The Cleveland Cavaliers will need to make a choice.
They have been riding the charmed life of a winning team on the rise over the past two seasons. In 2021-22 they doubled their win total, with Darius Garland coming into his own as an All-Star point guard and rookie Evan Mobley becoming a defensive difference-maker from day one. Jarrett Allen was an anchor in an All-Star season of his own.
Last season was another step forward, driven by the addition of All-NBA shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The Cavaliers won 51 games and made the playoffs without LeBron James for the first time in 25 years. They may have been bounced violently out of the playoffs in five games, but no one expected them to win it all during their first trip.
The Cavaliers are facing pressure now
This season, however, is starting to bring the pressures of expectations. The Cavaliers have stumbled out of the gate, hit by injuries to each of their four stars at different points. Currently, Darius Garland is in the midst of a month-long absence for a broken jaw, while Evan Mobley will miss at least another month or more after knee surgery.
Those injury announcements, coming within minutes of one another in mid-December, were supposed to sink the Cavaliers. This team was already dealing with the weight of expectations that they take yet another step forward, winning a playoff series and becoming a serious contender in the East. Mobley was supposed to take a step forward, Max Strus was supposed to unlock their starting lineup, and this team was tasked with proving to the league and to Donovan Mitchell that they were a legitimate threat to win a title.
If they couldn't do that, the specter of Mitchell walking in free agency in 2025 would drive the Cavs to trade him this summer or risk losing him for nothing. That pressure was shunted to the present when Mobley and Garland were injured, and the discussion began shifting to where the Cavaliers would send Mitchell as this season fell apart.
Then the unlikely happened: the Cavaliers kept winning. They won without Garland and Mobley. They even won without Donovan Mitchell, going 3-1 when he missed an entire week with an illness. In total, the Cavaliers are 8-3 since that announcement; instead of spiraling into the lottery, the Cavaliers have rising into a three-way tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference, just a half-game behind the New York Knicks for fourth and homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
Although Mitchell has been incredible when he has played in that stretch, and bench production from the likes of Sam Merrill and Craig Porter Jr. has been invaluable, the most important player for the Cavaliers over the past few weeks has been none other than Jarrett Allen.