In 2022-23, the Cavaliers finished fourth in the East, securing home-court advantage through round one, but lost in five games to the New York Knicks. The work done from October through April was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough, and lacking physicality was a factor in the demise of the Wine and Gold. It wasn’t just an early exit; New York’s rebounding advantage was obscene.
For the record, in 2023-24, the team payroll is $173 million. Making a jump from first-round exit to conference winner is an unrealistic progression, but competing for it is another story. The Bucks have likely regained conference supremacy with Sub Zero’s (Damian Lillard) arrival in the land of cold winters and daytime drinking.
Getting to the East semifinals would work for most rebuilding squads in year two post-blockbuster trade, but that’s too modest for Cleveland. Heavy investments were made already in the future of the club, and it must be validated before Donovan Mitchell’s deal is up in 2026. The Conference Finals are the objective.
Cracking 50+ wins was nice, especially after five years since the last time it happened (2017-18) for the Cavs. But is it wiser to reach for the one seed, looking to play a weaker opponent, or is getting to the NBA Playoffs rested (within the rules) more important to the squad?
The Bucks might attest to the former as a dangerous scheme, and others will tell you that reduced court time affects synchronicity. I present the 2020 LA Clippers as evidence for the latter.
Players usually get in the lab or weight room, working with trainers and instructors, or even by themselves. Open runs with other NBA players sharpen their skills, too.
But what does a coach do? Is it as simple as consulting with different minds or dusting off some old tapes of sets run decades ago? If I were running things by the way, I’d study Jack McKinney, the architect of Showtime who has been forgotten through time and died of complications from his brain injury in 2018. The Cavaliers had the slowest pace in the league in 2022-23, and no one can convince me they don’t have the personnel to play faster.
I would also study the great legends of the low post so Evan Mobley could be taught some unstoppable moves. One-dimensional shooters these days get too much credit for spacing the floor when opposing defenses are sagging away from the three-point line. The threat on the low block that needs immediate help is the ultimate floor spacer.