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The Eastern Conference looks to be on lockdown for a while

playing in the East means you can lie yourselves into thinking you're contenders because you can get a high seed, but it also means you've got a huge barrier to actually advancing

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference winning a title makes, and really: it should make that much of a difference. The Cavs swing from an overpaid and over-complicated mess to champions. Spending either in picks or lots of cash for Shumpert, Smith, Frye, Mozgov, Thompson all paid off, as even if some didn't play as much in the big finals comeback, the depth is needed for the year-long grind. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love don't need to do anything different, let alone be traded for old guys like the conventional wisdom dictated a week ago. Tyronn Lue is now, by definition, a championship-caliber coach.

And they play in the same conference as the Bulls, and that's not good! Zach Lowe focused his post-title article on the great position having LeBron James and a very good supporting cast gets you.

in the afterglow of an unprecedented Finals comeback, they justifiably exuded hope that this sometimes awkward nucleus could get even better -- and more importantly, that LeBron might share in that hope.

"This team did not fit particularly well for playing Golden State, and that's my fault," [Cavs GM David] Griffin said. "But against the East, we were historically good. Now that we've experienced this, I'm very confident this group has its best basketball in front of it. They know what they have now."

Most of all, they have LeBron. He is the Eastern Conference power structure at this point.


"We're really built for sustaining what we do," Griffin said. "And LeBron -- he makes everyone better. He makes our team bigger than life."

The Cavs spent a ton the past couple seasons as they showed urgency to build around LeBron. With the cap going up now, their books look pretty clean. Richard Jefferson and Timofey Mozgov are likely gone, but everyone else save certain-to-resign James and J.R. Smith is under contract. Even some of these guys are (gasp) still overpaid! They will have enough flexibility to improve on the margins and have the benefit of being a ring-chaser destination.

And you'd have to think that even that 'awkward' chemistry fit that has plagued them the past couple seasons will be a non-story going forward. They went all-in on trusting LeBron would take them to a title, and he did it. That has to build up confidence and trust going forward. They'll probably be extremely good next year, even if LeBron coasts through much of the season again.

To bring this back to the Bulls, if only to make ourselves feel bad (always the goal, really), it just reiterates how far away they are. Even in the past couple seasons, the hope was that the Bulls may not be at the Cavs level but they'd be close enough to get them if they stumbled. Since then they've lost (to ineffectiveness first, but now likely to free agency) their all-star frontcourt, and their top-5 coach. How many current Bulls even see significant time in that game last night? Jimmy Butler, and...maybe Taj Gibson for a stint?

But what does that tell us, anyway? The Bulls are hopelessly outmatched before and after this Finals, and will be that way pretty much regardless of what they do this offseason. Not sure that means the answer is to run away from mediocrity and circle the toliet, but instead embrace that they're stuck. Part of being stuck is the, ya know, intractability of it. They'll won't beat LeBron next year, but maybe provide some moments where you can lie to yourself otherwise in the meantime. Go Bulls!