May 28, 2016
Make it six in a row. With the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 113-87 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, LeBron James clinched his sixth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals. Whether he was on South Beach or back home in Ohio, LeBron officially owns the Eastern Conference.
James reaches the finals wherever he goes (as long as it’s in the East), which has led some to wonder what set of circumstances would lead to any team but his making the NBA Finals. A few nights ago, ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were kicking around scenarios on the broadcast during a Cavs blowout.
Van Gundy asked Jackson what he thought would happen if James played for the Sixers. From Matt Goul of Cleveland.com:
OK. Jeff Van Gundy provided that mental picture during the Cavaliers' 116-78 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Van Gundy asked what would have happened if James joined the 76ers for this season. Mark Jackson replied they would be covering a game in Philadelphia right now.
Basically, Jackson said that if LeBron were on the Sixers, they would’ve at least made the conference finals. Which is probably wishful thinking.
Mark Jackson: Sixers would be in Eastern Conf finals with LeBron. He might actually have a point. #NBAPlayoffs— Kevin Merida (@meridak) May 26, 2016
If you were looking for reasons that James could push the Sixers to the conference finals, Cleveland would be drastically weakened by his departure. The Cavs would still be led by a couple of offense-first players in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but their margin for error would be much slimmer without the two-way force of nature at small forward.
The second-seeded Raptors are a solid team, but we saw how hard they had to work just to reach the conference finals that they had no shot to win. Toronto almost lost its first-round matchup with No. 7 Indiana, which basically means that if you think LeBron could push the Sixers to the playoffs, they could theoretically beat anyone left in the field.
LeBron is incredible. If we can stop obsessing over championships and just look at his body of work, I think he will probably go down as the second greatest player of all-time. Every Sixer would become a considerably better player simply by LeBron's presence. With the amount of attention he draws on the block, Robert Covington would likely see his three-point shooting percentages skyrocket. Nerlens Noel could become a major threat diving to the rim in the pick-and-roll. The list goes on and on.
The Sixers, a team that went 10-72, could possibly make the playoffs with him in the fold. That’s how great LeBron is, as well as how mediocre the Eastern Conference is. The conference finals, though? Maybe it’s just because I watched a lot more painful Sixers basketball than Mark Jackson, but I’m not seeing it.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann