Last year at this time … well, I ripped the Cavaliers.
I’m not sure exactly what I wrote, and I’m not about to go searching to find it. But I can promise you it wasn’t very flattering.
I’m positive I wrote something about how the Cavs were rolling out three 7-footers (or near 7-footers) in an NBA that has gone small. What were they thinking, I asked?
Oh, and I’m pretty sure I said something about Koby Altman being on the “hot seat” entering the season.
He was the general manager when I wrote that. He’s since been elevated to president of basketball operations.
Shows what I know.
Not only was Altman deservedly in the running for NBA Executive of the Year, but the Cavs finished 44-38 and barely missed the playoffs. If it weren’t for injuries, I’m convinced they would have been a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, and center Jarrett Allen, power forward Evan Mobley and former small forward Lauri Markkanen did more than hold their own in the frontcourt. They helped propel the Cavs from the 25th-ranked defense in 2020-21 … to the fifth-best last season. (I’m sure the coaching of J.B. Bickerstaff had something to do with that, too, by the way.)
Oh, and I also said something about how the Cavs couldn’t possibly trade Kevin Love fast enough, that Love’s contract was an “albatross” in Cleveland. I think we all know what actually happened.
It’s true that Sexton and Markkanen are gone now, with Altman taking another big swing to reshape — and presumably improve — the roster. In is Donovan Mitchell, another 6-1 guard.
For the record, I’m not about to doubt the pairing of Mitchell and Garland. A lot of that has to do with Mitchell, a three-time All-Star. But even more of it has to do with Garland. That’s just how impressive he’s been.
Reasons to Believe
Last year, I’m sure I predicted the Cavs would win maybe 30 games. In fact, when asked on the Cavs on the Break podcast to pick their final record, I’m pretty sure I answered, “28-54, and that’s being generous.”
Yes, I said 28-54. Guilty as charged.
So what am I thinking this season? Yes, I know. Based on how wrong I was about everything last year, maybe it’s best that I just not say.
But I’m going to anyway.
And I think the Cavs are better — and quite a bit. Not just better than I thought they were at this time last year, but better than they were at the finish.
Mobley is a year older. Mitchell is better than Sexton, and I say that as someone who thinks Sexton is pretty darn good. Garland is still ascending. Allen is a stopper at center. Love is in the perfect role coming off the bench. And Ricky Rubio is back (eventually).
As for small forward, well, I’m not too worried. Whether Caris LeVert or Isaac Okoro start doesn’t really matter. There really is no losing with that decision — only degrees of winning. It’s not so much about who starts as it is who finishes, and how Bickerstaff manages the game, rotations, matchups, etc.
It’s safe to say the Cavs and their fans can have faith that Bickerstaff will do exactly that. His voice and coaching style seem to be the perfect fit for this roster.
There are plenty more reasons for excitement. You can’t help but like the additions of center Robin Lopez and even point guard Raul Neto in free agency. And who knows? Maybe forwards Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens will take another step forward. Heck, even swingman Cedi Osman typically gives you one really good game at least every other week.
Prediction Time, Again
In summary, the Cavs are a bunch of young legs, they are deep, they are talented, and have a coach who clearly knows what’s up.
Yes, the East is loaded. The Celtics, 76ers, Bucks and Heat are veteran teams that are battle-tested in the playoffs. The Nets very well could finally get their act together, and on paper, they may be the best of the bunch.
But the Cavs are confident and cohesive. Altman has assembled a roster of guys who love to play the game, guys who believe. The culture is strong — perhaps better than I’ve seen it in Cleveland, I’ve been doing this for about 112 years.
So … prediction time.
I’ll go with 52-30, fifth place in the East, and maybe a first-round series win. The difference this year, of course, is I think the Cavs can actually be even better than that.
Sam Amico is senior NBA writer at Hoops Wire. Contact him at email@example.com.