Scott Brooks: Cavaliers Still ‘Team To Beat’ In The East

The Wizards are set to begin a new season, but after some major offseason moves, the Cavaliers are still their top threat in the east.

After three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, Kyrie Irving is no longer in Cleveland. Against any reasonable expectation, Irving requested a trade over the summer and, in August, his wish was granted — Irving was traded to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic.

The 2010 dream duo of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade was dismantled after one season. Rondo is now a Pelican, and Wade has reunited with LeBron James on the Cavs. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George are no longer in the Eastern Conference; they were each traded to Oklahoma City, forming a formidable new Big Three with Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler, too, was dealt (Minnesota). A lot has changed in four months.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks previewed the 2017-18 season with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, a new bi-weekly segment, presented exclusively by Greenberg and Bederman.

Brooks noted during the interview Tuesday that Miami, Milwaukee and Toronto have all improved, but Cleveland is still “the team to beat.”

“I mean, let’s face it,” he said. “They’ve been in three NBA Finals in a row. Their bench is deep. LeBron is still LeBron. They’re still gonna be tough to beat, but we’d love to have that opportunity.”

“Boston, they’ve made some changes and Kyrie is obviously one of the best point guards in the league,” he added. “I don’t really care about where the predictions are, I just want us to keep improving and have the season that we know we can have.”

Brooks is excited to see Jodie Meeks, who signed a two-year, $6.7 million deal on Day 2 of NBA free agency, in a Wizards uniform. Since signing a three-year deal with Detroit in 2014-15, Meeks has played in only 99 games — 39 since the start of the 2015-16 season — after suffering a string of unfortunate injuries. The Pistons dealt Meeks to Orlando ahead of last season.

“[Meeks] is a great piece,” Brooks said. “It’s a great pickup. His problems in the past was injuries. He’s had just some random injuries that kind of held him back a little bit, but if he stays healthy, he’s one of the best shooters off the bench in the league. I mean, every time he shoots you have a feeling that thing is gonna go in. And we need that. We need some bench scoring, particularly from the three-point line.”

Meeks is a career .376 shooter from three-point range, but has averaged 41.1 percent from beyond the arc over his past two injury shortened seasons. He’s averaged 9.8 points, 0.8 steals, 1.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game over his eight-year career.

Brooks understands what Meeks is capable of — he’s already seen him at his absolute best.

While coaching OKC, Brooks witnessed Meeks drop a career-high 42 points on the Thunder as a member of the Lakers in March 2014. Meeks shot 61 percent from the field and hit six three-pointers in the Lakers win.

Markieff Morris underwent sports hernia surgery one month ago, but is already showing signs towards a positive recovery.

Asked when to expect Morris back, Brooks replied, “Well, this Friday will be the fourth week, and our timetable was six-to-eight, but I did see him yesterday on the court getting shots up, jumping, doing some wind sprints, so that was good. That was the first time I saw that.

“He’s progressing in the right way. Don’t know when he’s going to be back. But I’m assuming, if all goes well and there’s no setbacks, then next couple of weeks he will start practicing with us.”

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

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