Despite all of the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding how the roster will look, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. While it’s not clear what will happen with Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics added Gordon Hayward, it still doesn’t seem like enough to stop the Cavs from making another Finals.
At least that’s what ESPN’s Summer Forecast says. The Cavs received 34 out of 44 first place votes with the Boston Celtics receiving the other 10 votes.
The reasoning for their decision is as follows:
For all the offseason drama, the road to the East title still goes through Cleveland, as more than 75 percent of our panel picked the Cavaliers to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season. Potential chemistry issues aside, if Kyrie Irving is in a Cavs uniform, it's tough to peg anyone else in that top spot.
Even if they were to trade Irving, there's evidence that LeBron James & Co. have enough to get the job done. Over the past three seasons, the Cavaliers have played 3,828 minutes -- about 80 full games worth -- with James on the floor without Irving. In those minutes, they've outscored teams by 9.6 points per 100 possessions, nearly identical to the plus-9.5 figure they've posted with both James and Irving on the court. Though Irving's shot-making in high-leverage spots might be impossible to replace, all signs point to LeBron's presence as enough to warrant top dog status.
While I believe the Cavs should still be the favorite to come out of the East, there still are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Not only will the team need to get a solid return for Irving, but they likely will need to deal with chemistry issues as well as the pressure of LeBron being in a contract year.
That being said, the Celtics have some chemistry issues to work out as well. Their offense was built around the individual brilliance of Isaiah Thomas and the play-making of Al Horford. With Gordon Hayward in the fold, the team will need to let him create from the perimeter. How Thomas adjusts to that in a contract year could impact the team’s chemistry and performance on the court.
It’s unlikely that the Cavs will get equal value for Irving. But as long as they don’t make out as poorly as the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers, they should be fine for another season. If they can improve their depth and get more out of Kevin Love, one more trip to the NBA Finals seems like a realistic expectation.