The Cavs MUST compete for a championship next season

J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

It was not that long ago when the goal for the Cleveland Cavaliers was just making the playoffs.

For a franchise that won a combined 41 games from 2019 to 2021 (which almost matched Kevin Love’s 2021 salary of 31 million) that was understandable. After the Cavs came painfully close during the 2021-22 season, that desire only intensified.

That is what prompted them to trade for Donovan Mitchell and add him to a budding core that included Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. However, when adding a star of Mitchell’s caliber, just making the playoffs is not the goal. It’s the expectation. A big-time acquisition like that comes with big-time aspirations and goals.

Last season was the Cavs’ first year with expectations since LeBron James left town, and they exceeded them…in the regular season. In the playoffs, they fell flat on their face and were routed by the New York Knicks in five games. Yes, most of the roster was devoid of playoff experience. Yes, the roster had shooting weaknesses and a lack of depth, which was partly because of the Mitchell trade. That did not make the defeat any less disappointing.

Even though the Cavs had a couple of factors not working in their favor, getting dominated in a series where they had homecourt is inexcusable. After this offseason, there are no excuses. The reality is simple: a successful season for the Cavs does not mean making the playoffs. It means hanging up banner #2 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Or at least coming close.

The Cavaliers need to be serious title contenders

I want to make myself clear: I am NOT saying the Cavs are in championship or bust mode. Their championship window just opened and Garland, Mitchell, Mobley, and Allen are all 26 years old or younger.

However, they cannot be first-round exits again. They have too much talent on the roster and their weaknesses have been addressed this offseason. The Cavs added two snipers in Max Strus and Georges Niang, who combined for 351 made threes last season. If you swap their shooting production with the players they replaced in Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens, the Cavs would have been fifth in the league in total made threes, up from 19th.

Adding two great shooters next to elite playmakers in Garland and Mitchell should open up the floor for the Cavs and also soften the blow of having two non-shooting bigs on the court in Mobley and Allen. Oftentimes last season, the Cavs did not have a consistent shooter at the wing spot to space the floor on offense. The Cavs shelled out $90 million total to bring Strus and Niang in. You don’t shell out that kind of money to fill a major weakness to underachieve in the playoffs again.

They also added to their depth by signing Ty Jerome, and Damian Jones, two young guys that provide depth at point guard and center respectively. The Cavs got deeper and now have a complete roster. They have a superstar in Mitchell. They have a co-star in Garland. They have two defensive stalwarts in Mobley and Allen. They now have depth on the wing in Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Max Strus, and Georges Niang, who are far better options than what they had before. There are no excuses.

In fairness to the Cavs, no one thought they would be able to rebuild this fast. One could argue that they are a year or two ahead of schedule. However, the reality is their championship window opened last season and they cannot afford to underachieve for much longer. With Donovan Mitchell’s long-term future very much up in the air, the Cavs need a successful season. Otherwise, he might not want to stay in Cleveland long-term, also factoring in recent chatter. They either have to win the Larry O’Brien trophy or at least come close.

Next. Grade the Trade: Cavaliers deal Donovan Mitchell in ESPN-approved pitch. dark

From a talent and continuity perspective, the Cavs have all the pieces they need to compete for a championship. As the late, great Jim Brown once said:  “Success is there for those who want it, plan for it, and take action to achieve it.” The Cavs accomplished the first two parts. Now they need to finish and take a significant step towards a championship this season.