We're three months from the time when the Cleveland Cavaliers have to be at their best, but it's undeniable they're much better now than they were when they started the season.
With the NBA Trade Deadline having come and gone, we now have a much clearer picture of who the Cavaliers are and who their competition will be to get back to the NBA Finals.
If you're a Cavs fan, you should feel pretty good about things, not only because of who your team added, but because of who the competition did not.
The Boston Celtics, who trail the Cavs in the Eastern Conference by three games, had the ammunition to pull a major trade at the deadline and instead stood pat.
We'd be having a much different conversation today if Boston had added Jimmy Butler from Chicago or Paul George from Indiana. But for whatever reason, the Celtics couldn't add the scoring wing they need to have any chance of beating the Cavaliers in a seven-game series.
The biggest threat to Cleveland in the East will be either Washington, which added some bench scoring, or Toronto, which fortified its roster with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
I doubt, though, that Toronto or Washington has quite enough to take the Cavs down, either, so get ready for Cleveland-Golden State, Part III, in the NBA Finals.
Everyone expected that when the Warriors added Kevin Durant this summer. But for a Cavs fan, it's never been about getting back to the Finals, it's been about whether they can win the Finals again.
The chances didn’t look promising until recently.
Well, look at the Cavs roster now, compared to early in the season.
The bench then consisted of Birdman Andersen, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Kay Felder.
Now, the Cavs have Derrick Williams, Kyle Korver and, very soon, Deron Williams. Maybe Andrew Bogut, too.
Sure, the Cavs will depend on LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but they need a viable bench not so much for the playoffs but for the regular-season games in March and April when they're trying to rest their starters for the playoffs.
Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the same draft the Cavs grabbed Irving and Tristan Thompson, has been a phenomenal addition. Williams is young, he can run, he can defend and he gives Cleveland a guy who will help reduce LeBron's minutes down the stretch.
Deron Williams, who you might remember from the Illinois team that got to the NCAA Title game in 2002, is a four-time NBA All-Star with at least something left in the tank. He was averaging 13.6 points and 7 assists when the Mavericks released him.
Thank you, Mark Cuban.
Deron Williams could sign with the Cavs any minute. He may even play Monday night against Milwaukee. He’s a much better veteran point guard than the Cavs had any reason to hope they could add when LeBron was asking for that exact role player last month.
Korver arrived in a trade in January and has made more than half the three-point shots he's attempted. He and Deron Williams played together in Utah and should have great chemistry as Cavs.
And Cavaliers GM David Griffin might not be done yet, because reports have him chasing Bogut, who’s only too eager to wind up in Cleveland in hopes of sticking it to the Warriors, who traded him to Dallas so they could add Durant.
It will be fun to watch how head coach Tyron Lue sorts out the minutes on the Cavs' beefed up roster in what will be a very arduous March. Cleveland plays 12 of 17 games on the road next month, including four back-to-backs and three times when the Cavs play three games in four nights.
“We’re gonna rest guys coming in March,” Lue said. “We’re gonna rest guys and the other guys got to step up like we’ve been doing all season. We’ll be ready, but we’ll have a decent amount of cushion, I hope, when we rest those guys....We’ve got to be ready to rest guys when it’s time to rest.”
The Cavs’ March schedule would be deadly if they were still playing like they did in January. But since that month in which they went 7-8, the Cavs have gone 8-2 in February.
Even if the Cavaliers don't add Bogut, they should be getting some additional reinforcements by the end of the month.
J.R. Smith is scheduled to return from his broken thumb before April 1 and Kevin Love is already shooting on his surgically-repaired knee, so he won't be far behind in getting indoctrinated back into the lineup.
That should come in plenty of time for both to be in top form for the playoffs, which begin April 15. The Finals start June 1.
That gives all the new pieces on the Cavs roster, and all the returning parts from last season's championship team, 45 days under the duress of post-season pressure to galvanize for another crack at the Warriors.
And that, you can bet, will be epic.
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