Philadelphia traded for Tobias Harris (and brought in some depth with players such as James Ennis and Mike Scott). That prompted Milwaukee to respond and trade for Nicola Mirotic. Then Toronto upped that and made a deal to bring in Marc Gasol. Boston stood pat (although they were happy on Thursday because Anthony Davis is still a Pelican) but has been playing much better basketball the past few weeks and has looked as good as anyone in the East.
Why the arms race at the top of the East?
“Those top teams in the East, yeah, they’re going for it,” James told The Athletic. “Toronto is going for it, Milwaukee’s going for it, Philly. Boston believes they can do it, too. They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore.
“Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”
LeBron isn’t entirely wrong here — him leaving did throw open the door in the East.
That said, would things be that different if LeBron stayed in Cleveland with some variation of the roster we saw last season? The Cavs didn’t have room to make dramatic improvements, and the fully-healthy Celtics with Kyrie Irving likely would have been the favorite over them, and right now any of those top four teams could have knocked off those Cavaliers, even with LeBron.
Without LeBron, however, the second round and beyond of the Eastern Conference playoffs is going to be incredible.