NBA Preview: Cavaliers Reset the Eastern Conference


Far from the desolate ruins the team found itself in a few seasons ago after the departure of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have officially arrived, this time not just as the plucky underdogs that you can’t turn your eyes away from. With Donovan Mitchell making his way to the city, Cleveland can once again hope to traverse that onerous road to success.

Make sure to check out all of our other NBA Season Previews.

Offseason Recap 

After a drawn-out saga, it was the Cavaliers that emerged victorious in their pursuit of the three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell. The price was hefty: Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks, and two pick swaps.

There was an understandable aura of shock and apprehension. For a side still in its infancy, parting ways with key pieces of their youth core along with draft capital even for a mercurial star in Mitchell stirred a fair bit of anxiety for fans.

Yet, it all makes sense. The Cavs seemingly got off to a faltering start to their rebuild when their backcourt of Darius Garland and Sexton struggled initially. Moments of brilliance shone but hopes of them working cohesively as a duo for a winning franchise seemed unlikely. However, Koby Altman and Mike Gansey remained undeterred in their journey to rebuild the side. 

The process came together rather serendipitously last season. The trade for Jarrett Allen in the season prior was followed by drafting Evan Mobley with the second overall pick in the 2022 draft. Garland, who was statistically dubbed as the worst player in the league in his rookie season, took giant strides forward, averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists last year. The frontcourt pairing of Mobley and Allen was seamless, instantly establishing themselves as one of the most formidable defensive duos in the league. 

Besides Mitchell, the team also brought in Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, and Robin Lopez to bolster the team’s depth and add much-needed experience and leadership. 

The Starting Five

PG – Darius Garland

SG – Donovan Mitchell

SF – Isaac Okoro

PF – Evan Mobley

C – Jarrett Allen

In a relatively succinct rebuild, the Cavaliers have managed to engineer an incredibly balanced starting five with the frontcourt manning the majority of defensive duties while the skilled backcourt duo commandeers the offense. With three bonafide All-Stars and an imminent one in Mobley, the Cavaliers have perhaps the strongest lineup when it comes to longevity. 

What’s fascinating is despite Mitchell and Garland both being high-usage guards, there is evidence to believe the two will complement each other superbly. What Garland lacks in explosiveness, Mitchell makes up for with his ability to finish at the rim. The new star now has an excellent option who can play off-ball as well. Their playmaking styles meld into each other well with Garland looking to find his frontcourt while Mitchell tries to find the open man beyond the arc.

Defensively, Allen and Mobley offer varying skills. The Rookie of the Year runner-up is more switchable with his ability to guard the perimeter while Allen is one of the best rim protectors in the league. Okoro has shown signs of progression and will be a consistent offensive threat due to his athleticism.  

The Bench

Caris LeVert, who struggled last season due to injury, will perhaps be the star off the bench. In his prime at the minute, LeVert is a perennial scoring threat while also bringing postseason experience to the young side. 

Sixth Man of the Year nominee Kevin Love remains a steadfast option off the bench. Meanwhile, there is optimism that Rubio will shine once again as he did prior to the ACL injury last season. 

The bench has consistent options in Neto and Cedi Osman, who will add discipline and structure to the team. Lopez will be a morale booster within the side as well.

Season Outlook

The Eastern Conference has just been shaken up. A side that once seemed destined for another play-in finish now has higher expectations upon its shoulders. Perhaps it is too early to expect a conference finals finish? Barring the likes of the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, there doesn’t seem to be a team that stands head and shoulders above this Cavs side. Teams like the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls have failed to make significant moves to cover for the losses, be it to free agency or just injury setbacks. The Cavs have assembled a concoction of versatility, all while fitting in with each other seamlessly. 

The legacy of the recent upheaval will bear fruit in the seasons to come, but for the next, the Cavs have time. Time may just allow the team the flexibility it needs to win, and more importantly, have fun doing it. 

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Embed from Getty Images

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