Every NBA team has one plan in the offseason: improve. The Cleveland Cavaliers and each of their 29 rivals plan out every potential summer move they can make years in advance alongside the moves that suddenly manifest.
In some years, instant contention is not remotely possible, so improvement does not look the same for every organization. This summer, Cleveland prioritized outside shooting and forward depth. The Phoenix Suns targeted star power, sacrificing depth in order to stockpile All-Star talent. Conversely, rebuilding teams improve through acquiring future assets and draft compensation.
For that reason, a team that bottoms out in the summer is not universally worse for a team than going all-in every summer. The Cavaliers are only at the spot they are now because they navigated disappointing seasons with poise, drafting and trading with the future in mind.
After LeBron joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, the Cavaliers immediately shifted from a consistent powerhouse in the East to the conference’s worst squad. In 2019, The Ringer ranked Cleveland’s young core as the second worst in the entire Association. Fast forward to 2023, and Bleacher Report placed the Cavs as the league’s ninth brightest future, regardless of Donovan Mitchell’s future contract.
How did the Cavaliers change their destiny suddenly? They capitalized on their regular season strengths and discovered answers to their weaknesses. Drafts, trades, and development were the recipe for success in Cleveland. With every new draft selection, the Cavaliers embraced their strengths and recognized their talents.
When Darius Garland unexpectedly broke out into NBA stardom in his third season alongside rookie star Evan Mobley and big man Jarrett Allen, Cleveland wasted no time in building the roster around this new young core. With Donovan Mitchell’s arrival, the Cavaliers had the most firepower on the team since the 2016 NBA Finals run. Although there are still rooms of necessary improvement, the Cavaliers have continually improved year by year in their recent history.
In short, offseason failure and success are subjective terms, but a team’s failure can be easily defined as a front office that falls short of their personal goals during the summer. When a team focuses on the NBA Draft for improvement, taking an eventual draft bust is a direct example of a failed offseason. Unfortunately, the Cavs know this pain all too well. A team with hopes of an NBA Finals appearance may sell away all their future draft capital only to miss the playoffs entirely or realize the new star player does not fit on the roster at all.
Although almost every decision by a team will only be properly valued years into the future, these three Eastern Conference rivals to the Cavaliers look shakier and more vulnerable than they were yesterseason.