From the beginning of the season to the start of the postseason, the demise of the Cleveland Cavaliers was planted firmly in the brutal Northeast Ohio winters and onto its chilling spring.
All Star guard Kyrie Irving had demanded a trade over the summer of ’17, and then he was dealt to the rival Boston Celtics for an injured Isaiah Thomas, the friendly contract of Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn's 2018 first-round draft pick.
Boston had acquired the free agent they highly coveted in Gordon Hayward from Utah and pairing him with Irving and the stellar nucleus they already had, solidified the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Then on opening day at Quicken Loans Arena, Hayward suffered a gruesome season ending ankle injury casting a cloud over those optimistic plans. Months later Irving would require season ending knee surgery.
In the meanwhile, the Cavaliers had their own concerns. The often-injured former MVP Derrick Rose and LeBron James close friend Dwyane Wade cluttered a roster that was among the oldest and unproductive in the league.
In what at first appeared to be a good deal for both teams, turned sour on the injured hip of the diminutive 5’9 Thomas and an aging roster. Thomas missed the first quarter of the season on the mend.
When he did finally suit up for the Cavs he was just a shadow of the player they envisioned and the worst possible fit alongside James.
All the while hovering over the franchise was the pending free agency of its foundation and face of the franchise James and cities such as Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles aggressive billboard campaigns wooing The King to their town.
As the trade deadline approached, the Cavs sat muddled in the East. Some doubted they’d even make the playoffs.
Head coach Tyron Lue’s tenure was in question, he then suffered severe chest pains that cast doubt if he could finish the season.
Rookie General Manager Koby Altman made a bold and calculated move. He traded
Channing Frye, Thomas and their own 2018 first-round pick to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Then the Cavs acquired George Hill and Rodney Hood in a three-team trade, sending out Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, and a second round pick.
Finally the Cavs traded Wade to Miami for a second round pick.
Within an hour in February, the Cavs became one of the younger teams in the league, but the talent around James was still debated.
Fast forward to the post season. The upstart Sixers are the hottest team in the league, they beat the Cavs out for the No. 3 seed, the Celtics without their two stars Irving and Hayward still sat pretty at No. 2, while the Toronto Raptors roared to the top seed in the East.
The Indiana Pacers, which had shipped off his star Paul George to Oklahoma City and acquired Victor Oladipo, finished as the No. 5 seed.
The Pacers eventually stretched the Cavs to a grueling 7 games, and while James was absolutely spectacular, his teammates were not and the critics began writing the Cavaliers obituary.
Then came the conference semifinals with the Raptors. The Cavs literally limped into to Toronto, James absolutely spent, requiring an IV to finished off game 7, and low and behold they win Game 1, 113-112, Game 2, 128-110, Game 3 at home, on a last second bank shot by James, 105-103 and close it out emphatically 128-93.
As brilliant as James was in the semi-finals, his teammates were equally impressive.
JR Smith’s defense throughout the post season has been nothing short of spectacular, so much so people forgot what a great offensive player he is. Kyle Korver, one of the best three point shooters in the history of the league has found his groove, but it has also been his defense that has made the difference.
Both Hill and Love appear to be sound and healthy, and while many thought James had no help at all against the Pacers, now he has more then enough, to not only win the Eastern Conference championship and also be a dangerous foe for anyone from the West, including the defending NBA champion Warriors in The Finals.
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but right now I would take the Cavaliers defense against anyone in the NBA.
The Cavs are awaiting the Celtics or Sixers. Then their opponents will see that nothing has really changed in the East after all, where The King and his men still reign.