After the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ away stint against the New York Knicks, one is quickly reminded of a particular verse from Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”: city is a pity/half of y’all won’t make it.
Count JB Bickerstaff and the Cavaliers among the bunch who didn’t quite make it during this iteration’s first road playoff test. Heading into the series, Knicks skipper Tom Thibodeau was seen by some as the better strategist, with a playoff resume far longer than Bickerstaff’s.
But with Cleveland’s offense now sputtering (the team has scored more than 100 points just once during the playoffs and averaged 86 points between the two road matches), questions have begun to arise about Bickerstaff’s ability to make in-game adjustments to unlock the league’s eighth-best offense this season.
“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 in a postgame writeup.
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?”
For now, the Cavaliers return to Cleveland looking to replicate the 2016 Finals team and crawl out of a 3-1 hole.
Donovan Mitchell Takes Blame After Cavs Lose to Knicks
All eyes have been on Donovan Mitchell during this series and for good measure. The New York native was widely expected to be traded to the Knicks this summer before the Cavaliers swooped in. The Cavs-Knicks series quickly turned into a de-facto referendum on that deal.
On Sunday, the bright lights and big expectations might have gotten the best of Mitchell, who managed just 11 points and was nearly blanked in the second half.
“I didn’t show up for my teammates,” Mitchell said, per Fedor. “Everybody did their job, and I didn’t do what I was capable of. That’s on me. I played like s***. I’m the leader of this group. Everybody did their job. I didn’t. Simple as that.”
But Mitchell is keeping his head up, focused on advancing from a 3-1 hole for just the 14th time in NBA history.
“I believe in myself. I believe in this group. We believe in each other,” Mitchell explained. “If you give up 3-1, you’re not built for these moments.”
While Mitchell’s future isn’t in doubt, the Cavaliers likely need to hit the drawing board this summer to solve the team’s myriad depth issues.
Cavaliers ‘Expected to Pursue’ Depth on the Wings: Report
Aside from concerns over Bickerstaff’s coaching, the playoffs have exposed a stunning lack of depth on Cleveland’s bench. In a league built on three-and-D wings, the Cavs have . . . none?
Isaac Okoro is the closest the team has to such a player, but his offense (36% on 2.3 attempts beyond the arc this season) is hardly sufficient. Okoro’s even seen his starting spot in the rotation disappear, with the defensively-challenged Caris LeVert taking over in his stead.
Several options will be available to the Cavs this summer, including a pair of Brooklyn Nets studs in Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale. The Nets, fresh off a four-game sweep to the Philadelphia 76ers, are expected to part ways with the pair, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.
“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.
Scotto noted that both players commanded at least one first-round pick in trade discussions back in February, something that could become tricky for a Cavs team light on first-round picks after the Mitchell trade. According to Fanspo, the Cavaliers hold just their 2024 first-round pick, presumably the only bargaining chip for Finney-Smith or O’Neale.