Ten players have appeared in at least 40 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. That figure jumps up to 12 once one adds Ricky Rubio and Dean Wade to the bunch, both of whom are regular rotation players but missed much of the season’s start while recovering from injuries.
That’s all well and good for a Tuesday game against the Detroit Pistons. But come playoff time, the Cavs will have to make some difficult rotation decisions.
“Eight, nine will probably be the most,” Cavs head coach JB Bickerstaff told cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor when asked how many players will make up the Cavs’ postseason rotation.
While the familiar names — Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, and Darius Garland — won’t go anywhere, the same can hardly be said for the rest of the Cavaliers rotation.
“It could depend on our opponent and what we need in the moment. Four of the five starters I think are going to end up playing heavy minutes. So now we’re just trying to piece the guys around them that night to fit the matchups best,” Bickerstaff concluded.
It only makes sense. The deeper Cleveland goes into the playoffs, the more likely opposing teams are to exploit a player’s weakness. Defenders could shade off of Isaac Okoro, forcing the Cavs to play five-versus-four on offense. Shrewd ballhandlers could go at Caris LeVert, who is hardly known as a hard-nosed defender.
That means the next few weeks will be crucial for players to cement themselves as integral to Cleveland’s rotation and find a groove that benefits the team and makes Bickerstaff think twice before axing in the postseason.
Cavs Filling Kevin Love Roster Spot with NBA Champion
The postseason rotation squeeze might already be in full effect. Franchise legend Kevin Love was effectively removed from the rotation before the All-Star Break by Bickerstaff, a decision that led directly to his surprising buyout.
“Kevin wants to play,” Bickerstaff told reporters two weeks ago.
Ultimately, however, Love wasn’t going to get the run on the court that he believed he was worth. And, to his credit, Love has started games for the Miami Heat since signing with the South Beach team following his buyout.
“I understand that, he wants to be on the floor,” Bickerstaff continued. “He can help teams, help a team, he believes. So, I think it’s that frustration of not being able to participate with your teammates that you could feel in a good sense. He helped bring this organization to a place that it hadn’t been. To be able to win a championship anywhere, to be able to go to four straight finals, that’s something that should definitely be praised and be recognized and appreciated.”
Fortunately, the Cavaliers appear to have stumbled upon a potential replacement for Love’s roster spot. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Cavaliers are signing NBA champ Sam Merrill to a ten-day contract.
“The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign guard Sam Merrill to a 10-day contract out of their NBA G-League Charge affiliate, sources tell me and @kelseyyrusso,” Charania tweeted on Wednesday.
After single-season stints with the Bucks and Grizzlies, this season has been something of a renaissance for Merrill.
With the Charge, Merrill is putting up 17.5 points per game on 43.7% from deep. He’s been an integral part of the Charge’s roster, as well, with a commanding 33.8 minutes per game tally this year.
Bickerstaff Criticized for Rotation Flaws
The next few weeks will be crucial not only for players like Merrill to find a rhythm within the Cavs’ system but for Bickerstaff as well.
By the playoffs, Bickerstaff should have a command of the rotation in such a way that flawed lineups, like the one used against the Celtics, are few and far between.
Cavs beat writer Evan Dammarell pointed out some of the flaws in a particular pattern that Cleveland ran against Boston on Wednesday:
Danny Green, who was signed several weeks ago following his own buyout, is still playing his way back from an ACL tear suffered last May. But early signs of his shooting form — 42.9% from three — suggest he could be a major deep threat once fully healthy.