ZILLER: The world champion Cleveland Cavaliers (man, that's a weird phrase) have an interesting problem this season: How do you stay motivated in the regular season? They won the East No. 1 seed despite a coaching change and despite never punching the gas pedal during the regular season. They went 12-2 in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Toronto didn't substantially improve, Atlanta got weirder, and Boston hasn't been able to touch the Cavs in recent years.
LeBron had an NBA Finals series for the ages. He appears to be done trying to win NBA MVPs. No one would blame Cleveland if they coasted into April. Why shouldn't they? And if they do, is it dangerous?
FLANNERY: Ordinarily I'd say yes, but it's probably not for this team for all the reasons you mentioned. Their window through the East is wide open and they know it. You could say an injury could stop them, but as long as LeBron is healthy, even that isn't a deterrent.
So, what's on the check list for this team? Home court is nice and there's the annual let's integrate Kevin Love into the offense plan. It'd probably help if they can develop a bench. Anything else?
ZILLER: Preservation! LeBron has played more than 46,000 NBA minutes (regular season and playoffs combined). He's actually already in the top 50 all-time in regular season minutes played, at age 31. As we saw in June, he remains in peak physical condition. But you probably want to baby him more than usual during the regular season, just to prolong his career and get more in the reserve for the playoffs. (Especially since he might have to guard Kevin Durant in the finals.)
Kyrie Irving showed his power in the finals, and with Matthew Dellavedova gone, Irving becomes even more important. I had bought into the idea that Irving could be an MVP contender since LeBron should be more deferential than ever, but it's smart for Tyronn Lue to instead let Irving rest, too. He hasn't been the most durable player early in his career.
The biggest question might be whether the team should still consider moving Love. It's not every stretch-4 who can lock down Steph Curry on a critical Game 7 possession, but ...
FLANNERY: How wild is it that everyone was talking about trading Love after Game 3 (you even wrote a whole column about it) and now he's a folk hero after that defensive stop?
I still think they should trade him, though, and I think they should trade him to Boston for a bunch of good players. I know what they say about three quarters not equaling a dollar, but this is a different circumstance because the Cavs already have two superstar offensive players.
I also don't love their depth, especially on the bench, which is yet another reason to deal. But being the champ gives you the luxury of time, so there is no rush.
You make an excellent point about LeBron. That's something to watch in regards to Lue's coaching this season. It's so tempting to put the guy in there, but they have to be smart with his minutes.
Let's talk about Kyrie for a minute. Where does he rank on your point guard list? He really showed me a lot during the finals.
ZILLER: Offensively, he's up there in the top tier with Steph, CP3, and Westbrook. He's right there. His combination of handles, shooting, and finishing is unfair. The Warriors had no answer whatsoever in the finals, and they have three of the best defenders in the league on the perimeter in Draymond, Klay, and Iguodala. No answers for the burning fireball that was Kyrie.
But defense matters, and playmaking matters. Kyrie is among the worst defenders in the league at his position — he's Steve Nash level — and there are a number of more creative, consistent passers at point guard right now. Because of all that, I lump Irving into the second tier of point guards with Damian Lillard and John Wall. (This position is so deep!) Where are you at with Kyrie after his masterful finals?
FLANNERY: Same place, generally, but I now elevate him to the top of that second group with Wall, Lowry, and Dame. He's so good offensively that he's bound to be overrated by the general public, and I have always been a bit of a skeptic. Defense does matter a lot, especially at that position. And playmaking. I can keep running through my issues with his game, but the bottom line is he showed out in the most pivotal moments of the season. That matters, too.
I look at Kyrie as a metaphor for their whole team. I didn't believe fully in him or them (LeBron excepted) until I saw it happen. I even said to one of the other writers during Game 7 that J.R. Smith will not save them. Then, J.R. Smith saved them when he popped a couple of threes early in the second half.
We have to look at this team in a whole new light now and that will take some getting used to. How odd is it that they waited until the final three games of the season to become who we wanted them to be and that was enough to win the championship? I think that's the ultimate testament to LeBron's power.
ZILLER: All hail LeBron, the king, and the kingmaker.