Eastern Conference Preview: Have the Cavaliers wrapped up the conference?

Oct 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

A lot of teams in the Eastern Conference made moves this summer, but are any of them good enough to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers?

It’s been a crazy off-season, and the Miami Heat isn’t the only team to face major changes this summer. The landscape in the Eastern Conference has shifted, a Super Duper Team has been created out West and the Cavaliers are gearing up for another title run. Here at All U Can Heat, we will be talking with some of the experts from around the NBA and the FanSided network, getting their takes on the teams they cover as well as the Miami Heat.

To cover the Cleveland Cavaliers, we were joined by Aaron Ferguson of King James Gospel, who was kind enough to answer a few questions.

All U Can Heat: The Cavaliers are the obvious favorites in the East. Other than an injury to LeBron James, what has to happen for them not to win the East?

Aaron Ferguson: Health is going to be a major factor to the Cavs success this season. As long as they stay healthy, they should win the East with ease. The only factor to consider is if J.R. Smith were to leave, then that changes the landscape a little bit.

The Pacers, Celtics and Raptors will all be up there competing. Detroit got deeper this offseason and could pose a threat, too. In fact, here is deeper reasoning as to why these teams can contest the Cavs. There will be a lot of good basketball in the East and it’s getting tighter at the top, but I’m not sure anyone has done enough to surpass the Cavs (as long as Smith returns).

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AUCH: The Heat almost beat the Raptors in the semi-finals last season. Looking back, did you want to play the Raptors or the Heat in the conference finals?

AF: At the end of the day, you play who is in front of you. The Cavs had a lot of momentum and were gelling together as a team. I’m not sure the Heat would’ve done any better than the Raptors did. From an entertainment aspect, it would have been fun to see Wade against LeBron in the playoffs.

AUCH: How do you think LeBron’s four years in Miami helped prepare him for his second stint in Cleveland?

AF: LeBron used his four years to help mature him. It appears to have humbled him because he isn’t as outspoken as he was in his pre-Miami days. Going there to win a championship and play alongside his friends was almost like his college experience, since he was drafted straight out of high school. It prepared him to finally deliver a championship to Cleveland because he knew what it took on the court, off the court, and in terms of his mindset.

AUCH: Who is Cleveland’s championship more important for, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love?

AF: Cleveland’s championship has to be more important for Kyrie than Love. Irving scored 41 points in the elimination Game 5 on the road, which was an impressive performance standing alone. Hitting the iconic, series-clinching shot to deliver Cleveland their first major sports championship in 52 years will go down as one of the greatest moments in Cleveland sports history, and probably NBA history.

It seems as if the expectations on Love are always going to be high because of what he did in Minnesota and the fact that the Cavs gave up Andrew Wiggins for him. Was it the right move for the Cavs? I would say yes because they won the championship and that’s their goal. What more could you want?

At the end of the day, I think the trade worked out for both teams, but the expectations have caused rumors to swirl around Love and there is a negative stigma towards him because of unrealistic expectations to dominate like he did in Minnesota.

AUCH: I’m sure Cleveland fans are already looking forward to a possible rematch against the Warriors. How can the Cavs compete with Golden State now that they have Kevin Durant?

AF: Similarly to how the Warriors were so successful, the Cavs have to use their depth to beat the Warriors. Signing Kevin Durant comes with pros and cons, and losing their “strength in numbers” will hurt them, especially if any of their big four gets injured.

The Cavs often attack downhill towards the rim, which is going to cause problems for the Warriors. Zaza Pachulia isn’t a good rim protector, so it’s up to Durant, who isn’t the strongest of players, and Green, who is undersized only in height. Can they take being attacked by LeBron and Kyrie for 48 minutes a night? I just don’t see how they can. If they use help defenders to slow down the attack in the paint, then the Cavs have their shooters open and it’s just a matter of hitting the open guy.

That is going to provide an interesting dynamic to see how the Warriors defend the Cavs in the regular season. On paper, my guess is the Cavs attack the rim to set up their open shooters, like they’ve done since LeBron’s return, but this time against inferior rim protectors.

AUCH: From an outsider’s perspective, what did you make of the Heat’s off-season?

AF: If I were to choose one word, ‘uncertainty’ would be it. Let’s face it, the Dwyane Wade deal was confusing because of all the different reports. Whether the Heat weren’t willing to pay him or not, they shouldn’t have low-balled their superstar after he took a paycut in his prime. I think that has an iffy set up going forward, especially with the health concerns surrounding Chris Bosh.

Hassan Whiteside is a good player, so retaining him was solid, but I’m scratching my head over matching Tyler Johnson’s contract. Signing him for $50 million is a bit more than I was expecting. If Wade re-signed, I’m not sure they would’ve matched Johnson, so it may have been an impulse reaction to losing Wade and having the money to match the offer. Comparing it to Matthew Dellavedova who signed a four-year, $38 million contract, I think there’s more value there than what the Heat are paying Johnson for.

There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Heat, and I don’t know what that looks like moving forward. I expect more from Goran Dragic now that Wade is out of the picture.

Next: Josh Richardson will only get better

Thanks to Aaron Ferguson for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter and read him over at King James Gospel writing about the Cleveland Cavaliers for FanSided.