The Cleveland Cavaliers were exposed, well they were a week ago. All of the Eastern Conference teams started salivating while watching the drama in Cleveland unfold. Some NBA fans even started crowning a new Eastern Conference champ, debating between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. Even the Washington Wizards minus John Wall seemed revived by the possibilities!
And then it happened, Koby Altman, General Manager of the Cavaliers, pulled off several trades in one day that rid the Cavs of all of their problems and dead weight. And while people weren’t sure if those trades made them stronger, the two wins this new team compiled against the Boston Celtics (121-99) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (120-112) did.
I, a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan, began to feel awful for the other competitive Eastern Conference teams. A few had gotten so close to finally dethroning “The King.” The weaknesses exposed in this year’s “super team” were mountable and continued to grow worse with each passing day. This trade solved all of those issues, and it got me to thinking how the Cavs were just outright better at running a marathon than the other Eastern Conference teams.
If the NBA 82-game regular season is a full 26.2-mile marathon, then teams like the Cavaliers are your ultramarathoners. Every year they find a way to get to the race or in this case, they find a way to make it to the NBA finals, (with King James aboard, of course).
In the West, most people expect the Golden State Warriors to win, but teams like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder have emerged as legitimate threats. In the East, no team has given the Cavs any reason to sweat. And if the Cavs are ultramarathoners, it made me wonder what type of marathon runners are the rest of the Eastern Conference teams.
I read an interesting article on Liv3ly.com that described the various types of marathon runners and decided to use that model to make my point.
The Survivors: Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks
In a marathon, these are the runners that just want to make it to the finish line; they don’t care about winning anything. In the NBA, these are the teams who want to get to the end of the season without any major injuries to their star players. They know they aren’t that good and won’t make the playoffs and they’ve pretty much given up on the season in hopes of securing the top draft pick. They hope that the suffering that they’ve endured throughout the season will give them something to look forward to in the future.
The Regular Joes: Miami Heat (LeBron-Less), Indiana Pacers
These runners are comfortable staying in the middle of the pack. They are ahead of the runners in the back but still pretty far from those leading the pack. Just like this type of runner, there is nothing fancy about these two teams. They just want to be competitive; they want to make the playoffs, but they don’t expect to go far. They are flying under the radar and are realistic about their future playoff success.
The Quarter Mile Runner: Milwaukee Bucks
These runners take off in a sprint as soon as the gun goes off but burn out early. When the season started, the Bucks were playing well, and critics were already calling Giannis Antetokounmpo the Most Value Player. Not to take anything from “The Greek Freak,” he is still an incredible player and is truly a budding superstar. However, one fired coach and 25 losses later, the Bucks are barely hanging on to the sixth seed, with both Philadelphia and Miami right behind them with only a few games separating them.
The 11th Hour Runners: Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets
These runners coast most of the race and then towards the end; they try to sprint to catch up at the end. Analysts went into the season believing that the Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets would be in the playoffs. Both teams have pretty much coasted through this season and often didn’t look very good. They are currently sitting at the 9th and 10th seeds, and if they don’t pick up their sprint soon, neither team will make the playoffs.
The Superheroes: Philadelphia 76ers
These are the runners that have a unique personality and stand out from all the other runners. As if fans didn’t like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons enough, the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Superbowl has many across the country rooting for the 76ers. This is the team that no one believes will win the championship, but fans love the individual players so much that they root for them fiercely anyways. Joel Embiid, both a media and fan favorite, will be starting in the NBA All-Star game this weekend. Fans bombarded social media when Ben Simmons kept getting passed over for his first All-Star nod after injuries to Kevin Love, John Wall, and Kristap Porzingis prevented them from participating (Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, and Kemba Walker were selected as replacements instead). Even with all of their “superpowers” I don’t see this team taking on the Cavs, yet.
The Injury Prone Runner: Washington Wizards
These runners have the endurance to compete but can rarely stay healthy long enough to finish the race. Going into this season, the expectations for this healthy Wizards team was high. They have the talent but are consistently bitten by the injury bug, and they have yet to see this Cavaliers team in the playoffs. Even before John Wall became injured, the Wizards were struggling with compiling consistent wins against bad teams.
The Corporate Runners: Boston Celtics
This is the group that signed up to run as a corporate team. They are young, hungry, and no one is fighting to outrun the other. The Celtics are a roster full of mostly young, clean-cut players. They have a well-respected CEO in Brad Stevens and have surpassed everyone’s expectations of them. When they beat the Cavs on January 3, 2018 (102-88), most people were ready to hand over the Eastern Conference to them, imagining a Celtics versus Warriors NBA Finals. Unfortunately, after the recent trades, the Celtics were reminded on February 11th why they, along with other Eastern Conference teams, keep coming up short against the Cavs. They seem to always remain one step ahead.
The Seasoned Veterans: Toronto Raptors
These runners know their pacing, they have run several marathons before, they know what it takes to get to the finish line, but they can never seem to get past the ultramarathoners. In my opinion, they have to be the most frustrating of all of these teams. For the past few seasons, fans have convinced themselves to believe that this would be the season that this team will challenge “the throne.” They have come the closest (2015-16 Eastern Conference finals in which they lost 4-2 to the Cavs), but for some reason, they become a completely different team while facing the Cavs (2016-17 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals they lost 4-0 to the Cavs). Toronto’s two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, seem to lack the consistency to take the team to the next level.
So, imagine being one of these marathon runners and seeing the ultramarathon runner become sidelined. You finally believe that you have a chance to win the race, you even begin to feel stronger as you approach the last few miles, and then suddenly the ultramarathoner comes out of nowhere to rejoin the race and proceeds to run right past you. That is what the recent trades did for the Cavaliers, and that is why I feel bad for the other teams in the East. After watching both LeBron teams go to the NBA finals for the past seven years, it seems pretty clear that this newly revamped Cavs team will make it there again.
Nothing is guaranteed in sports, so some will say that it’s presumptuous for me to assume that they will win the Eastern Conference again. Well, I’m saying it anyway, the Cavs will win- the conference only. None of the other Eastern teams have shown any of us why we should believe otherwise or even tune in to watch the Eastern Conference playoff games. Until one of them do, I will focus with excitement on watching the competitive games in the West.