It was only a matter of time.
Whenever it seems like a like an NBA Finals matchup looks set prior to the season it’s like the Sports Gods do everything in their power to make sure it doesn’t happen.
This season the Cleveland Cavaliers have been on the receiving end of the injury plague while their rivals the Golden State Warriors continue to light teams up every night.
Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and will be out for at least six weeks. Assuming there is no setback Love will return to action with a little over a week left in the regular season. That reopens the race for the Eastern Conference crown as the Cavs will not be able to coast into the Finals.
What does this news mean for the top dogs of the East?
The most obvious reaction is for the Cavs to make a trade. Derrick Williams’ perfectly timed arrival takes some pressure off finding another forward. The team traded Chris Anderson (who was on IR) to the Hornets in order to clear cap space. How much space the Cavs intend to make and which player is highest on their wish list can range anywhere from a Lou Williams to Carmelo Anthony. The team has reported interest in creating a “big four” with Carmelo, but the chance of a deal getting done is slim to none.
They could target a “playmaker” to shoulder some of the scoring. Mario Hezonja from the Orlando Magic could be an interesting option. He is only 21 years old, but has done next to nothing with the Magic. Somehow that is a good thing. For whatever reason players that leave Orlando seem to get better (i.e. Mo Harkless, Victor Oladipo, Kyle O’Quinn) it’s well worth the roll of the dice to trade for Hezonja who drew comparisons to J.R. Smith during his pre-draft process. Another option could be Ben McLemore who was never set up to succeed in Sacramento and can play shooting guard and small forward.
One thing you can guarantee is LeBron James making a late push for the MVP. Any ideas the Cavs had of limiting LeBron’s minutes have gone out the window. The Celtics are on their ass for the top seed, Washington is surging and the Raptors just added Serge Ibaka. LeBron knows this and knows what time it is.
”I’ll rest when I retire,” James said. ”As long as I’m in the lineup, we’ve got a chance. We’re good. Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R.’s been out. But I’m in the lineup, obviously we’ve got a chance against anybody.”
If you have any spare change lying around now would be the best time to place a bet on LeBron winning MVP.
Times are good in Beantown. Tom Brady just got his fifth ring, the Red Sox look like a World Series favorite and Isaiah Thomas has morphed into Allen Iverson. Thomas’ clutch MVP play has the Celtics 23-7 over their last 30. With no Love the Cavs are likely going to stumble a bit more leaving the door wide open. Carmelo Anthony can still be had and if presented with a legitimate chance at the Finals it is not out of the question for Carmelo to waive his no-trade clause. The Knicks would not fetch that Nets pick, but a package of draft picks they will not be able to get anywhere else.
But what if the Danny Ainge is ready to take his hack? What if Ainge calls the Bulls and offers up the Nets picks for Jimmy Butler? The addition of Butler evolves the Celtics from petty annoyance to full-blown threat. If the Bulls don’t bite maybe the underachieving Pacers take the deal for Paul George. Adding George brings everything Butler does, making the Celtics a very real threat. If ever there was a time for Ainge to cash in his lottery ticket it would be now.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri must have foreseen the Love injuring happening because he finessed the Magic for Serge Ibaka minutes after the Love news broke. The Magic–Rob Hennigan might secretly be David Kahn in a disguise–agreed to send Ibaka to the 6 for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick that will likely be in the latter half of the round. It isn’t the Andrea Bargnani heist, but it’s a nice haul.
Ibaka gives the Raptors that final piece in the starting lineup that can stretch the floor and protect the paint. A starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Demarre Carroll, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas is going to give teams problems including the Cavs. Like the Celtics the Raptors evolve into a very real threat to come out of the East.
The Celtics are not the only team that is 23-7 in their last 30, the Wizards are too. Bradley Beal and John Wall are the best backcourt in the East thanks to Beal staying healthy. Otto Porter has developed into a sniper giving Wall the optimal supporting cast. The final addition is adding a scorer off the bench.
As far as starting lineups go the Wizards are as good as any in the league. Off the bench they have ,Kelly Oubre, who has played well, but adding a playmaking guard can take them up a notch. The ideal candidate is Lou Williams, but Williams figures to have a good amount of bidders. Another option can be Evan Fournier. Rob Hennigan just proved his bad decisions knows no bounds so why not shoot your shot? You don’t know how many seasons Beal and Wall will be on the court together.