Can this current Cleveland Cavaliers core contend? If so, they’re going to need a lot better depth before their next playoff appearance.
During the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the NBA‘s best defensive rating, its ninth-most efficient offense, and an average rebounding rate. In its five-game first-round loss to the Knicks, the Cavs topped 100 points just once, were dominated on the glass, and lacked the shooting, toughness, and depth to compete with New York.
On paper, Cleveland had a high-level backcourt in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, strong bigs in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, and a 31-10 regular-season home record. But how it played out? The Cavaliers were overmatched and overwhelmed, posing a lot of questions for Koby Altman and JB Bickerstaff moving forward.
The biggest is this: Is Cleveland’s core good enough to contend? If so, how can the team get better pieces around it?
Mitchell was acquired last offseason in a blockbuster deal that anointed him a franchise player. But Spida wilted in the playoffs, shooting 43.3% from the field and 28.9%, with his 23.2 points per game well short of his 28.3 regular-season average, though he averaged 7.2 assists against New York versus his 4.4 during the regular season. That included an 11-point, five-assist, six-turnover dud in Sunday’s Game 4 loss. Can Mitchell be the best player on an elite team?
Garland had a standout Game 2 but, simply put, wasn’t good enough in his first career playoff series. Julius Randle made sure Mobley know he needed to hit the weight room in the offseason. Mitchell Robinson had the best stretch of his career in the series, getting the better of the matchup against an All-Star a season ago.
Cleveland’s bench was outscored 145-102 in the series, exposing a lack of bench depth that really could’ve used Kevin Love. Bought out in February, Love signed with Miami and started three first-round playoff games for the Heat, hitting five 3s and grabbing 12 rebounds on Wednesday.
Caris LeVert was the Cavs’ second- or third-best offensive player against New York and is an unrestricted free agent after making $18.8 million this season. If he leaves, who’s replacing that scoring? Especially if Isaac Okoro isn’t going to be a threat on offense.
Cleveland will have a bench to fill out alongside Cedi Osman, Ricky Rubio, Dean Wade, and Lamar Stevens and will have the money to do so before Mobley is due a big extension in a year or two. If significant improvement isn’t made to the team’s depth alongside a young core that should only improve, what’s even the point?
The Cavs have little control of their first-round picks for the rest of this decade thanks to the Mitchell and LeVert trades, so this roster will mainly have to get better via free agency. Not only do Mitchell, Garland, Mobley, and Allen have to be way better next time Cleveland reaches the postseason, they could use much more help than they were given over the last two weeks.
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