championship favorite in the course of one offseason. Just the thought of Love grabbing a rebound and whipping a long outlet pass to Lebron or Kyrie on the fast break is already mouthwatering. Throw in a strong mix of veteran leadership and young talent in Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson and this team looks ready to bury years of Cleveland sports malaise.
But what can we really expect out of the Cavs this season?
While the hype is tremendous, I believe that there is a strong chance that Cleveland lives up to the mountainous expectations. The Eastern Conference is again rather weak with many teams rebuilding. Chicago will be tough with the addition of Pau Gasol, but I’m not sure how effective Derrick Rose will be in his re-return from knee surgery.
Many have wondered if Irving and Love can play the type of elite defense necessary to win championships, but I don’t see why not. Kyrie put a lot of those doubts to rest with a standout defensive performance in the FIBA World Cup, and I expect Love, with motivation, can be a strong defender in the league. There just wasn’t much to get motivated about in Minnesota.
And speaking of motivation, Cleveland also hired a new coach this summer, a move that went mostly unnoticed. David Blatt has taken over the team after coming over from Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv. In his 21 years of coaching overseas basketball, Blatt has won 17 championships. Seventeen. That’s impressive no matter where or whom you’re coaching. Sure, he has never been a head coach in the NBA, but he is, by all accounts, one of the brightest minds in basketball.
With a deep arsenal of weapons and a talented head coach (not to mention the best player in basketball), can Cleveland win it all?
In short, I think the Cavs are too good not to hoist a trophy at some point, but it will be difficult to win it in their first year after the most glorious of offseasons.
The Western Conference is extremely stacked with talent right now, but many teams have closing championship windows. San Antonio will still be the team to beat, but with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all getting older, they don’t appear to have too many years left in the tank. Oklahoma City almost took down the Spurs in last year’s Conference Finals, but their window looks small too with the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Durant’s free-agent plans.
Houston, Dallas, Portland, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers are also prime contenders to make a run in an absurdly talented conference, but they all appear to be one star short from going over the top.
While it’s way, way too early to predict what’s going to happen, I can almost guarantee that this NBA season is going to be one of the most entertaining in recent memory with so many teams pushing for that championship in closing windows. In addition, the brand of basketball that’s brewing in Cleveland looks to be one of the most exciting and innovative products we’ve seen on a court.
It’s hard to say what will happen in this season’s playoffs, but we can all still sit back and enjoy the show of LeBron thundering down the court, Love launching 80-foot chest passes and Irving crossing over everything in sight.
Will the Cavaliers win the championship this year? I say probably not, but they likely will in the future. The cosmos seem to love the Cavs too much for that not to happen. Unless, of course, this is all part of a trick to break the hearts of fans in the cruelest way possible.
I wouldn’t put anything past Cleveland.
Vihan Lakshman is convinced Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has a direct line to the Almighty. That, or he offered David Stern and Adam Silver valuable shares in Quicken Loans. To see what other conspiracy theories Vihan might be harboring, contact him at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.