When the NBA Finals tip off tonight at 9, it will mark the beginning of the end for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs entered the 2014-15 NBA season with raised expectations after the return of LeBron James, but even the most hardcore Cavs fan knew that tonight was far from a certainty. The team had a new coach who, while not a rookie in the true sense, was new to the NBA, and a roster full of players who had never been tested in the meat grinder of the NBA Playoffs.
“Anybody talking about us winning it all, I think they’re being unfair to those great NBA teams that are out there that have either won it or have been there to win it, and also to us as a team that’s talented but new,” head coach David Blatt said a few days before the season opener. “We have a lot of work to do before we can start claiming anything before it’s time.”
A large part of why the Cavs are one of the two teams still playing is due to the changes the squad made during the season.
There is probably no way the Cavs would be in the finals if Dion Waiters was on the team rather than Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. And while general manager David Griffin may still have made the trade for Timofey Mozgov if Anderson Varajeo hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury, there is no way of knowing for sure. As good as Varajeo is, Mozgov brings a different dimension to the defense and the post-season may have played out differently if Varajeo was on the floor rather than Mozgov.
Even with a dominant presence like James on the roster, the Cavs are a team in just about every way you want to define that word, which is part of why the looming end of the season is a touch bittersweet.