Along with the long-awaited news that LeBron James would be taking his talents back to Cleveland, comes the realization that the consensus best player in the world's decision to swap jerseys will actually have little to no impact on the Indiana Pacers and the not so wild East.
Yes, everyone is aware that the Central Division just got a whole lot more competitive. The small forward position alone will be like navigating a mine field next year with the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, possibly Carmelo Anthony, and rookie sensations Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker all conveniently located in the Midwest. However, outside of the promise of a top-four seed in the playoffs (which the Pacers recently learned guarantees absolutely nothing), division titles are of little to no consequence. While hanging a Central Division banner in the rafters is a symbol of sustained regular season achievement, very few players, if any, would likely use its presence as a reason to label their season a crowning success in the absence of an NBA title.
The Pacers - or any other club for that matter - may not again be so fortunate as to wrap up the Central Division by mid-March as was the case this year, but the Blue-and-Gold will still be facing off against the King and his Court on four separate occasions regardless of which division his team belongs to or what jersey he is wearing.
Until another team says otherwise, the East remains LeBron's conference and the only path to the Larry O'Brien trophy still likely runs exclusively through him and his team:
Calculus for Pacers & other EC tms doesn't change. Figure out how to get a shot vs. LeBron's team in ECF, and take your chances.— Tim Donahue (@TimDonahue8p9s) July 11, 2014
In the absence of a decision by LeBron James to pick-up and head West, there will be no seismic changes in the East. With the Lance Stephenson situation and point guard search still up in the air, the Pacers are still somewhat of a mystery. The Bulls will bring back their former MVP (again) and may add a former scoring champion. The Raptors, Wizards, Hawks, and Hornets will likely continue to grow and mature, and the Nets will pay another hefty luxury tax bill. There is no guarantee that the largely inexperienced Cleveland Cavaliers will make a trip to the Finals or win the 2015 NBA Championship, but it is near to certain that the dynamic in the Eastern Conference will remain status quo. As has been the case over the last four years, with varying levels of success the other players and teams in the East will continue to chase LeBron James and what he already has achieved.
What was your reaction to LeBron's decision to return home? What does it mean for the Pacers and the dynamic in the Eastern Conference? Does the path to the Finals still go through LeBron?