I still think the Cavs can win this series against the Bulls. With two home games remaining, they may even be favorites still. It's tougher now that literally every player on the Cavs roster with any scoring ability has some form of injury. It's tougher but possible.
At this point, though, it's next to impossible the Cavs will win an NBA Championship. I can't say completely impossible. Weirder things have happened -- any life form existing is billions of times more impossible than an injury decimated Cavs team winning a title. But not impossible is a far cry from probable. It's a far cry from not improbable, even.
Minus realistic title hopes, we are left silver linings. How can this team make the best out of a rotten situation? What shred of hope can we pull out of the debris of disappointment?
Well, a lot, really.
Before Kyrie Irving's injury, he was having a fantastic playoffs. He was simply marvelous, and it gave me hope that the Cavs still had an outside chance of a winning a championship as long as nothing else went wrong.
Well, everything else went wrong, but there's still a lot to take out of post-injury Kyrie's performances. He's learning how to eek out wins when everything is going wrong. He's learning how to make himself useful in any possible way when his body is failing him. In short, he's learning how to be a winner whether or not the team ultimately wins. That should play dividends for him next season when he's hopefully much healthier in the playoffs.
Likewise, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert have been fabulous in these playoffs. Their defense (especially before Shumpert's injury) went to another level in the post-season. Thompson may have earned himself a maximum contact or at least close to it. Shumpert added another two to four million per year to his contract. Their versatility on defense and nonstop motors have shone light on their irreplaceable roles on the Cavs. And that they've responded positively to their increased burdens and responsibilities in the wake of injuries? That's experience that will help them when they go back to their usual roles next season.
As a team, building chemistry with LeBron James has also been good. It allows David Griffin to see who truly fits around him and who doesn't. The weaknesses that get exposed during this rough period of time also allows Griffin to make adjustments going forward so the team has better backup options if another worst case scenario occurs.
I worry a little for David Blatt. By and large, I think he's done an excellent job at making game-to-game adjustments in a postseason where he's given imperfect tools for a difficult job. But I can't help but think Tyronne Lue is going to be the Cavs' head coach next year. Maybe that'll be for the best. Maybe not. If it happens, I'll reserve my judgment until I see if Lue can actually coach a team or not. At least the team would be more likely to buy into whatever he says. That's half the battle.
But if Blatt does survive -- especially if he can somehow will the Cavs to the NBA Finals -- the experience of coaching through the playoffs has its obvious merits. More importantly, proving to his players he can coach in the playoffs through difficult times may be just what Blatt needs to fully gain the trust of all his players. Sometimes it takes persevering through an awful situation to bond a group together. With Blatt and his team, this situation could be a bonding moment.
And if the worst happens. If the Cavs get knocked out in the second round. Or the second worst thing happens -- they get knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals. If that happens, the biggest silver lining of all comes into play. Rest.
As in, rest for LeBron. He played 922 extra minutes his first year in Miami. Then 983. Then 960. Then 763. So far, he's already played 335 minutes this year. If the Cavs get bounced from this round, he may have his fewest or second fewest playoff minutes played of his career. This regular season, he's already played by far his fewest minutes of any non-lockout season.
I want the Cavs to get as far into the post-season as they can. Anything can happen if they make it to the Finals. The upside for the team as a whole is huge with every passing round. But if the Cavs get kicked out earlier than anybody ever expected, at least LeBron got extra rest to make a push next year where the title hopes will be more realistic.
Look at the Spurs. Look at Tim Duncan. From the 2008-09 season to 2010-11, they had two first round exits and one second round exit. Then they rallied off a stretch of making the Conference Finals and two NBA Finals. That was before having another health-challenged season this year.
Making it deep into the playoffs every year is exhausting. It's rewarding, too, but it takes a toll. If the Cavs get kicked out of the playoffs early, it could help recharge LeBron before going on another stretch of deep runs like the Spurs did. It's not what I prefer, but there's still upside to losing.