Columnists, Sports

Eastbound and Down: New-look Cavaliers are plenty to win the East

Amidst an illustrious career decorated with seven straight NBA Finals appearances, three titles, four NBA Most Valuable Player awards and three Finals MVP awards, there’s no doubt that LeBron James has already cemented himself amongst the all-time greats of the sport.

With the exception of 2007, James has had the luxury of playing alongside superstar-caliber talent in each of his other finals appearances.

Players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have all played a large part in James’ success throughout his career, but is it possible that a superstar alongside him is not what James needed? His 3-5 finals record might suggest so.

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman decided to shake things up at the trade deadline after an underwhelming first half of the season, gifting LeBron with four new, athletic players: Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance from the Los Angeles Lakers, Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz and George Hill from the Sacramento Kings.

In exchange, the Cavaliers also most notably parted ways with Wade, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder.

While none of the Cavaliers’ new additions have the individual talent of Isaiah Thomas, per se, each guy can score, and provides the team with much needed energy and defensive versatility.

However, an obedient team where each player knows and fulfills his role under the unquestioned leadership of LeBron James could cater best to his style on and off the court. Instead of James having to contend or struggle to find chemistry with another ball-dominant superstar, Cleveland brought four talented low-maintenance guys, which will bode exceptionally well for him.

In a recent interview with ESPN, newcomer George Hill said, “We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be. He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins. We got to figure it out.”

Hill’s remarks illustrate not only his willingness to do what’s best for the team and execute his role, but also offer a stark contrast in attitude between Cavaliers’ starting point guards in the past two weeks.

Isaiah Thomas, after coming off of a 28.9 points-per-game season with Boston, may have somewhat understandably viewed himself as the Superman to LeBron’s Batman rather than the Robin.

And while I still view Isaiah Thomas as a legitimate scoring threat and valuable asset in the NBA, his attitude was not conducive to success in Cleveland. I believe Altman made the right decision in letting him go.

After two convincing victories against the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder with the new-look Cavaliers, I don’t think it’s premature at all to consider them favorites to win the Eastern Conference again. LeBron has made the finals the past seven years, so why bet against him now?

The new lineup spaces the floor extremely well, and rotates much better on defense. Hood and Clarkson have already proven themselves as scoring threats, and Nance has shown flashes of athleticism and rebounding prowess.

In their first two games with the team, Clarkson and Hood are shooting 57.1 and 50 percent, respectively, from behind the three-point arc.

Veteran George Hill has also showcased his ability to play good defense, make the right pass and knock down open threes when needed. While the team’s talent may be less top-heavy, its depth has improved drastically.

As opposed to three or four scoring threats like the current Celtics team or some of LeBron’s past teams, the Cavaliers now have eight players who could score 15 to 20 points on any given night.

Parallel the team’s young talent with a hunger to win and prove something to the rest of the NBA. Not only do Hood, Clarkson and Nance want to win the NBA title, but I’m sure all three would tell you that they have yet to hit their ceilings as players.

Rookies Royce O’Neale and Donovan Mitchell’s exceptional play of late gave the Jazz a reason to get rid of Hood, who surely feels like he was cut short by the organization. He’ll have a chance to prove himself further as a versatile wing in Cleveland alongside James.

Clarkson and Nance were also shipped from Los Angeles in order to clear cap room for this summer’s free agents, which include Paul George and James himself. Hill has found new life going from the worst team in the league to a perennial championship contender.

We’ve seen Batman’s ups and downs with Robin, but how about seven? Lock in the Cavaliers as the Eastern Conference representative in this year’s NBA Finals.

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