Thank you, Cavaliers! While We’re Waiting

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

Yeah, I know, it’s not that happy. Despite showing tremendous resolve and fight in Games 3, 4, and 5, the Golden State Warriors just proved to be too much for the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, as the Warriors clinched the NBA Finals.

And so it ends, a year I had begun to doubt would ever happen in my lifetime. A year with the words “defending Champions” being attached to a Cleveland team. And not just any Cleveland team, but my favorite Cleveland team, the Cavaliers. Sure, it was an uneven year. The team didn’t always play as well as we might have liked. There were plenty of changes and challenges along the way. But it was a great season. And it was great because of the incredible gift this team gave to us fans last year. Nothing that happens from that moment on will ever change the fact that from June 19, 2016 to June 12, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers were World Champions.

So if there’s one thing I have to say to this team in response to their performance in this year’s NBA Finals, it is this: Thank you!

No, this was not the outcome I was hoping for. It surely was not the outcome the players on the team were expecting or wanted. It has to be bitterly disappointing, I’m sure. But this was not a “typical” Cleveland collapse. There is no reason for this team to hang their heads. The Cavaliers got off to a rough start in Games 1 and 2, sure. But the rest of the series they played Championship caliber basketball. They showed their Championship DNA. The level and quality of play in the final three games of these Finals was simply off the charts. It was some of the best basketball, on both sides, that I have ever seen. These two teams threw everything they had at each other. In the end, it was just clear that Kevin Durant was the ace up their sleeve, the proverbial extra round in the chamber, that Golden State needed to reclaim their title. Make no mistake, the best team won the Championship this year.

There will be plenty of time to discuss how the Cavaliers can try to improve for next season, but today is not that day for me. However, I will say this. While it is true the Cavaliers need to somehow find a way to get better if they want to beat the Warriors next year, the gap between these teams is not as big as I thought it was going into this series. It took the Cavaliers a couple games to figure out how they could attack the Warriors defense, and that’s unfortunate, but once the Cavaliers figured it out, they gave Golden State all they could handle. In the end, Kevin Durant was just too good.

And let’s stop there for a second. I know it’s so tempting to be bitter and say things to disparage Durant and his decision to join the Warriors. I’ve done it myself. But that’s the fan in me. Let’s be honest, if Kawhi Leonard was a free agent this year and wanted to join the Cavaliers, we would welcome it with open arms. What were the Warriors supposed to do, turn down Durant?

From Durant’s perspective, we can say he took the easy way out, fine. But he made the smartest decision he could possibly make. Had he stayed with Oklahoma City and never won a title, history would not have said “Well, Durant never won a title, but he could have. Instead, he chose the courageous path and stayed with the Thunder.” Come on, that’s not how this work. He would have joined the likes of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone on the list of great players who never won a title. And years from now, when people talk about Durant’s legacy it won’t be “Yeah, he won a title (or titles depending on what happens in the next few years), but it was only because he joined the Warriors.”

To be clear, if Kevin Durant isn’t on the Warriors, the Cavaliers win this series. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind about that. Kevin Durant didn’t win a title because of the Warriors, the Warriors won a title because of Kevin Durant. Obviously having Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala made Durant’s life easier, there’s no denying that. But Durant was the element that made the Warriors feel unbeatable.

This is the super team era of the NBA. Nobody has to like it, but not liking it doesn’t change the reality. Durant didn’t do anything cheap. He made the smartest move for his career and his legacy. We can fault him if we want, or we can accept it just move on and try to figure out how the teams we root for can get better to overcome the Warriors.

I woke up today a little sad, sure. Disappointed, absolutely. But I also feel a certain sense of optimism. There is no bitterness with this loss. I leave these Finals feeling encouraged that the Cavaliers proved they can play with the Warriors. They need a little more to beat them four times in seven games, sure. But there is room for hope. Remember, the Warriors won the first Finals matchup with the Cavaliers after injuries took out Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. You never know what’s going to happen.

I’m not saying the Cavaliers should hope for injuries, of course. I’m just saying things can change quickly for a variety of reasons. There’s no need for Cleveland to panic or blow things up. This team is right there, right on the cusp. LeBron’s window may be closing fast. Next year could be the last year LeBron plays with the Cavaliers. Things change so fast in the NBA. I’ll forever wish the Cavaliers hung on to Game 3. But let’s not be sad today as a fanbase.

Instead, let’s give thanks one more time to the Cavaliers for letting us live a season as Champions. The last year has been something I will never, ever forget. It will stay with me forever. And for the players, the ones who actually won the Championship, it will be a part of them for eternity. It’s sad that it’s over, but it’s not something for us to mourn, but something to celebrate. So one more time, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you so much, Cavaliers!

I already can’t wait to get going again next season.