The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors had a spectacular four-part NBA Finals duel that raged on from 2014 through the 2018 NBA Finals. For the Cavaliers, they are in year two of their post-LeBron James rebuild while the Warriors are into their first poor season after reaching and losing in the NBA Finals last season to the Toronto Raptors.
Part V of their half-decade long battle is in a different light. The NBA Draft Lottery would have been held on March 19th, 2020, under normal circumstances and both Cleveland and Golden State are tied atop the odds table (along with the Minnesota Timberwolves).
The NBA draft lottery was supposed to be held tonight.
If the season isn't resumed, the Warriors, Cavs and Timberwolves hold the best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick. pic.twitter.com/reQmsk2IEp
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 19, 2020
Each franchise has the same two questions. How did we get here? And how do we get back on top?
Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors Hoping for the Number One Pick in the 2020 NBA Draft
Recapping the First Four Battles
The end of the 2010s saw the Cavaliers and Warriors both go on terrific dynasty like runs. Both teams have a legitimate claim that they could have won four straight NBA titles if not for the other team.
Although the Cavaliers are likely not talked about enough for how unfortunate they were that they ran into a slightly better dynasty during that four-year stretch. If the Warriors didn’t exist from 2014 through 2018, the Cavaliers would be held in the same breath as the Warriors are, as there is a high probability that they win four straight titles.
Of course, Golden State was able to accomplish what Cleveland wished they would have. The Warriors won three out of four matchups in the Finals with Cleveland and swept them in 2018.
2015 NBA Finals
Golden State broke through in 2015 when they won their first title after eliminating Cleveland in six games. This is the lone “phew” moment for the Warriors as they defeated an undermanned Cavaliers’ team. A healthy Cavs team is the likely 2015 NBA champions.
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) April 26, 2015
Kyrie Irving entered the Finals on somewhat of a gimpy knee. That gimpy knee exploded in overtime of Game 1 when he drove into the lane and the Cavaliers lost him for the remainder of the series.
This is not to take anything away from the Warriors, however. They played the team in front of them and they took home their first title since 1975 behind 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
2016 NBA Finals
The 2016 NBA Finals are one for the history books. The Warriors looked primed to win their second consecutive Larry O’Brien trophy after they were well on their way to a three games to one lead on the Cavaliers.
Then the Draymond Green incident happened before the end of Game 4. Green and James got tangled up at the top of the key and Green delivered what appeared to be a low blow to James. Now, the common misnomer is that Green was suspended for that incident. That, however, is not the case.
The NBA has a point system for flagrant fouls. A flagrant “1” foul is worth one point and a flagrant “2” foul is worth two points. In the playoffs, if a player exceeds three flagrant points, he will be suspended for the following game. Green and the Warriors’ staff were very much aware of how many points he had as the NBA notifies both the team and the individual when they reach two points in the playoffs. The flagrant “1” foul on James resulted in Green’s fourth flagrant point of the postseason, meaning he would be suspended for the following game.
James and the Cavaliers regained momentum when they went into Oracle Arena for Game 5 and came out with a win. Game 6 in Cleveland was a shellacking from the outset as Cleveland won the first quarter 31 to 11. The Cavaliers would return to Oracle Arena for a pivotal Game 7, where anything can happen, and they pulled off the first-ever three games to one comeback in NBA Finals history.
2017 and 2018 NBA Finals
These two series can be lumped together. Following the collapse in 2016, the Warriors were able to pry Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cleveland was poised for a repeat in 2017 as they were healthy and still whole following the 2016 Finals.
These two teams had an epic Christmas Day game that looked to be a preview of what the NBA Finals would hold. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that was not the case. Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson ran roughshod over them and won the title in five dominant games.
2018 was even worse for Cleveland. They dealt Irving to the Celtics that summer after he had requested a trade and James didn’t have much help from an offensive standpoint. Despite a herculean effort in Game 1 in which James dropped 50 points, the Cavaliers still came up short in overtime. The Warriors never felt challenged for the remainder of the series and swept Cleveland.
How the Golden State Warriors Got Here
Golden State was able to make it back to the NBA Finals for a fifth consecutive season as they looked to win their fourth title in five years in 2019. However, the Raptors, behind Kawhi Leonard, would end the Warriors’ quest for a three-peat.
The answer for Golden State is simple. They lost Durant to the Brooklyn Nets and they were decimated by injuries this season.
Durant would rupture his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and late in Game 6, Thompson would tear his ACL. Thompson’s torn ACL would force him to miss all of the 2019-20 NBA season.
