It is an immutable fact of NBA life: The team with LeBron James on it will always be a team drenched in drama.
That the palace intrigues attached to any LeBron team are often created externally — by the press — is its own discussion. The business of sports blogging is such that high-profile figures are often written about for no reason other than to get pageviews. LeBron has often been written about in a meaningful, probing way, as is the case here at The Comeback. Yet, for every such instance, one can rattle off dozens of instances in which a carnival barker with a keyboard is just trying to stir up sh**.
Yes, the NBA has changed quickly in ways that have not helped the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, this team will not be favored to win the NBA Finals. Yes, LeBron’s jumper has declined in recent years. All that is true — certainly, the Cavs and their central leader would like to exist in a world without the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry playing out of their minds.
We get that. No one disputes that.
However, asking “Should the Cavaliers be worried?” — as understandable as it might be in a business sense or as a natural point of curiosity — overstates the severity of Cleveland’s situation.
It’s not as though this question isn’t relevant or can’t possess relevance. It does. What’s striking about the question is that it’s being asked in the middle of this season… a season which is going a lot better for Cleveland compared to the previous one.
Remember where we all were in January of 2015? Remember all the doubts about David Blatt entering the 2015 playoffs? Because the Cleveland project (the second go-round with LeBron) was so new, it was a lot easier to doubt the Cavs in 2015. As great as LeBron was, one Eastern Conference team — the Atlanta Hawks — was clearly superior over the course of 82 games. No, it’s not surprising that Cleveland asserted itself in the playoffs (though the Chicago series and its pivotal Game 4 were too close for comfort as far as Cavs fans were concerned), but entering the 2015 postseason, it was reasonable to think that Atlanta could beat Cleveland in a best-of-seven series. Moreover, the absence of Kevin Love and the diminished health of Kyrie Irving added to a sense that the Cavs were vulnerable against the 60-win Hawks.
Throughout the 2015 regular season, there was reason to be worried about the Cavs… because there was reason to be worried about making the NBA Finals. Losing in the championship stage to a great team? That often happens to LeBron James and his teams. Not making the NBA Finals? That’s when a LeBron team should be particularly concerned.
Simply stated, when Cleveland swept Atlanta out of the East Finals last year, the Cavs sent a loud message about their primacy in the East. Sure, Toronto has put up a good fight this season, but the 2016 Raptors are not as good as the 2015 Hawks… and Cleveland swept the 2015 Hawks.
Should the Cavs wish the West wasn’t as strong at the top? Sure. Should they be “worried” that this season will be a failure? If not winning the whole thing is the measurement? Yes… but only to a point. The Warriors are playing at such a ridiculously high level that if the Cavs were to lose to the Dubs in the Finals — even in a sweep — it would be hard to call their season “disappointing” in a larger sense.
Not making the Finals? THAT would be a crushing disappointment… but it would mean the Cavs aren’t ready to defend their Eastern Conference championship.
After Saturday night’s 17-point win over the third-place Boston Celtics — a win in which the Cavs trailed by 13 after one quarter but then outscored Boston by 30 (98-68) over the final three periods — worry should be a very relative term in Cleveland.
The Cavs remain on track to win the East and play in June, when 28 other NBA teams will be sitting home. “Worry” doesn’t seem warranted when viewed through that prism. Alarmist sentiments — more about LeBron’s long-term legacy and the city of Cleveland’s desire to win a world championship — have their place in a discussion of the Cavs. That said, shouldn’t those sentiments be kept under wraps until the first week of June?
Saturday night, Cleveland sent a reminder about its supremacy in the East.
Let’s worry about other teams in the NBA — teams that have far bigger problems than the one led by LeBron.