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Before Thursday afternoon, I would have said that even the most optimistic projections for what the Cleveland Cavaliers might be capable of accomplishing this year probably have them topping out at a bit over .500, vying for something between the Nos. 6 and 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, and hoping that rejuvenated top option Kevin Love would be able to help them make some noise in the opening round of the postseason. Not the loftiest goals, I’ll grant, but you’d have to assume that’d be considered a fairly successful season, all things considered, for a Cavaliers team that lost the best basketball player on the planet and replaced him with Sam Dekker. (For what it’s worth, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook’s most recent NBA over/under totals pegged the number for Cavs wins this season at 30.5.)
I say “before Thursday afternoon,” though, because it appears there is a sunnier outlook on the Cavaliers’ prospects, and Cleveland big man Tristan Thompson offered it, boldly, at the Cavs’ Thursday practice:
Tristan Thompson: “We’re still 4-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say. Boston had homecourt Game 7 and lost. Philly, you guys almost got swept. Toronto – we know that story” pic.twitter.com/gnGqd4mGeM
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) September 27, 2018
We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions. Until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly — they ain’t got much to say. Boston had home court in Game 7, and lost. Philly? You guys almost got swept. Toronto? We already know that story. So until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say.
On one hand, Thompson is technically correct. The Cavaliers will cease being Eastern Conference champions when another team wins the Eastern Conference finals to move on to the NBA Finals, and until that happens, they get to keep wearing the sash and
the crown holding the scepter.
That is fair enough, and the kind of thing you can understand a competitive person like Thompson, or Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue, saying before the start of a season in which few people expect them to carry on contending after losing their best and most important player. It’d be stranger and more out of character for Thompson to say something like, “Yeah, we’ve gone to four straight Finals, but we’re more likely going to be trash this year, so I can totally understand why people are penciling in the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors to rise up and take over.” More reasonable and accurate, perhaps, but stranger and more out of character.
On the other hand … well, we’ll let you take this one, Celtics forward Marcus Morris:
And sure, by all means, please weigh in, Brooklyn Nets forward Jared Dudley:
And, just for fun, let’s hear from 76ers playmaker (and Klutch Sports rostermate) Ben Simmons:
Here is Ben Simmons' response to Tristan Thompson: pic.twitter.com/t6vc1BKRNl
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) September 27, 2018
The NBA is really back 😂 pic.twitter.com/dFimL3eA7b
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 27, 2018
(And now, we wait with bated breath to find out what Tristan’s old buddy Draymond Green’s got to say about all this.)
I respect Thompson’s confidence and bravado, his insistence on adhering to the precept made famous by the a true philosopher and scholar of the American South. I’d submit, though, that with LeBron James now doing his work in L.A., there’s no shortage of teams in the East — especially a healthy Boston, the one-year-older Sixers and the Kawhi-infused Raptors — that’ll be all too happy to take their shot at “beating the man” every chance they get this coming season, and driving home the point that life after LeBron’s going to be just a little bit different that life with him.
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