The playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers has been a slugfest. Currently tied at 2-2, the last three games in the series have been decided by four or fewer points. This is coming as a surprise to Cavs fans, though, as the team has dominated the Eastern Conference in recent years.
But, it honestly should not come as a surprise. While the East has been the Cavs’ whipping boy in the past, the rest of the Conference has gotten better. Part of the reason the East finally has some parity is because of the Cavs themselves. When they traded away former guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, Cleveland lowered themselves a few notches and finally felt the full brunt of the East’s frustrations.
This is especially apparent in the Central Division. The Pacers have been a revelation, led by All-Star guard Victor Oladipo and tons of quality role players. Another in-division rival, the Milwaukee Bucks, have arguably one of the best players in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo and plenty of quality role players.
Like the Pacers, the Bucks will be nipping at the Cavs’ heels once they hire a proper coach this summer. Even the Detroit Pistons pose a challenge with their dynamic frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.
Outside of the division, there are still plenty of threats to the Cavs. The Toronto Raptors, led by star guard DeMar DeRozan, have transformed this season into both a solid offensive and defensive squad. They have been so great this season that they are the odds-on favorite to represent the East in this year’s NBA Finals.
Even Charles Barkley thinks the Raptors are legit this year:
Chuck's love of #Toronto is real.
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) April 19, 2018
Beyond Toronto, another threat to the Cavs are the Celtics, as mentioned before. This year, the Celtics have been ravaged by injuries to their best players. Gordon Hayward turned his ankle 180 degrees on opening night, and former Cavalier Kyrie Irving is out for the playoffs after a knee procedure.
Here They Come
Finally, the team that has sucked the longest is arguably the biggest threat to the Cavs for the foreseeable future. The Philadelphia 76ers dwelled in the basement of the NBA, which is more famously known as “The Process”. Former general manager Sam Hinkie always told fans to “Trust the Process”, and this season it is starting to show.
The Sixers have been crushing the NBA this season thanks to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and many others. Besides the Raptors, the Sixers are a real threat to make the NBA Finals, mostly due to how strong their youth movement is.
But, as mentioned before, the Sixers are a threat not only this season to the Cavs, but down the line as well:
Do you want PG13 in a Sixers uniform? https://t.co/tRXoQo62yT
— The Sixer Sense (@SixerSense) April 23, 2018
Before this season, the Cavs were the likely landing spot for Paul George. The Pacers ended up backing out of the infamous trade and ended up trading George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. While it feels like George wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, the chance to join the Sixers and complete “The Process” makes too much sense.
The other problem the Sixers present is the fact that they are a threat to snatch away LeBron James from the Cavs if they do not land George. Infamously, a Philadelphia-based company put these billboards up along I-480 to try and woo James:
Three Billboards IN Cleveland, Ohio. A local company paid to put them there to try to convince @KingJames to join the @sixers when he becomes a free agent this summer. Do you like it? #CompleteTheProcess Will it catch on? Can we convince @KingJames? pic.twitter.com/DKty6CyOv2
— sarahbloomquist (@sarahbloomquist) February 26, 2018
The Sixers are a real threat and it is time to stop acting like they are not. They have the second coming of King James in rookie phenom Ben Simmons, Embiid is arguably the best center in the league, and the amount of three-point firepower they bolster is just silly. While James will more than likely stay in Cleveland (for plenty of reasons), the Sixers are easily the best team in the Eastern Conference if they land George.
This upcoming summer will be an arms race between both the Sixers and the Cavs. The problem is, unlike Philadelphia, the Cavs are strapped for cash. That requires general manager Koby Altman to make savvy moves to try and surround King James with a winning formula.
The first priority should be to try and unload Tristan Thompson for some kind of expiring contract. Moving Thompson would free up a ton of room for the Cavs to work with and help secure some big-name free agents.
The next move is agreeing to a team-friendly deal with three-point sniper Rodney Hood. While Hood has been oft-injured and underwhelming in his time with the Cavs, there is potential for him to be great. Three-point shooting is a commodity in the NBA, and Hood is an elite-level shooter the Cavs should not easily let go.
Finally, Altman and the Cavs should squarely set their sights on San Antonio Spurs superstar forward Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has barely played for the Spurs this season, and despite being considered healthy to play, has not returned to the floor. Leonard’s adamancy against playing for the Spurs has destroyed his relationship with the franchise beyond repair, and the team will likely try to ship him away this summer.
The Cavs will more than likely be the biggest team in the mix for Leonard’s talents. To keep it simple, they can try and include Thompson in the deal. The Cavs can offer a package of Thompson, Cedi Osman, and the coveted 2018 Brooklyn Nets draft pick. The Spurs get depth in Thompson, a player they covet in Osman, and a rookie that can be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
For the Wine and Golders, this would be a coup de grace when acquiring Leonard. They add one of the best players in the league to create a dynamic Big Three between Leonard, James, and Kevin Love. With this Big Three, bolstered by Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic, and a few veterans, the team will easily rise back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
When the Cavs traded away Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, it created parity between two rivals. Since, other teams also improved and pounced on the Cavs. This season, Cleveland looked like a wounded lion on the retreat, and teams like the Celtics and Sixers have taken their shots at them.
Philly is especially a major threat to the Cavs in the future, and with a few good moves, the Cavs can return to form as the Beasts of the East.