The Cavs quest begins now

And so it begins....

Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers open up the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, and while it's not the beginning of the playoffs, or even the beginning of the NBA Finals, it does seem like the beginning of...something.

When LeBron James rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers in July of 2014, he understood the challenge that it would take to win an NBA Title:
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.
Last year, you could see LeBron's frustration, as the Cavs began to develop a team to put around their superstar. Kyrie Irving was learning how to win, and trying to stay healthy. Tristan Thompson was showcasing his role as the "Dennis Rodman," and new players like Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert were trying to find their place, and some consistency.

Through it all, LeBron persevered, and while he was clearly frustrated, he knew it was coming. He more-or-less, single-handedly led the Cavs to a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals, and in the process, created a bench of players that understood the path that it would take.

Matthew Dellavedova was created.

J.R. Smith's pipe was reloaded.

Tristan Thompson showcased why he deserved a big contract.

Kyrie Irving willed himself through big-time games with a bum leg, before his knee cap literally broke.

Kevin Love was forced to watch his first playoffs, after playing some of his best basketball of the season in the opening series of the playoffs, before the Boston Celtics' Kelly Olynyk played Stretch Armstrong with his arm.

During that 2014-2015 season, LeBron James helped build the heart and soul of what was the foundation of this current team.

Still, the 2015-2016 season wasn't without its trials. The team's place in the East has never been questioned. They are the best on the best coast, but that statement is so nuanced. With the Golden State Warriors being compared to the greatest teams in the history of the game, being the best in the East doesn't mean a whole lot. Throw in the San Antonio Warriors into the mix, and the NBA Finals began to take on the look of the afterthought.

But the Cavs' trudged on.

David Blatt was let go midway through the season, and while I still have issues with it, it was clear that the move was made, less for the Cavs place in the league, and more for the feeling in the locker room. While some know far more than me about the Cavs' locker room, it sorta felt like Blatt made things slightly off-kilter. Perhaps to old school fans, that seems odd. To the current roster of NBA players, that actually means something.

LeBron James good friend, and top assistant Tyronn Lue took over, and while it's been a bumpy road since, the Cavs continued to tinker.

And of course, there's "Chill-Town." You can say what you want about head coaches, roster moves and regular season blow-outs, but LeBron James understands what it takes to win in the playoffs. He equally understands the type of energy it takes to make it through the playoffs, and that in the East, there isn't a regular season won or loss that matters.

What matters is that heart.

What matters is that soul.

When LeBron was frustrated this year, it was clear he was questioning players in that regard. Could they make a better pass? Could they get down deeper on defense? Should they take the shot? How hard did they go after the ball?

Sure, LeBron has his social media quirks, and while they irritate the hell out of the fans, and more than likely, his roster at times, it's equally clear that this roster is tight, and not surprisingly, that closeness isn't known outside of the locker room.

Watching Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James living inside an 'inside joke' during the entire press conference after their series sweep of the Atlanta Hawks was all I needed to see. It should be all you needed to see as well, if you aren't trying to outsmart everyone.

In these playoffs, fans didn't know what to expect. They weren't humming, as they were heading into the playoffs last year. They were still figuring out a new coach, and some new players and rotations. Gone were serious minutes for the suddenly inept Timofey Mozgov, who was so big for this team in 2014-2015. Into the mix were a suddenly effective veteran in Richard Jefferson, and the newly acquired big man, Channing Frye.

Suddenly, the Cavs are depth.

Suddenly, the Cavs are tight.

And not so suddenly, at least to them, the Cavs are dominating.

Oh, and they're rested too, as I mentioned in my piece earlier in the week.

So tonight, the Cavs truly begin their journey to a World Championship. In front of them are a better-than-people-think Toronto Raptors team, who are out to prove to the world they are a contender.

They do worry me, because they are a good basketball team.

But the Cavs are on a different planet.

The Cavs are on a different planet right now, and it's just one of those series that Toronto fans need to understand going in, it's not their time.

For the Cavs, it's their first step to their last step. They're healthy, they're talented, they're ready, and they know how to win big games. They can play small, can win from the outside, and can go inside. They can run, they can pass, and they can ISO. Most of the time, they can play defense too.

In other words, the Cavs are ready to win a title, and honestly, LeBron said it best the day he rejoined the team and city he loves:
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge.
And so it begins...tonight.

Cavs in 4.
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