With or without Kyrie Irving, Cavs still best in the East

Last week's report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving may not return until January from the fractured patella he suffered during Game 1 of the NBA Finals raised some eyebrows around the league.

Odds are Irving will be back during 2015. The January date was presented as something of a worst-case scenario, not a certainty or even a likelihood. ESPN's Brian Windhorst said last week on SportsCenter that while there's as yet no timetable for Irving's return, he'd be surprised if the All-Star point guard didn't play before January.

No matter when Irving ultimately rejoins the Cleveland starting five, it shouldn't change the Cavaliers' position as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, as reflected by their dominant performance in the ESPN Summer Forecast's survey of most likely East champions.