As long as the Cavaliers have LeBron James, they'll be the favorite to win the East

It's been 10n days  since the Cavs reign as world champions came to an end with a Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

I don't know about you, but for me, the glow of the title Cleveland won a year ago still lingers longer in my mind than the result of the Finals just weeks ago that saw the Cavs come up short in five games.

Maybe that's because I'm part of the long-suffering Cleveland fan base that waited 52 years between the Browns NFL championship in 1964, which I don't remember, and the Cavs historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals.

But I really think that's only part of it.

As I think back on those 2016 Finals, it's more how the Cavs won the championship that still allows me to smile, no matter how the Cavs lost this year to Golden State or how daunting the future appears.

As a Cleveland fan, I'll always have LeBron James' chase-down block late in Game 7. I'll always have Kyrie Irving's shot over Steph Curry. And I'll always have Kevin Love playing great defense on Curry, preventing him from getting a good look to tie the game.

Those three images will be burned into my memory forever, and nothing that happened this year will ever remove them.

But time does march on, and hopefully the Cavaliers aren't done winning championships during the LeBron James era.

How much longer that era lasts is open to debate, but there's no arguing that James proved in the Finals he's still at the top of his game.

Amid all the homage paid Golden State for its "Super Team," consider that in none of the last three Finals matchups against the Cavs the past three years have the Great and Mighty Warriors figured out any way to stop LeBron from doing whatever he's wanted to do.

Here are his averages:

                                      Pts             Reb.          Asst

2015                             35.8           13.3           8.8

2016                             29.7           11.3           8.9

2017                             33.6           12.0           10.0

So as you think toward what many expect to be a fourth Warriors-Cavs matchup in the 2018 finals, that's the first reason to be optimistic as a Cavs' fan....the Warriors still have no answer for LeBron.

But the Cavs clearly need some answers for the Warriors with Kevin Durant to get the title back.

I'm sure the Cavs and their coaches will be haunted all summer by giving away Game 3 in Cleveland by going scoreless the last three minutes and giving away a seven-point lead.

But it's not as easy as saying, "We win that and it's a different series." Why didn't the Cavs win that game? Because LeBron and Kyrie were both out of gas and too tired to make a shot down the stretch. And why were they tired? Because throughout the series, the Cavs struggled to get anything productive from their bench.

That's the No. 1 need I see in this team this off-season. The bench must get younger, get faster, and get more productive by the post-season.

The difficulty is in re-making the bench with the salary cap restrictions the Cavs face and the impatience of LeBron James, who's never showed much patience with helping fringe guys get their footing underneath them.

In Miami, LeBron preferred to roll with veterans like Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslam. In Cleveland, LeBron still keeps a seat warm for James Jones, and he's pressured the team to pay guys like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the point where the Cavs don't have any dollars left for anyone in between a rookie or a veteran buyout like Deron Williams.

The problem with a veteran roster is it tends to believe it can turn it on when needed. All season long, the Cavs showed signs of laziness on defense that they never devoted themselves to correcting. Their dominance over Indiana, Toronto and Boston in the East provided a false sense of security that they'd corrected their defensive woes.

But against a good team like the Warriors, those flaws came back to haunt the Cavs a lot.

So the bench must get better, the Cavs must pay greater attention to detail and the third thing I want to see is a greater commitment to making sure the Cavs Big 3 is well-rested for the playoffs.

I advocate sitting LeBron as many as 20 regular season games next season. I'd rest Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at least 10 games. I'd never play any of them in back-to-back games, and I wouldn't care how big of a knot NBA commissioner Adam Silver's shorts get over it.

The Cavs in 2018 need to focus everything they do on getting ready for June and the NBA Finals. They are clearly the class of the East. While you may be frustrated that they surrendered their title to Golden State, take at least a moment to appreciate the era you are in – an era where a team from Cleveland – Cleveland! -- is virtually guaranteed to play for the world championship as long as LeBron James remains at the top of his game.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES