Lebron’s odds at five straight finals

Lebron’s odds at five straight finals

By Tyler Davis

 

The LeBron James sweepstakes dominated the sports headlines for much of the summer. As in 2010, James kept fans on edge about where he would play next.

In 2010, he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Hopefully his ticket from Cleveland to Miami was round trip, as the two-time NBA champion returned to his home state in July.

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James makes any team he joins a contender for the NBA title, as we saw with the Cavaliers when he first broke into the league. He managed to lead a team that featured Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams as his sidekicks, to the NBA Finals; a feat that has not been replicated in Cleveland.

Cleveland fans are hoping for more than an appearance in the NBA Finals during James’ stint with the team. The Cavaliers made headlines again when they agreed, in principle, to trade for All-Star power forward Kevin Love earlier this month. They shipped the last two no. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) to Minnesota as well as a 2015 first round pick.

Most people around the NBA believe James and Love, combined with former Rookie of the Year and NBA All-Star, Kyrie Irving, make the Cavaliers the team to beat in the East.

While the team boasts an impressive starting lineup, its bench still lacks a definitive scoring punch. After signing Shawn Marion earlier this week, the bench will be headlined by Marion, sharpshooter Mike Miller, and big man Tristan Thompson, the Cavalier’s 2013-2014 starter.

The starting lineup figures to be Irving-Dion Waiters-James-Love-Varejao. After Marion and Thompson, the rest of the bench couldn’t sniff another NBA starting lineup.

Does that sound like a championship team? No.

Especially with the Heat, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards all nipping at Cleveland’s heels. Let’s take a look at these squads. I’ll save the Bulls for last, let’s start with the Heat.

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After losing James, Miami retooled by resigning two-thirds of the former big three in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Miami also picked up swingmen Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts along with Danny Granger.

They are projected to go with Mario Chalmers-Wade-Deng-McRoberts-Bosh as a starting lineup. That is no team to laugh at but on the bench there is plenty of room for improvement. They will feature Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen.

Although this year’s Heat probably won’t play in a fifth straight Finals appearances, Miami should be near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

My sleeper pick to win 50 games, the Washington Wizards, also had a nice offseason. The team defeated a depleted Bulls team in this year’s playoffs and improved by resigning Marcin Gortat and Drew Gooden. The Wizards also acquired Kris Humphries, via sign and trade, and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, though he is now 36.

With a talented starting lineup of John Wall-Bradley Beal-Pierce-Nene-Gortat, do not be surprised if the Wizards win more than just one series this postseason. The disappointing bench headlined by Humphries, Gooden and Andre Miller as well as defensive lapses will ultimately be the downfall of the team.

But now to the team that figures to challenge James the most, the Bulls. Perhaps the best news the Bulls had all offseason was hearing Derrick Rose has been tearing up competition with ferocity during Team USA practices and games. He continues to prepare for the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, World Cup before the NBA season starts in late October.

Chicago, after striking out yet again on the biggest free agent, Carmelo Anthony, enacted a solid backup plan that included signing four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol. Chicago also brought over former first round draft pick Nikola Mirotic from his professional team in Spain.

Mirotic, a highly touted prospect, is a 6-foot-10- inch forward from Yugoslavia with impressive three-point range and above average defense. He figures to come off the bench alongside first round draft pick and three-time NCAA All-American Doug McDermott.

This gives the Bulls a projected starting lineup of Rose-Jimmy Butler-Mike Dunleavy-Gasol-Joakim Noah. While the starting lineup may be comparable to the Wizards and Heat in terms of talent, the bench is what sets the Bulls apart from those two teams.

They go 10 maybe 11, deep with the veterans like Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell and rookies McDermott and Mirotic. The Bulls received lucrative trade offers for Gibson, and Brooks and Hinrich were both courted by other teams during free agency.

It figures to be a crowded Eastern Conference, although last week ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith handed the East to Cleveland, as have many analysts. I will go in a different direction and pick Chicago to represent the East. While the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will be tough to take down, in finals, this year’s Bulls team is the best Rose has had since being drafted in 2008.

Of course, Rose remains the biggest question mark of all. It seems the East will come down to whose return will be better? James’ return to Cleveland or Rose’s return to greatness?

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @TDavis_DE.

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