Lakers' LeBron James weighs in on the Eastern Conference arms race: 'They ain't gotta go through me'

The status quo remained the same in the Eastern Conference for the previous four seasons.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals in four consecutive years and even won the franchise's first NBA title in 2016. In an interview with The Athletic, James admitted that he believes that the race to the NBA Finals is more wide open in the East because "they ain't gotta go through me."

"Those top teams in the East, yeah, they're going for it," the Los Angeles Lakers star said. "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."

The Cavaliers didn't face a ton of resistance throughout their multiple roads to the NBA Finals. However, James' last season in Cleveland definitely was the most difficult as the Boston Celtics took them to seven games, even without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The Cavaliers did end up advancing, but the failed experiment with Isaiah Thomas was certainly a storyline leading up to the trade deadline.

Now the Eastern Conference is extremely top heavy with the Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors all viewed as contenders to reach the NBA Finals. The teams were highly-touted entering the season and are even more dangerous following Thursday's trade deadline.

The Sixers got the ball rolling on Tuesday when they acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott from the Los Angeles Clippers. In addition, the team added James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons to bolster their bench. The Raptors responded on Thursday with a deal of their own in which they acquired Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies and didn't have to part with a first-round pick. In addition, the conference-leading Bucks added Nikola Mirotic in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.

James is obviously very impressed with the fact that he did advance to the NBA Finals in all four seasons following his return to Cleveland. However, the East is deeper this season than it's been in quite some time. Any of the top four teams has a chance to go to the NBA Finals, and the Indiana Pacers probably would've been in that conversation, too, if Victor Oladipo didn't suffer a season-ending quad injury.

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