Judging the Cavaliers’ Competition in the West
The announcement that everyone was waiting for finally came on Saturday. That announcement of course was that Kevin Love was officially traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for number one overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, last year’s number one pick Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick. A new detail emerged, as the Philadelphia 76ers were included as the third team in the deal, acquiring Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and a future first-round draft pick while sending Thaddeus Young to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The trade was perhaps the best option available to the Timberwolves, who risked losing Love next offseason for nothing. The deal will allow them to remain competitive next season and will also set them up for the future. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, are now in a position where it’s NBA Finals or bust. While the Eastern Conference has certainly improved during the last couple of seasons, the conference remains the Cavaliers’ for the taking. Some around the league have questioned whether the Cavaliers can jump in immediately and make a run to the Finals.
Much has been made about the fact that the current Cavaliers roster doesn’t possess much playoff experience, but guys like LeBron James, Mike Miller and Anderson Varejao will help the lesser-experienced players through the process. A lot has also been made about the chemistry, with all of the new faces that will share the court together. The Miami HEAT showed when James and Chris Bosh arrived in South Beach in 2010 that the NBA season is a long one and that players will become more familiar with each other as the season progresses, and by the time the playoffs came, they proved that they were ready. Even though the HEAT lost to the Dallas Mavericks that year in the Finals, they proved a lot of people wrong by showing that they could all join a team and make a deep playoff run. The Cavaliers have a chance to prove that they, too, can make a deep playoff run.
How do the Cavaliers stack up against the Western Conference?
San Antonio Spurs
Another trip to the NBA Finals means that James might have to again face off against the Spurs and they’ve proven to be a very tough opponent for the King. Of course, the Spurs dismantled the HEAT this season to take the championship and it took a very clutch Ray Allen three-pointer last year to save the HEAT from elimination. James and the Cavs were swept by the Spurs back in 2007 in James’ first appearance in the Finals so James may be tired of facing the Spurs.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the Spurs are going anywhere. Even at their increased ages, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker showed during their championship run that they still have some gas in the tank. The Spurs’ “Big Three” turned back the clock during the Finals and were playing great basketball. Gregg Popovich will again monitor the players’ minutes to keep them in the best possible shape they can be. The Spurs return most of their key players next season and will undoubtedly enter as favorites in the West. Health will remain an issue during the season, which could prove to be the Cavs’ biggest ally.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Some will argue that given the increased age of many Spurs’ key players, the Thunder will be the favorites to come out of the West next season. Had it not been for an injury that sidelined Serge Ibaka for two games, the Thunder could have been the team playing for last season’s title and not the Spurs.
The Thunder lost a couple of players from last season’s team, including Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler, but also added some players in Anthony Morrow and first-round draft pick Mitch McGary. Roles could also be expanded for Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to make up for the losses of Fisher, Sefolosha and Butler. The biggest question with the Thunder will be if they can finally get over the hump and get back to the Finals.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Ibaka and likely Morrow in the starting lineup, their starting five can go up against anyone in the league. The key for the Thunder to return to the Finals will be how their reserves come in and play. Outside of Nick Collison, the Thunder’s depth behind Durant and Ibaka is shaky. The team is very talented, but translating that talent into the game is another issue.
Los Angeles Clippers
Now that the distraction of Donald Sterling is behind them, the Clippers can get back to focusing on basketball. There is no doubt that the situation surrounding Sterling during the playoffs had an effect on the team. The Clippers have quite possibly the deepest bench in the Western Conference and could pose the biggest threat to the Cavaliers. An injury to one of the Spurs’ big three could cost them come playoff time and the Thunder’s lack of depth could open the door for the Clippers.
Derrick Rose is Returning to Form
It was just a couple of days ago that many were questioning just how healthy Derrick Rose was and wondering if he was rushed back to game action too quickly. Rose was held out of practice during the beginning of the week and was even held out of Wednesday night’s Team USA game against the Dominican Republic. Speculation was running wild, but those close to the team weren’t worried.
Any doubt of Rose’s health was put to rest on Friday night after his performance against Puerto Rico. Rose played in 13 minutes off of the bench and contributed six points and four assists.
“Derrick brings something that we don’t have as far as being able to push the ball so fast and get into the paint, and (he’s) so athletic,” James Harden said, via USA Today. “He made a couple cross-court passes for open threes. He looked phenomenal.”
Team USA released its final 12-man roster before heading to Spain on Saturday and elected to include Rose on the team. Some suggested that Mike Krzyzewski may want to include Damian Lillard on the team as insurance should Rose get injured in Spain, but that was killed when the Team USA coaching staff elected to leave Lillard off of the roster, opting to go with Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Rose as the team’s point guards.
“I feel very confident about Derrick. I think Derrick feels very confident,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played great tonight. These guys want to play with him. It’s part of getting back is to be around a group of peers. These guys are his peers who want you to be really good. You’re already really good but if James Harden wants (Curry) to be really good and (Curry) wants Derrick Rose to be really good and Kyrie, it’s a different thing. That’s what we’ve seen over the years and that’s where the brotherhood develops. It’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the past nine years (of USA Basketball).”