Step No. 1: Don't break up the band
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a core of four stars on which they have built their success. That group propelled them to 51 wins and the league's second-best net rating last season, but was then obliterated in the playoffs by the New York Knicks. This year they re-armed around that group to see if more shooting could lift them to greater success, with the background implication being that the team would likely break up the band if things didn't go well.
Such a breakup seemed imminent when the season looked on the brink of collapse, but the Cavs' dominance over the past six weeks has reset their expectations. They also have raised a necessary question: if the Cavaliers are playing so well without Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, is that proof this group of four doesn't fit together well enough to go to war with?
There are problems downstream of that answer. Do the Cavaliers fully commit to playing Donovan Mitchell at point guard and look to trade Darius Garland? That could lead to a serious problem if Mitchell walks in free agency in the summer of 2025. Do they trade Evan Mobley? It would be seriously difficult to get back proper value for Mobley given his value, small contract and recent injury. Trade Jarrett Allen? He has been way too good for the Cavs to move on from him now; he's been the backbone of the league's best defense in January.
The Cavs' approach with Mobley and Garland sidelined has been the right one; J.B. Bickerstaff deserves a lot of credit for leaning into wing defense and 3-point shooting. Yet playing the percentages and racking up regular-season wins only goes so far; as ESPN's Zach Lowe recently said when discussing the Cavs, a certain level of raw talent is necessary for winning in the playoffs.
Can Bickerstaff integrate Evan Mobley and Darius Garland back into the rotation and yet keep this offensive attack? Will the defense on the perimeter hold up when Mitchell and Garland are closing games instead of Mitchell and Max Strus?
It may very well be necessary for this core of four players to be broken up, but the Cavaliers shouldn't pull the plug right now. Plugging Mobley and Garland back in will be difficult and potentially disruptive, but trading them would only mean new players to integrate. Cleveland should make a run this season and reevaluate in the summer. They can't gain proof of concept by the deadline, and this group has too high of an upside to flush them without giving it a shot.