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NBA Rankings: ESPN analyst sees Cleveland Cavaliers as one of East's top 8 teams

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With the NBA Draft in the past and the free agency period starting to settle down, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh ranked the Eastern Conference. Where does he see the Cavaliers right now?

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

It is still July, and there are still some impact free agents that haven't quite found landing spots, but rosters are starting to take shape for next season. The Cavaliers still have a couple roster spots available, though it doesn't sound likely they will be making any major additions beyond what they have already accomplished over the last month. Trades are always a possibility, and the Cavaliers have access to a "room exception" worth about $2.6 million, but I would be shocked if the Cavaliers used it.

Because of things slowing down, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh took the relative lull in NBA news as an opportunity to try and sort out how each Eastern Conference team stacks up. The Cavaliers, at the moment, are a playoff team in Haberstroh's eyes. Barely. He has them as the 8th best team in the East. From his insider article:

If only they could trade for the Phoenix Suns training staff. With the talent on the roster, the Cavaliers could vault as high as the No. 5 seed in the East, but the talent could also be in street clothes for much of the season. No team possesses more "if healthy" qualifiers than the Cavaliers, with Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum all battling various leg injuries.

To counteract the injury risk, the Cavs could use big developmental strides from Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. A Heat-Cavs first-round playoff matchup is a real possibility, though I can't imagine we'd find anything to talk about.

This all seems pretty fair to me, though Kyrie Irving hasn't had a leg injury for some time now. I like the point he makes at the end though: to me, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and perhaps Anthony Bennett's development is just as essential to the Cavalier's playoff hopes as the health of Andrew Bynum or Anderson Varejao. If Thompson, Waiters, and Irving take steps forward, the Cavaliers will be in much better position to deal with the debilitating injuries the team faced last season.

Going from 24 wins to the playoffs in one year is difficult, but no one can say that the Cavaliers aren't doing just about everything they can to do it. I anticipate all the new faces and a new coaching staff might cause a bit of an adjustment period early in the season, but hopefully by the time Christmas comes around the team is starting to come together. Honestly, though, who knows?

Some other notes from Haberstroh's rankings

  • He has Atlanta 6th, and Washington 7th. Both sound about right to me, with one exception for Washington. Lost in the talk of the Wizards having to play without John Wall and Brad Beal for long stretches last season is the fact that they got quite a bit of health from Nene and Emeka Okafor. With little depth behind them (seriously, they have almost nothing behind them) Washington would be really vulnerable if something bad happened to either one of those guys.
  • He has Miami ranked first. I don't.
  • He has the Magic as a better team than Boston. While I don't really agree with this, it is still hilarious.