All season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have embraced the “lessons” that come when a team’s starting five’s average age is just 23.4 years old. For Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Evan Mobley (all 23 or younger), 2022-23 was their first taste of playoff basketball.
But a disappointing five-game gentleman’s sweep of the Cavaliers by the New York Knicks should mark the end of such lessons, according to local Cleveland reporter Ben Axelrod. Axelrod questioned the front office’s historic strategy of jettisoning troublesome personalities, highlighting this season’s Kevin Love departure as a recent example.
“I still can’t fully blame the Cavs for the Kevin Love situation,” Axelrod tweeted after the Cavs were eliminated in a 106-95 loss. “If anything, both he and the team deserve blame. I do think it’s fair to question the way this front office has managed players/personalities dating back to the Kyrie Irving trade.
“The Cavs have gotten the luxury of not having any real expectations for the last five years, but this series should’ve been a wake-up call. No more wins and lessons.”
After the No. 8 Miami Heat pulled off an improbable upset over the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to Round 2 against the Knicks, Love will be playing basketball later than the team he started the season with.
JB Bickerstaff Called Out Ahead of Game Five Versus Knicks
The front office isn’t the only Cavs entity to come under scrutiny recently.
“Is coach J.B. Bickerstaff — at the center of this rebirth — a good enough tactician to help the franchise take the next step?” cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor asked after a dismaying Game Four loss that sent the series to 3-1.
Despite promising that the Cavaliers would be better after each successive loss, Bickerstaff’s game plans rarely changed from night to night. When the Knicks went small, the Cavs failed to respond, instead keeping two space crushers Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the game. With this series loss, Bickerstaff’s career postseason record stands at a paltry 2-8.
Fedor continued by questioning nearly every aspect of Cleveland’s roster-building, cap management, and personnel decisions:
“Is investing that much in a pair of 7-footers – only to have them get pulverized by a Knicks frontcourt featuring Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, Obi Toppin and Cleveland castoff Isaiah Hartenstein — the best use of salary cap allocation? Is this an 82-game roster or a 16-gamer? Is building around a pair of guards a sound strategy in today’s wing-dominated NBA? Do the Cavs have the means to find a more reliable fifth starter to complement the Core 4. Is re-signing erratic Caris LeVert the proper use of financial resources?”
The Cavaliers have an exciting young core in Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Darius Garland. Outside of that trio, all options should be on the table for making a 51-win regular season team into a viable playoff threat.
Cavaliers Expected to Pursue Wing Upgrades
That includes finding reinforcements on the wings, without question the weak spot on this year’s roster. The front office declined to make any moves at the trade deadline, joining the Chicago Bulls as the only teams to sail through the deadline without changes.
Several wing options will be available to the Cavaliers this summer. That includes Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale of the Brooklyn Nets, who were recently swept by the Philadelphia 76ers. According to a recent report from Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, the Nets are likely to part ways with both players this summer.
“While many rival executives around the league are convinced Bridges isn’t going anywhere, there’s a belief the Nets could break up their surplus of wing depth and trade either Finney-Smith or O’Neale. Various teams around the league, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, are expected to pursue potential 3-and-D wings this summer,” Scotto wrote.
Here comes the challenge: Scotto reported that the Nets could get at least one first-round pick for both players back in February. But after dealing for Mitchell last summer, draft capital is an area the Cavs are especially light in.
Perhaps the Nets, who finished 29th in rebounding last season, could take back Jarrett Allen in a trade involving O’Neale and/or Finney-Smith. Allen finished with 7.4 boards per game last year, top-30 in the league.