Klay Thompson really torn his ACL, came back to knock down two free throws and starting running and jumping around. That man has HEART. pic.twitter.com/WJKrBdC2oR
— ProCity Hoops (@ProCityHoops) June 14, 2019
To make matters worse for Golden State, Curry would break his hand and he would be forced to miss a large portion of the season. By the time he came back, Golden State was already out of playoff contention.
The Warriors were able to obtain D’Angelo Russell from Brooklyn in a sign-and-trade for Durant, however, that marriage didn’t work out very well. Russell was dealt before the trade deadline to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins.
All of the turmoil for the Warriors this season has led to a putrid 15 and 50 record, the worst in the NBA.
How the Golden State Warriors Get Back on Top
Another simple answer. Stay the course. Golden State is in a prime position to be contenders again as soon as next season. Curry and Thompson will both be back and healthy. Green won’t be relied upon to be the man anymore. He shines as a facilitator and defender.
With Wiggins, Golden State has some options, especially if they land the number one pick. Wiggins is still young and has shown some serious scoring potential. The problem is, he doesn’t do much of anything else positively. That’s not to say he can’t develop as he is still young and has all of the physical tools to be a star.
If the Warriors elect to keep him, he will be what Harrison Barnes was for them during their first two championships. Except, unlike Barnes, he can get his own basket.
Now, they could package Wiggins, and the number one overall pick and go land a star to form a big-four, so to speak, like they had when Durant was with the team. There have been murmurs that they could try to put together a package centered on Wiggins and the number one pick to go after Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Should they stay the course, like they ought to, they have some options at number one. They can add another guard and select LaMelo Ball, or Anthony Edwards. They could go with one of the top wing options like Deni Avdija. Or, they could go with a big man like Obi Toppin, or James Wiseman.
Whatever they decide to do, they have the foundation in place. All they need to do is build around three guys in Curry, Thompson, and Green. Those three have proven in the past that they can be the core to a dominant, championship team.
How the Cleveland Cavaliers Got Here
Like with the Warriors, this is a simple answer. It started in the summer of 2017 when Irving requested a trade following rumors that he was going to dealt to the Phoenix Suns as part of a three-team deal that would bring Paul George to the Cavaliers. Cleveland obliged and sent Irving to the Celtics for a package that was rather lackluster. It returned a broken Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic, along with a first-round pick that turned into Collin Sexton.
James carried the 2017-18 Cavaliers to the NBA Finals after they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference. The writing was on the wall for James. He bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018 and the rest is history for Cleveland.
Young Guards and Terrible Contracts
Cleveland is now full of young guards and terrible contracts. They selected Sexton in the 2018 NBA Draft and he has had his ups and downs. He looked like a budding All-Star over the final two months of this season, however. He was scoring efficiently and in bunches.
Garland really struggled this season and the pairing of him and Sexton isn’t one that looks like it will work.
Windler hasn’t played a minute this season after suffering a stress fracture last summer.
Porter Jr. looks like he could be the steal of the draft and has shown some serious promise. The Cavaliers may have hit there.
Cleveland also has the contract of Love that isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Love is a solid player, but he is not effective enough anymore, to be a contending team’s best player. They also dealt for Andre Drummond at the trade deadline. His contract is fine as he is in his last year. He does have a player option that he is likely to accept, which doesn’t really impede the Cavaliers’ long term plans. Drummond, however, doesn’t fit a rebuilding team, unless Cleveland is looking to sign him long term.
How the Cleveland Cavaliers Get Back on Top
The row to hoe for Cleveland is much tougher than that of the Warriors. It starts with landing the number one pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for them, unless they are going to move Sexton or Garland, or slide one to the bench, a guard may be out of the question.
Edwards and Ball are arguably the top prospects in this draft. When a team is as bad as Cleveland is, they should always draft for talent ahead of need.
If the front office is content with the Sexton and Garland backcourt duo, they have two options. Option one is the simpler option. They reach slightly and select Avdija at number one.
Option two is a little more complicated and it requires finding a trade partner for Love. If they can move Love they go ahead and nab Toppin to slot him as the starting power forward. A Drummond and Toppin duo would be exciting and fun to see for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers aren’t a hotbed for top-flight free agents so they need to build through the draft and trades. Consistently winning in those two situations is risky business, but the Cavaliers need to start this summer, or whenever the 2020 NBA Draft will be held, in order to start their ascent back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
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