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The Cavaliers will pay an insane amount to win, as they should

With massive commitments to retain their free agents, the Cavaliers are showing they're willing to pay for a championship. This is exactly what they should do.

By the end of last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had transformed themselves into a small pack of salty overachievers. Through injuries, age and attrition, they somehow came within two games of a championship with a backup big, a reserve point guard and a trio of role-playing wings surrounding LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov. It was inspiring in its way, but it was also predictable. Once the Warriors solved their pace and lineup riddles, it was all over.

The Cavaliers were never about that life. Indeed, LeBron pushed back against the underdog narrative for most of the postseason, pausing momentarily to revel in a 2-1 series lead that was ultimately fleeting.

The Cavaliers didn't want to settle for admirable. They wanted to inspire fear and loathing in their competitors, and they found it for three months of the regular season. From Jan. 15 to the end of the year, they went 34-9 with the most efficient offense in the league and third-best net rating behind Golden State and San Antonio. Mind you, they did that with barely half a season for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to become acclimated to playing with LeBron and a changing cast of role players, thanks to a pair of in-season trades. They also had a first-year coach.

That's a lot of adjustment for one year and there were times when the whole thing looked unwieldy and awkward. So much so that there was a brief moment when one had to wonder if they might be better off without that emerging Big 3. Their postseason defense without Love was phenomenal, and with looming contract commitments hovering over just about every aspect of the organization, maybe it would be better if Love found his way back to prominence in another uniform. It would certainly be more cost effective.

Throughout the finals, people wondered if Love would explore his options once free agency arrived. Around Cleveland, however, they were convinced that he was coming back. They were right. Love quickly agreed to return for a five-year deal reportedly worth $110 million and that was soon followed by new deals for restricted free agents Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert that brought the total outlay to a number approaching a quarter billion dollars.

(It was later reported that the Cavaliers and Thompson are still negotiating. Nevertheless, he's expected to return)

All that, and LeBron hasn't even signed a new deal yet. The Cavaliers' tax bill is going to be enormous and there's still more work for general manager David Griffin to accomplish. J.R. Smith is still unsigned, as is Matthew Dellavedova, and there's the possibility of turning Brendan Haywood's mostly non-guaranteed contract into another piece (or pieces) of the puzzle. There comes a point when all of this turns into Monopoly money, but one has to think it will all be worth it if (when?) LeBron and friends deliver a championship to the title-starved town.

When James decided to return to Cleveland last summer, he did so with the caveat that it would take time to plant the seeds of a contender. That's all over now. This is win or bust.

A quick glance at the Eastern Conference landscape reveals a wide open path back to the finals for the next few years at least. The Hawks loaded up their front line with Tiago Splitter, a viable option to keep from getting pounded on the boards should they meet again, but it came at the cost of DeMarre Carroll, who was their one viable option to guard LeBron in the conference finals. The Bulls re-signed Jimmy Butler, but it's been several years since they saw the third round and have a new coach plucked from the college ranks.

You can make an argument that the Wizards would have beaten the Hawks if John Wall had been healthy, but they just lost Paul Pierce and are up against the cap. The Raptors want to be players and the Bucks have become way more interesting after coming to terms with Greg Monroe, but neither seems ready to truly compete at that level. This isn't a window for the Cavaliers. It's an open invitation back to the finals.

Say goodbye to the Grit Squad, as LeBron dubbed them after Game 3 of the finals. Fair or not, the learning curve is over now, as well. The Cavaliers are loaded with talent, huge contracts and massive expectations. That's the price of employing LeBron James, and the Cavaliers are taking it all the way to its end game.