Dribbles: Ready or Not, Here Come the Cavs, and They Should Be Even Better

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Random dribbles as the Cavaliers get set for their first week of the 2023-24 season.Donovan Mitchell slaps hands with Darius Garland

1. I think the Cavs will be better this year than last. There. I said it.

2. Along with the key players returning, president of basketball operations Koby Altman identified the Cavs’ offseason needs and addressed them — outside shooting, more physical big men, another ballhandler.

3. That first sentence involves Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen (when healthy), Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro and perhaps Dean Wade. The newcomers expected to make an immediate impact — Max Strus, Georges Niang, Ty Jerome and perhaps Damian Jones.

4. And man, is Cavaliers Nation excited about rookie Emoni Bates, who showed plenty of flashes of major promise in training camp. He will begin the year on a 10-day contract and with the Cleveland Charge of the G League. But that could all change soon.

5. Last year, the Cavs finished 51-31. That was good enough for second in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.

6. I project them to win right around 50-52 games again this time. That would likely put them anywhere from third to fifth in the East. But I think they could be better than that, too.

7. In fact, I wouldn’t be stunned to see the finish first or second. But that won’t really matter. All that matters is they use the regular season to get ready for the playoffs — regardless of seed.

8. Point is, the Heat made it to the Finals from the play-in tournament last season. The East is again very tough — but very wide-open. If you’re the Cavs, anything is possible.

9. Almost equally important to the new additions is the fact coach J.B. Bickerstaff and the players got a taste of the playoffs together.

10. I’ve read the words “bust” or “flop” about the Cavs’ first-round loss to the Knicks since last season. But I’ve never looked at it that way. I never thought the Cavs would win that series, I said that out loud several times beforehand, and people got mad. But the roster was Mitchell and a bunch of guys with very little playoff experience — or not at all. Rarely do those types of teams advance.

11. Cleveland fans are used to the days of LeBron James, where almost every trip to the playoffs meant advancing to the Finals. But players such as James are extremely rare and so are those types of runs. They’re not realistic. Most NBA teams have to build up to championship contention … playoff series by playoff series. 

12. Look at the Warriors. Before Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson became legends, they kept getting bounced in the earlier rounds. Or how about former Cavs coach Mike Brown and the Kings last season? Another young team that won the Pacific Division … then lost in the first round. That’s generally the way it plays out.

13. So I never expected the Cavs to overtake the Knicks in the playoffs last season, and I don’t think losing really said anything about the state of the franchise. They needed to plug some holes, yes, but then they went out and did it. (On paper, anyway.)

14. It’s true that the Cavs were dominated physically vs. New York and the series was never really close after Game 2. But that’s probably better, too. The Cavs have had to listen to the talk about them being a “weaker” or “softer” team all offseason. They are likely more motivated than if the series had been close.

15. So what do I envision for the Cavs? They have to hope to stay healthy, stay united (which is never an issue under Bickerstaff), and stay extra motivated. I believe they will do at least the last two, with the first being impossible to predict. That will mean 50-plus wins and a second-round playoff appearance.

16. Anything beyond that, in my eyes, would be an overachievement. But yes, I think beyond the second round is possible. If the Heat went on a run last season that no one saw coming … well, the Cavs can do the same. That possibility alone is a reason for the organization and its fans to get ready for the 2023-24 full of fun.

Looking for the latest NBA Insider News & Rumors?

Be sure to follow Hoops Wire on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for breaking NBA News and Rumors for all 30 teams!

Leave a Reply