You can't be the champ unless you beat the champ. But you can't beat the champ unless you play the champ, so my message to the Cleveland Cavaliers is, be careful this off-season.
That's the Main Thing tonight.
No one who's a Cavaliers fan is happy with a 4-1 loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals.
On the heels of beating the Warriors last season in seven games, after losing to them in six the year before, this feels like a step backward.
Because the Warriors added free-agent championship chaser Kevin Durant to the roster, then won the series easily, the Cavs situation feels hopeless.
Hence the building buzz for a host of off-season moves aimed at fortifying the Cavs’ roster. The most extreme proposals include trading Kevin Love and/or Kyrie Irving, because, the thinking goes, you're not going to get much back if you don't give up something of great value.
The Cavaliers’ attempt to get better is compounded by the team's prohibitive salary cap situation. Cleveland is woefully over the league's allowed salary limit because it's paid handsomely to retain its own stars, not only Love and Irving, but LeBron James.
And then there are other guys being paid like stars who aren't. That list includes Tristan Thompson, at $16 million a year, J.R. Smith, at more than $12 million, and Iman Shumpert at $10 million annually.
It's easy to say, “Well, trade those guys, too. They're way overpaid.” But how many teams do you think want to trade for those players with those contracts?
You know the answer. It's, zero.
You could probably get a lot for Irving or Love, but you'd better be sure that in trying to get to the Warriors’ level, you don’t instead get to another level that's closer to the outclassed competition the Cavs blew through to win the East.
Kevin Love is a 20-point, 10-rebound guy on most nights who spreads the floor with his 3-point shooting ability. Every time I hear someone say, “Yeah, but he doesn't play any defense,” I respond, “Isn't defensive rebounding part of playing defense?”
Another thing about Love...he never complains. He came to Cleveland from Minnesota, where he was the No. 1 option, and he's accepted being the Cavs No. 3 option without ever complaining once.
Good luck finding another NBA star who'll do that.
Irving is a harder issue for me to sort through. I know he's only 25, but he has seven years of NBA tread worn off his tires already. The way Irving plays, I wonder how long he can go before suffering another knee injury. It seems to me, Irving is always one false move from landing on the injured list.
But there's no denying Irving is an absolute killer one-on-one. It's not a surprise if he goes off for 40 points or more on any given night. How many players can you say that about in the NBA? Maybe 5-to-10?
Could you get one of them back in trade for Irving? I don't think so. The Warriors aren't trading you Stef Curry or Durant for him, nor could you get -- and I really don't even want -- James Harden or Russell Westbrook for Irving.
This desire to give the Cavs an extreme makeover to make them championship worthy is therefore a high-risk proposition that, in my view, isn't worth the risk.
You know they're the best in the East going forward, because LeBron still rules when he wants to. But I also know if we're sitting here next year at this time after another 4-1 series loss to the Warriors, people will worry that LeBron will leave town again.
He might, but where exactly is he going to go? The Cavs with Love and Irving will likely give him the best chance to get to the Finals going forward.
You can't beat the Warriors if you don't get to the Finals and you can't get to the Finals if you don't win the East. LeBron knows that. He should also know that these same dire predictions about the Warriors winning the next 3-to-5 championships are what people said when LeBron went to Miami.
Hey, he even said it. Remember his, “Not, 1, not 2, not 3, not 4,”...speech? Well, the Heat won twice, and that's it.
It's hard to win repeat championships. The Warriors found that out last year and will find it even harder this next year. People hate them, with good reason, because of Durant's cowardly move to join forces with them. And Golden State's players can talk all they want to about sacrificing to stay together, but they have 10 free agents this summer.
Something tells me if Curry and Durant are making the $30 million a year they're expected to get, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson aren't going to be happy forever making about half as much.
Egos, injuries...anything can intrude. And even if Golden State stays a happy band of egomaniacal idiots, let's remember that if Kyle Korver hits a shot from the corner at the end of Game 3 -- we're getting ready for the Cavs to host Game 6, trailing in the series by one game, with all the pressure shifting to Golden State in the event the Series goes to 7.
So, again, Cavs, be careful before you make any drastic moves. Don't confuse your frustration over losing the Finals with a necessity to make moves born of desperation.
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