After a summer of drama, the Cleveland Cavaliers shook up their roster Tuesday night, shipping Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and an unprotected 2018 first-round pick. Boston, which finished with the best record in the East last season, has completely overhauled its roster and has two stars – Irving and Gordon Hayward – around which to build.
But make no mistake: the Eastern Conference still runs through Cleveland.
“Look, as long as LeBron James is breathing, wearing that wave cap, and sub-tweeting, he remains the (class) of the entire league and certainly of the Eastern Conference,” NBA.com and NBA-TV analyst Sekou Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “He’s the guy. Everybody else is playing catch-up.”
Last season was certainly evidence of that. The Cavs looked lethargic for much of the season but still went 51-31 and finished with the second-best record in the East. They then went 12-1 in the playoffs against the Eastern Conference en route to their third consecutive NBA Finals.
The Cavs may have lost Irving, but they added another twenty-something point guard, Thomas, who finished third in the NBA in scoring last season (28.9 points). Throw in Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Derrick Rose and others, and the Cavs have more than enough to reach their fourth straight Finals.
“If Cleveland had gone into the summer, had the Kyrie situation blow up on them and decided to move LeBron, then we would have talked about a power shift or a balance of power changing,” Smith said. “But this is LeBron’s Eastern Conference to do with as he pleases, and that’s not going to change. Cleveland is the seat of power until LeBron decides it isn’t.”