When Lebron James exited Game 5 of the NBA Finals following a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors he exuded a steady calmness. For those brief moments that the ABC cameras followed the Cavs into the locker room, fans could witness Bron and Kyrie Irving share an embrace, as they strutted into the annals of the Oracle Arena, with the resolve to fight another day.
Now, some 3 months after the last sneaker squeaks on the hardwood in Oakland, Kyrie appears to be on his way out and ESPN published a piece predicting the likelihood of turmoil among the league’s 30 teams. A panel of 44 ESPN analysts gave point values to each squad in an effort to determine the likelihood of turmoil when the season kicks off in October. The ranking certainly has some merit as the James Dolan Knicks and GarPax’s Bulls are included among the top six spots. However, the far and away winner of ESPN’s turmoil ranking are the Cleveland Cavaliers, a ranking that should be reconsidered.
For starters, the “science” behind the forecast is elementary enough not to cause much fuss. Each panelist, yields a score to a given team, ranging from 5 points for first place (or most likely for turmoil) to 1 point for third place. Thought the criteria on which each analyst graded the teams isn’t explicitly mentioned in the article itself, we can assume the level of media coverage and player outspokenness all played a part in ESPN’s consideration.
As an aside, I’ll clarify that I’m not a Cavs fanboy. Far from it, actually. That said, I thoroughly appreciate LeBron’s talent and hero antics, as well as the lengths to which the Cavs try and resuscitate the careers of players like Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson, and these fall among a myriad of reasons the Cavs have nothing to worry about this upcoming season. Does potentially swapping out Kyrie, the same guy who lodged a dagger of a three-ball into an arena’s worth of hearts in 2016, for Derrick Rose impact the chances of a top-seed in the East? Sure it does, but Cleveland and the Cavaliers have endured the equivalent of an apocalypse, and bouncing back sans-Kyrie shouldn’t preclude problems.
Despite what their 2010 mass jersey burning would tell you, the Cavs have been a particularly resilient franchise in the epoch of LeBron. Upon his return in 2014-15, the team galvanized around a big three of the homegrown Irving, Kevin Love and, of course King James. Despite a lofty 60-win season from Mike Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland rose to the challenge, what would be a regular occurrence in the years to come. A win margin of 13.25 points over the Hawks in the 2015 conference finals, in part due to the 30 point blowout in game 4, felt less like an upset and more like a divinely penned script, featuring LeBron as an incarnation of the fleet footed Perseus, lifting a heavily battered Believeland to the finals for the first time since 2007.
The combination of a wistful Cinderella story – a franchise discarded by their superstar sinks to the depths of the league only be thrust back into relevance and reach the NBA’s Final Destination equivalent – and the willingness to sacrifice – Kevin Love took a diminished role from his 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in the season prior and was subsequently called out for fitting out – began to identify “The Land,” emphasizing the city’s working class roots through its premier franchise.
The following season reignited these themes even more, as the Cavs expelled a head coach with a winning record (David Blatt amassed a 30-11 record before being replaced) in exchange for assistant coach and fan favorite Tyronn Lue. Finally, to rehash the most sullied stat of all time, the Cavs did the impossible and overcame a 3-1 deficit to capture the city’s first title of any major sport in 52 years.
Regardless of your perception of the Chief of Comic Sans Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers have reinstalled a successful franchise within the walls of Cleveland. Though much of the success falls on the back of who most know as Coach/GM/Player/Owner LeBron James, the tenacity with which the Cavs approach each season should not be taken lightly. Indeed losing an All Star, All-NBA talent can be seen as a setback, but LeBron is hardly one to make non basketball related excuses for sub-par play.
Admittedly, the Knicks coming in second on ESPN’s shortlist with just over half as many turmoil points (69 to 120) as Cleveland shouldn’t be surprising. Most recently, the Knicks have sloshed through the media rinse cycle with reports of Phil Jackson wanting to deal Porzingis for the No. 2 Pick to nab Lonzo Ball springing up, just as NY made its major free agent signing of… Tim Hardaway Jr., the same player they had at a 70% ($1.2 mil vs. $16.5 mil) discount in 2013-15. Oddly enough, the Pelicans and Clippers beat out the Bulls for likely disruptions during the season, though Dwyane Wade is probably more inclined to shut up and take all $24 million of his money than cause a stir like he did this past season.
In keeping with Kevin Garnett’s timeless “ANYTHING’S POSSIBLEEEEEEE” quote from 2008, I can’t completely write off the chance for Cleveland to crash and burn with the explosiveness of a nuclear reactor, especially given the revamped Celtics, and ever-competitive Washington Wizards will presumably occupy top spots in the East. But the likelihood of the Cavs being upstaged by the rest of the league, especially considering the the Knicks are still a team, seems slim to none.
Who do you think will crash and burn this season? Let me know @bjtripleot or at firstname.lastname@example.org.