Los Angeles Clippers (42-22) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (46-18)
12:30 p.m. PST
March 13, 2016
1. Has the mental composition of a team ever been scrutinized as much as these Cavaliers? Bonus question: is it warranted?
William Bohl, Fear The Sword (@breakthehuddle): I’ve only been following the NBA closely for approximately five years, so I don’t want to allow recency bias to cloud my answer. A pretty shocking book was written about the ins and outs of Jordan’s early Bulls teams (“The Jordan Rules”), and LeBron’s Heat teams attracted a horde of armchair psychologists, but I’m not sure anything can approach the way every on-court interaction, postgame interview, and social media post is dissected the way the Cavs’ are. Is it warranted? Well, they certainly don’t help themselves – working to ouster their coach, cryptic tweets, etc. – so yes, I suppose it is.
Aaron Williams (@aaronsmarter): Probably the Jordan Bulls before Pippen showed up. Kobe/Shaq Lakers when those two were fighting each other to be top dog. It’s only natural that having the most dominant athletes collected in one place at the same time would only draw higher expectations and greater scrutiny for not meeting them. But, prisoner of the moment mode deactivated for a minute? There’s really nothing preventing the absolute best team from having a bad game (or even series) and we probably shouldn’t set too much stock in expectations for the future as the vast majority of us are not astronauts.
Roscoe Whalan (@RoscoeWhalan): Maybe the Miami HEAT before this? And the Cleveland Cavaliers before that? Oh wait, it’s just wherever LeBron James goes. Conversations about mental toughness follow him around like a shadow and have done since he entered the league. Taking to Twitter with cryptic tweets and then talking about his ‘beautiful mind’ certainly warrants it.
2. If you’re the Clippers management and you lose in the first or second round again, do you consider trading CP3 for Kyrie?
Bohl: I wouldn’t – certainly not straight up, and probably not at all. Paul, Griffin, and Jordan are title contenders most seasons, provided they get the right role players (which is more difficult than it sounds, but with a rising cap, it’ll possibly become easier to do). CP3 is a much, much better player than Kyrie, and despite the 7 year age difference, I’d rather ride with Paul over the next 3 or 4 than Irving over the next 7 or 8. Kyrie’s recurring injury issues aside, I’m just not sure his ceiling is high enough to match the price of losing Chris Paul.
Williams: Hell. And. No. I absolutely understand why Kyrie might seem more attractive to a certain mindset; he’s younger, he’s probably cheaper, you hope he meshes better with the younger members of the Clippers core. But you absolutely do not give up a top five PG for a guy who simply is not right now. It’s sports: a million things can happen, from injuries to sudden breakthroughs (although with Steph Curry existing, I’m not sure the universe is forgiving enough to allow a second such ascension), but in general, you play the odds. Odds are Chris Paul continues to cook, and you can find the right complimentary pieces in the draft/free agency/your existing roster’s development.
Whalan: Not straight up. In the West, the Clippers are banging their heads up against a brick wall with a huge GSW logo plastered on it. So the question has to be: do the Clippers increase their chances of overcoming the Warriors if they swap Chris for Kyrie? Probably not. From a psyche perspective, I do understand entertaining it simply because there are rumblings that this current core can’t do it and maybe shaking things up isn’t such a bad thing.
3. What’s more likely: the Clippers make the WCF or the Cavaliers win the championship?
Bohl: The Clippers making the Western Conference Finals. No one else is winning the title – it’s Golden State’s, and everyone else is an also-ran. The Clips took down the Spurs a year ago; if they meet in round 2 this season, as long as Blake is healthy, it’s possible (unlikely, but certainly possible) it happens again.
Williams: Well, I’d have to say the answer to both questions is the Golden State Warriors. Homer I may be, but a Clippers homer tends to be more resigned to the realities of the NBA and basketball in general. In this case, the Dubs are basically Godzilla; Ghidorah and Mothra and Rodan and Destroyah can all put up a decent fight, but in the end we all know whose name is on the marquee.
Whalan: It’s a testament to how far ahead of the pack Golden State are when all three of these questions circle back to them. In this particular instance, the question can be rewritten as such: is it more likely the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in a 7-game series or the Clippers avoid them for the first two rounds of the Playoffs? I’ll take the latter.