Now that the Kevin Love trade has officially gone through, is it time to anoint the Cleveland Cavaliers as 2014-15 Eastern Conference champions?
The short answer is simply “yes.”
Of course, anything is possible. Love, LeBron James or Kyrie Irving might suffer an injury and miss the postseason. Another club could pull off a major trade or two and thrust themselves to the top of the conference. But barring something out of the ordinary happening, it’s not realistic to expect any other East team to pose a serious threat to LeBron’s Big Three (Version 2.0).
Here’s a brief rundown of the other possible “contenders” for the conference title:
Indiana Pacers: Last year’s Eastern Conference finalists took a hit when Lance Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets, but then their season was flushed down the toilet when Paul George broke his leg playing for Team USA. Indiana now appears destined for the lottery.
Miami Heat: No, LeBron’s old team can’t compete with his new team. However, Miami may not be that far behind in the playoff seeding. Luol Deng is no four-time MVP, but he is an All-Star small forward. The Heat’s updated poor-man’s Big Three could easily still finish near the top of the conference standings.
Toronto Raptors: Toronto looks poised to take home back-to-back Atlantic Division titles for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately the trio of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross is a far cry from the likes of James, Love and Irving.
Washington Wizards: Coming off their first winning season since 2007-08, the Wiz are a trendy pick to make some noise in 2014-15. The young upstart backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal will be another year older and wiser, and the addition of veteran Paul Pierce could be quite useful come playoff time. The Wiz did lose an important piece in Trevor Ariza though, and even if everything breaks their way a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals is likely Washington’s ceiling.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are the one East team that may actually stand a chance to knock off the Cavs, if they can stay healthy. But it’s a really big if, and it extends beyond former MVP Derrick Rose, who has taken the floor just 10 times in the past two-and-a-half seasons. Joakim Noah played in 80 games last year, but managed only 66 and 64 in the previous two before that. In addition, newcomer Pau Gasol hasn’t been able to suit up for more than 65 contests in any of the past three seasons.
How reasonable is it to expect all of the Bulls’ key components to maintain their health in 2014-15, and for Rose to return to the elite level where he once was?
Penciling in LeBron for a fifth straight Finals appearance feels like a much safer bet.