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Around the NBA: Eastern Finals, Cavs, Lakers, and OKC’s Future

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Which East team is best equipped to battle GSW? Is OKC’s future bright? And what’s going on with Dan Gilbert and Magic Johnson?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Five Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The NBA never leaves us yearning for drama. The Eastern Conference Finals is knotted up while the Warriors cool their heels. The WTLC crew looks at that and other things around the association.

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1) The Raptors have made an impressive comeback down 0-2 to tie the Eastern Conference Finals. But looking forward, would it make for a better NBA Finals if a healthy Bucks team played the Warriors for the title? Or can a banged up Raptors squad put up just as good of a fight?

Dom Flaim: I’d still say the Bucks are the best matchup and could take the Warriors down. But if Kawhi’s actually healthy the Raptors have the top end talent and a ton of defensive versatility where they can definitely compete. Ultimately they’re not as good in my opinion but either of these teams will be the best finals opponent this version of the Warriors has seen and both teams would have home court advantage.

Nile McNair: Healthy Bucks for sure. Milwaukee has shown all year they’re the best team in the Eastern Conference, so why not have a finals with the two best teams from each conference in it. In addition, the Bucks supporting cast, length and defense offers a harder challenge to the Warriors who look unstoppable right about now.

Jon Hamm: I like Milwaukee’s chances more, especially if they are moderately healthy. They have the length and versatility to give the Warriors some problems, and they have the offense that would make them work defensively. A part of me, however, wonders what this Raptors squad could do even if Kawhi was hopped up on the best discount Canadanian pharmacy meds.

2) Cavs owner Dan Gilbert claimed that Cleveland “killed it” with the Kyrie Irving trade. What planet is Gilbert living on and how is the air quality there?

Dom: I missed this quote in the news cycle and am glad I did. I don’t think it’s as bad as it once looked, and if Irving leaves Boston after a single playoff series win you might even argue getting Sexton long term was better than that, but “killed” it? This trade almost feels like it could be the rare lose-lose, but I’m assuming this quote was in comic sans as well?

Nile: Looking back on that trade everyone crowned the Celtics for stealing Kyrie Irving from the Cavs. But now it appears both teams lost out on that deal. The Cavs losing Kyrie eventually led to them losing Lebron and returning back to the NBA Lottery. Meanwhile, Boston who we thought swindled the Cavs hasn’t won a title with Kyrie and many believe he will leave them for nothing in free agency.

Jon: Here’s my thing: the Cavs could’ve possibly landed Bledsoe in exchange for Irving. If the Cavs pull off that deal and the rumored Kevin Love-for-Paul George swap, THEN we can discuss killing trades. But Gilbert decided to let GM David Griffin walk rather than rightfully extending his contract, which likely helped kill ongoing talks. It’s not unreasonable to think that perhaps LeBron James might have postponed his departure for L.A. if the Cavs had rounded up that kind of supporting cast.

Irving may walk and leave the Celtics with nothing and the Cavs do have at least Colin Sexton to show for it, but we’re not exactly going to be waxing poetic about this trade for the next few decades.

3) Has Magic Johnson somehow done more damage to the Lakers post-resignation than pre-resignation?

Dom: I would say no but that’s more a testament to how poorly he managed the roster than to anything he’s done now. Between trading Russell, letting Lopez walk, pretty much everything done last summer, and somewhat missing on a bunch of number 2 picks (though his later picks were solid) he probably did more damage when he was with the team. However, this whole thing just opened up how messed up that situation was where nobody trusted anyone and they basically created a role just for him and really only because he’s Magic Johnson. The real damage done was that we all missed out on years of Magic on twitter.

Nile: Magic’s interview exposed the inner workings of the Lakers front office. It does more damage now because he is no longer there to save face for the Lakers because of who he is. Also, the fact that Magic said all this closer to free agency may affect how free agents view coming to LA to play alongside Lebron.

Jon: To echo the gentlemen above, Magic has helped reveal the chaotic inner workings of the Lakers. If L.A. happens to snag another star player in free agency, it may help wash a lot of this away until the next crisis.

4) Despite losing in the first round, can you make a case that OKC is in a better position than the Blazers? Is it possible that OKC could make a run like the Blazers did this season? Why or why not?

Dom: I don’t think so though their contract situation is going to be similar very soon with Lillard’s supermax. Their second best player was missing for the postseason and their 3rd best played rather well so I’d say he at least upped his trade value if they go that route. I’d take Collins over any of OKC’s rookie scale players, and their coach is just better overall, Lillard’s game probably ages better than Westbrook’s (though nearly $53 million at age 34 or 35 is incredible) and for a few years now they’ve overachieved every regular season where OKC hasn’t. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if the Thunder are in the lottery next year even with this payroll. Nurkic should be back at some point and either way I’d expect Portland in the postseason at minimum and they’ve got better youth going forward.

I also struggle to see OKC making a push like they did because they’re so restricted in what they can do with the roster and lack a lot of what’s needed in the modern NBA. They’ve got no real shooting threats, no depth, a handful of injuries already going into the season (we don’t know if PG will start the year and Roberson missing a year and a half likely means he’s at absolute best a bench quality player), a not great coaching situation and an aging star who’s dropped off both of the last two seasons. I don’t like to be doom and gloom for any team I like but I’m really struggling with an optimistic outlook for OKC.

Nile: OKC and Portland have similar talent on their rosters. Both have two stars leading their teams, but Portland right now has a better supporting cast and that’s why they made this run. If OKC can improve the supporting cast they can easily be in the Western Conference Finals next year.

Jon: I found this interesting because there are a lot of similarities in the two teams, with the added bonus that George is a finalist for both MVP and DPOY. The role players need to be churned and they need to figure out how to maintain an identity for longer than 20 games or so. But I feel like OKC’s ceiling is higher, and that Portland broke through it.