All eyes were on the new-look Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon, so it’s no surprise that we got such drastic odds adjustments from Westgate, which opened last week with season-worst (7/4) odds on Cleveland as the favorite to get out of the Eastern Conference and now have them at even money.
Following their embarrassing 148-124 loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 20, the Cavs remained 4/5 to get out of the Eastern Conference, but that seems like months ago, not weeks.
Consider that Kevin Love left that game with an illness that was then questioned by Isaiah Thomas, among others, in a wild team meeting. That came a week before he was lost for at least eight weeks with a broken hand, which led to double-digit losses to the Pistons, Rockets and Magic. Thomas spouted off again, throwing coaches under the bus and questioning the effort level of his teammates.
It became obvious that the key piece acquired to pair with LeBron James for a 2018 championship run that Kyrie Irving desperately wanted out of wasn’t going to work out.
They needed to reboot. Cavs 3.0 was necessary, because 2.0, the first post-Kyrie option, was packed with viruses.
Despite beating Minnesota thanks to a heroic effort from LeBron, the Cavs took to the surgical knife at the trade deadline, opting for massive surgery. Make your gross liposuction comparisons at your leisure, but I’ll just say that there certainly was an infusion of youth and energy delivered through three separate deals that rid the team of five players and two picks and delivered four new guys and a second-rounder in the middle of next decade.
The new look was then put on display for a national television audience to kill their first of a parade of NFL-less Sundays that awaits the next few months, creating something compelling to keep an eye on. That the unveiling came in Boston, against a Celtics team that Irving has taken off and run with, added to the drama. Favored by 4, the Celtics were run out of the building and were fortunate fans had to wait til post-game to honor Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement or the country would’ve seen an early mass exodus after an embarrassing performance.
Guards George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson shined in playing to their strengths, while forward Larry Nance, Jr. created opportunities on the boards and made life difficult with his athleticism on his pick-and-roll defense. James dominated again and Cleveland won 121-99, leading those who hadn’t yet given up on the Cavs – or who took my previous advice in this space not to despair and to get on the LeBron train while the getting was good – to rejoice.
Thomas, who ended up with the Lakers, and Jae Crowder, now a member of the Jazz, had strong debuts themselves, so maybe a change of scenery was what was best for all parties involved. Derrick Rose was cut and must find a new home, while Dwyane Wade was welcomed back with open arms in the place that’s always been home, returning to Miami. Channing Frye will fit in alongside good friend Luke Walton in L.A., while Iman Shumpert will look to finally get healthy in Sacramento.
The fact is only Shumpert, if he got back to 100 percent, could’ve really excelled as a member of this Cavs squad. The rest of those guys didn’t fit in, either on the court or off it, or in some cases in both ways. Cleveland came out of the trade deadline a far superior team.
Over the next few weeks, since this honeymoon period started out with a memorable perfect first impression, we’ll see cracks in this new foundation. You’ll undoubtedly hear that these odds, correcting Cleveland’s fall from heavy favorite to substantial favorite, shouldn’t have moved so drastically on the strength of defeating slumping Boston on the brink of an All-Star break most teams can’t wait to get to.
While valid, my opinion is that a team with James on board was likely going to weather the storm. If you took advantage of the details to get in on a future bet that’s going to generate more of a return on your investment than the current rate of even money (still a great value), then I’m glad you listened.
No team in the East deserved to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Cavs as even a conference co-favorite since James is still at the height of his powers.
Toronto looks to have improved significantly due to better depth and a more polished DeMar DeRozan, but you still can’t take them seriously to dethrone the Cavs even though they opened the week with the conference’s top winning percentage. We’ve seen that story play out before.
Boston appears to be hitting the wall. Washington is currently without John Wall. The Pacers are a nice story, but still lacking in experience.
Now that the Cavs have surrounded James with some new toys, they should take off. I don’t expect Cleveland to catch either Toronto or Boston for homecourt edge with under 30 games remaining, but I’d also doubt that we’ll see them finish below No. 3 even with Love unlikely to return until April.
Being able to rely on Hill to set the tone defensively against opposing point guards, in addition to a fearless sparkplug like Clarkson off the bench means the platoon set to replace what the Cavs originally envisioned taking Irving’s place was just upgraded. Thomas was always going to be too significant a liability on defense, a problem that will hamper his desire to earn a huge payday this offseason.
Hood, a streaky shooter, but gifted scorer, has a chance to become a household name if he settles in. Nance won’t get paid the way Tristan Thompson did, but he’ll be able to get his in this league playing a similar glue guy role. With Love set to be back weeks before the playoffs begin and J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Thompson and rookie Cedi Osman all carving out roles, there’s too much depth to fade Cleveland even without homecourt advantage in the East semis and conference finals.
Less than one month ago, I wrote the following regarding the Cavs: “Keep Cleveland’s struggles in perspective. It’s unlikely the doom and gloom will last too much longer. LeBron has found a way to reach the NBA Finals every season this decade since 2011. He’s still plenty dominant enough to get there again. All he needs is just a little more help.”
He definitely got it.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA