With the season already going south for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the recent prolonged injury news of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley has the aspiring contenders in a downward spiral.
On December 15, Shams Charania announced a fatal blow regarding a reeling Cavaliers team. All-Star point guard Darius Garland suffered a fractured jaw in his collision with Boston Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis in the prior night's 116-107 road loss. He is expected to miss several weeks with this injury, but the bad news did not stop there.
Shortly after Garland's news, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story that Cavs big man Evan Mobley will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, sidelining him for at least six-to-eight weeks.
First and foremost, the most important aspect is finding a path to return to health on the right timeline, not the fastest one. Currently, the Cavs sit 13-12 on the season and have never had a fully healthy roster. Rushing one or both of these players back to the court would only result in worse news in the future.
On the season, Garland has averaged 20.7 points and 5.9 assists on 47/34/84 shooting splits in 20 games played. With an earlier injury at the start of the season, Garland had only recently found his rhythm this season and began regaining his momentum. This injury is only another hurdle in a brutal season for the young star guard.
As for Mobley, this is the first prolonged absence due to injury he has ever faced. At seven-feet tall, Mobley has been consistently healthy year after year. In his 21 games this season, Mobley has averaged 16 points, 10.5 rebounds (career high), 2.9 assists (career high) and 1.7 blocks with improved shooting efficiency. All signs were pointing to a leap forward for the former third overall pick. There is no definite timetable for his return, as he will be reevaluated in six-to-eight weeks, meaning his recovery from surgery might take longer than the reevaluation timeline.
Where do the Cleveland Cavaliers go now with Garland and Mobley out?
Last season, the Cavaliers achieved their first 50-win season since LeBron James' departure in 2018. They ended the year fourth in the Eastern Conference, losing in the first round to the New York Knicks. Entering the 2023-24 campaign, the pressure was on for the Cavs to look better than an early playoff exit. Their offseason acquisitions of Max Strus and Georges Niang added shooting depth to surround their core four of Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
Although this year has not been a breakout year for the Cavs, they had begun to find their footing and played consistently over the past stretch of games. With Garland and Mobley out, it is hard to imagine the Cavaliers reclaiming home-court advantage in the playoffs, but their hopes of a postseason are not dead. Donovan Mitchell is still as close to a guarantee for the All-Star game as it could be, and Jarrett Allen is a reliable center and defensive anchor.
Where the problems lie for the Cavs in this is the timeline of Mitchell's contract and their preexisting shortcomings. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been on the hot seat since the playoffs, and this year was meant to be his opportunity to prove himself as the right leader for a developing contender. Mitchell will have a player option in the 2025 offseason, leaving Cleveland with a short timeframe to convince him to extend or to find a trade partner for the All-NBA guard.
Initial reactions might be that the Cavaliers need to tank this season, since they retain full control of their draft pick this offseason for the last time until 2029. Trade rumors have spawned for Mitchell's future already, with the Brooklyn Nets named as potential suitors according to Bleacher Report. While the Cavaliers might be more willing to consider massive personnel overhauls, they are highly unlikely to get enough in return for Mitchell in the middle of the season instead of the offseason.
The Cavs do need a response plan to a dramatic round of bad news, however, and these three paths might what Cleveland ultimately does.