Lebron James has been to seven straight NBA Finals. Here is why his tear through the Eastern Conference may end soon.
Eight years ago, Lebron James lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, which ultimately sent him packing from Cleveland to Miami to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Since then, there has not been an Eastern Conference team to make the NBA Finals without James. If Cleveland does not make the appropriate moves, or even if they do, this incredible run may end sooner rather than later.
Dan Gilbert has some heavy decisions to make this coming offseason. Barring a miracle, the Cavs will lose to the Golden State Warriors in five games. A series that showed us the gap between the Warriors and Cavs. The depth of the Warriors is too much for the Cavs to compete against. The fourth best player for the Warriors is either Klay Thompson or Draymond Green, depending on how you evaluate talent, whereas the Cavs’ fourth best player is Tristan Thompson or J.R. Smith. The Warriors’ best bench players are Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, while the Cavs have Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver. There is a separation between these two teams that cannot be fixed in a couple of offseason moves.
So what does Gilbert do? Does he continue to sign ‘win now’ veterans and hope they catch the Warriors while they are in a shooting slump? Or does he begin to build for the future by trading for draft picks and young prospects to develop into quality players and hope the Warriors lose some of their stars to free agency as these prospects turn into stars?
Either scenario, there is a team in the East that is closing the gap. And that team was the last one to beat Lebron in an Eastern Conference playoff series.
Three blowouts in a five game series blinded the world of the progress Boston made this season. They are a season, maybe two, ahead of their plan. While the Cavs are in limbo with no assets, besides maybe Kevin Love, to trade away, the Celtics have built a team around young stars and developing draft picks.
A core of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and others was good enough to win more regular season games than the Cavs. Do not get me wrong, this team was not better than the Cavs, but they still won more games.
The difference, you ask? Arguably every player on the Cavs has hit their prime. On the other hand, you could argue that Horford is the only Celtic in the core rotation that has hit his prime. Imagine the player Brown could become in the next few years? Bradley is just beginning his evolution from defensive specialist to offensive weapon. And Smart showed Brad Stevens the defensive-minded lineup that replaced him with Thomas that has the ability to slow down the offensive juggernaut of Cleveland.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the coach. Stevens is on the rise to replace Greg Popovich as best coach the NBA.
It gets better. Because of the mind-boggling trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 that gave Boston years of draft picks from the Nets for a couple of washed up veterans, the Celtics are just going to continue to load up with prospects.
This year will be Markelle Fulz, a prospect many NBA executives see as a future star. Next year it will be another top five pick. The future just keeps looking better and better for the Celtics.
If Stevens and the front office believe they need another superstar to beat Cleveland, they have the prospects to grab one too. They are just about the only team in the league that could trade three young, promising prospects for a superstar and still have a young core. Can someone say “Gordan Hayward Brad Stevens reunion?”
As long as James is in the league, his team will be a contender. Year by year, however, the Celtics are closing the gap. And it will not be long until there is a new team representing the East in the finals.