LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will begin chase of their four consecutive NBA Finals in what could be James last season a Cavalier and the future of the franchise a title contender in limbo.
In arguably his most taxing campaign, where James averaged a near triple-double 27 points, 11 assist and 8 rebounds, playing in all 82 games for the first time in his incredible 15 seasons, the Cavaliers will have face their most difficult hurdle to the Finals.
Cleveland clinched a another 50 win season this week, but will likely finish in fourth place in the depleted Eastern Conference which has been ravished by season ending injuries to marquee stars such as Celtics Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving and the emergence of the young suddenly threatening Philadelphia 76ers.
All the while the Cavs, after trading Irving before the season to the rival Celtics, have endured its share of injuries to just about everyone including Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, and thus made a mid season trade swapping six players, remaking the roster on the fly.
Even the Cavs coach Ty Lue has been sidelined with severe chest pains and other serious health concerns that he missed several games this season.
All of this while the looming free agency hovers over the franchise and the city like a soaring hawk, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and perhaps even panic as other teams such as the Sixers, Knicks and Lakers have wooed the King with giant size billboards.
The Cavaliers will probably open the playoffs against the Indian Pacers, a team it lost to 3 games to 1 during the regular season,and is every bit as dangerous now.
In years past one could assume the Cavs would breeze to the Eastern Conference Finals, but coming from the fourth hole, they would have to win at Philadelphia, Boston or Toronto.
The Celtics may not get past Miami, Toronto would have to survive an underachieving Washington team and the Sixers face the most dangerous team in the first round in the Milwaukee Bucks with the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo, and unstoppable scoring machine and the likely candidate to replace LeBron as the league’s marquee player sooner or later.
The only sure bet during the 2018 NBA playoffs appears to be that the Golden State Warriors will not repeat as champion, as the Houston Rockets and James Harden have torn to pieces all dynasty speculation.
In the meantime, the Cavs could loom as the dark horse in a field of contenders of which they are no sure bets.
Clearly the Cavs are capable of beating any of the aforementioned opponents in the East, but a scenario could unfold where they don’t beat any of them.
Is this the beginning of the end of the LeBron James led Cavaliers?
Can the kid from Akron position the Cavaliers to win another NBA championship?
Or will this be another conclusion where LeBron rips off his Cavalier uniform, disappears into the tunnel and reappear next season in another city wearing another uniform.
It’s a thickening plot that will only get murkier when the Cavs season concludes, either with a parade or mystery. The likes that only LeBron James can create.