Which 2021 playoff team should the Cavs try to emulate?

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant drives. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant drives. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2010, the team went from an instant contender to the bottom of the barrel. The same thing happened when LeBron left the Cavs again before the start of the 2018-2019 season. Clearly, this means that the Cavs’ recent success is because of LeBron.

That said, there were small portions of the season when the Cavs looked like a team moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, there were too many times throughout the season where the team looked lost and somewhat incompetent. The most notable was at the end of the season when Cleveland lost 11 straight games from April 23 to May 10; injuries didn’t help their cause, but the inconsistencies were there either way.

So if the Cavs want to get back into contention, which playoff team should they emulate?

This is a very difficult question to answer because each team that was either already eliminated or is still playing each has their own identity.

For example, you’ve got the Brooklyn Netswho have a “Big 3” of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving (that name should sound very familiar). Or you have the Utah Jazz who have a superstar in Donovan Mitchell and they love to shoot the 3-pointer, and cap space played a key role in their roster construction, for what it’s worth.

But if I take a look at the big picture and think about the main question: “If the Cavs want to become a contender again, which playoff team should they try to emulate?” I would say that it would probably be a toss-up between the Memphis Grizzlies or the Phoenix Suns.

Now the reason it would be a toss-up between Memphis and Phoenix is that they’re both kind of similar to Cleveland already. How? Well, both teams have fairly young cores which for the most part have stayed together and gotten to form chemistry.

The one caveat with Phoenix is that the addition of future Hall of Famer Chris Paul this past offseason via trade seems to have been the missing piece that they needed to push them to the next level. However, when the Suns were in the NBA bubble last season, they did go 8-0. But that wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs.

But even with that, Phoenix has a guard in Devin Booker who is an All-Star that might be on the verge of becoming a superstar. Maybe, and I emphasize the word maybe, Darius Garland is on the verge of becoming that; he demonstrated plenty of scoring and playmaking abilities in his second season, too.

From there, Jarrett Allen and Deandre Ayton have somewhat similar styles in the way that they play center because it feels like they’re not quite the old version of playing with their back to the basket but they’re not quite the new version of center that can shoot the 3-pointer. Ayton does have a solid post game and far more polish, albeit Allen is a great finisher inside and does have nice touch himself.

Both are somewhere in the middle, though, and that seems to be working for both teams.

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When you look at the Grizzlies, it almost feels like they’re built in the same manner that the Cavs are. The one key difference is that Memphis has what will soon be an All-Star point guard in Ja Morant and Cleveland doesn’t.

Granted, signing Kyle Anderson a few years back paid dividends for them, and while he could potentially be, Isaac Okoro is not the defender of Dillon Brooks’ yet; we’ll have to see if he can be in time and perhaps he can be, in fairness.

But Morant again is the key difference currently; now maybe Collin Sexton or Garland, preferably Garland, can become an All-Star; either way, they’re not at that point yet. The other thing with Memphis is that they have not really made any drastic subtractions to their young core.

Instead, they’ve made additions through various methods. Although from my observations, it’s been mostly through the NBA Draft.

But here’s the other key thing for both Memphis and Phoenix, it’s that both teams have stayed with their current head coach for a few years and it seems pretty clear that both could very well be around long-term with the culture they’ve seemingly instilled.

Both have only been head coaches for their respective clubs for only two years, albeit both Monty Williams and Taylor Jenkins will likely be in their Suns and Grizzlies’ gigs for the long haul it appears.

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This has/will allow the team to grow together and really find a groove; whereas, the Cavaliers seem to only give their head coaches two or so years, and three seemingly at most.  Staying with the same head coach and having a core has allowed both Phoenix and Memphis to really develop what they’ve got.