The Cleveland Cavaliers are done, but basketball continues. It’s a great time of year for the league. It’s got something for everyone. The unstoppable juggernaut that remains a towering favorite. The would-be contender with the MVP candidate that pushed them to the limit just last season. Relative upstarts in Denver and Portland looking to take the next steps.
In the East, there are teams smelling opportunity in a meaningful way for the first time since 2010. There’s the Raptors, who went all-in on a free agent to be in Kawhi Leonard. There’s the Celtics, who didn’t quite go all-in on a free agent to be, but seem to be finding out just how integral that player — Kyrie Irving — is on a nightly basis. The 76ers and Bucks have players that will challenge for MVPs consistently into the future and their own free agency choices looming.
After four years of title contention, it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the show. Even if the Cavs were decided underdogs the last two seasons, having LeBron James on your team creates expectation, and there’s a weight to that. You got to experience the highest of highs, home Finals games, game winning shots, and fight with Warriors twitter trolls or the folks who came into our comment section. We agonized over whether Kyrie Irving could be good enough, whether Timofey Mozgov should start over Tristan Thompson and when Channing Frye would crack Ty Lue’s rotation. We were down 3-1.
There’s none of that now, just fun teams playing fun basketball. If you think about it you’ll notice that Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler were wings that came available that might have been helpful to LeBron James in Cleveland. Now we’ll find out if they want to be helpful for him in Los Angeles.
It’s pretty easy to watch what Kyrie is doing with Al Horford and wonder about what that would look like with Kevin Love, even in a LeBron-less world. They’re destroying teams in the pick and roll and Irving has decided he actually gets to chill a little bit if he passes the ball to Horford instead of constantly finishing in traffic. In another universe, Irving is comfortable in Cleveland with or without James, and he and Kevin Love are enjoying a similar sort of magic.
In the meantime we seem to move from purgatory to purgatory. The season itself was a form of purgatory as looked for signs of improvement from one of the league’s worst teams. We found it, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism, but it’s all about some future that we hope exists. Now we wait on a lottery, and then we wait on a couple new draft picks, and then Summer League should provide some genuine fun.
The backdrop to it all is good basketball that we used to be a part of. There’s no stress, but there is a bit of emptiness. We have to figure out how we feel about Kyrie. We still hope for the Warriors to lose (I guess?) while also noting it’s probably futile. Damian Lillard hits a crazy three and we enjoy it, but also remember we used to debate his status vs. Irving’s among the league’s top point guards. Hard to care now! In the place of things we had to care about because of partisanship and tribal affiliation, what is there?
I’m having trouble figuring that out. I suppose I want former Cavs to do well. Toronto would be a fun story if I weren’t annoyed by their fans and Kyle Lowry defenders over the last few years. All these old biases still exist, but feel silly. What is it to want to be disinterested but still found yourself pulled in all kinds of directions, some of which feel contradictory. I guess the point is it just doesn’t matter. The Cavs are, for the moment, irrelevant. There are worse things to be, and it certainly won’t always be like this. But it is a bit confusing.