The Cleveland Cavaliers will have plenty to prove after a few of their Eastern Conference opponents made monumental moves before the start of the 2023-24 NBA season.

The Milwaukee Bucks pulled off a blockbuster trade for guard Damian Lillard in September, adding the seven-time All-Star in a three-team trade with the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns. The Blazers would flip guard Jrue Holiday, an All-Defensive First-Team selection who was included in the Lillard trade, to the Boston Celtics earlier this month. Holiday would join a roster that features All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum, All-Star guard Jaylen Brown and former Washington Wizards forward Kristaps Porzingis.

The Cavaliers depth will be a point of emphasis heading into the upcoming season after the team’s bench played in an average of 16.1 minutes per game during last year’s regular season, according to Cavs head coach JB Bickerstaff showed confidence in Cleveland’s depth as he spoke with the media following a Thursday practice.

“I think, as we go through the season, everybody’s going to get a look, because that’s just what happens in the NBA season,” Bickerstaff said, via a Thursday video from the Cavaliers. “We could easily go 11 deep. I think what you do is, and you look around at teams that have kind of done that, is certain guys may find three or four-game blocks. If they keep it rolling, they keep going. Then you rotate because you know you’re going to need guys throughout the season.

“I’m really comfortable with the entirety of our roster. Everybody on this roster can help us in some way.”

Cleveland must lay out a deeper rotation earlier in the 2023-24 regular season before moving on to a potential run in the playoffs. While they lost forwards Lamar Stevens and Cedi Osman in the sign-and-trade for forward Max Strus, they added a few extra options at the one and the five while retaining guard Caris LeVert via a two-year contract extension.

Who are some dark-horse candidates for a more prominent role in Cleveland’s rotation during the 2023-24 season?

Damian Jones

The Cavs acquired Jones through a July trade with the Utah Jazz. The former Vanderbilt center was selected by the Golden State Warriors with the 30th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft following his three-year collegiate career. The two-time All-SEC First Team selection played for Vanderbilt squads that featured former Cavs center Luke Kornet and former Trail Blazers guard Wade Baldwin during his time with the Commodores.

Jones split time with the Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers during his seventh season in the NBA. He showed promise during his Jazz debut in February, scoring seven points and swatting away two shots in the paint as the Memphis Grizzlies took a 117-111 victory in FedEx Forum.

“Damian came in and really gave us a burst athletically,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said, via Digital Content Writer Ryan Kostecka. “Defensively, he showed some ability to stay in front of the ball and alter shots at the rim. Clearly a great athlete. … We needed a change of pace in tonight’s game, we needed to see if we could find a spark, and I thought both of those guys delivered.”

Jones must find a way to carve out his role in the Cavs rotation to provide extra depth at the center spot behind Jarrett Allen. Jones averaged 15.8 minutes per game during the 19 regular season games he played with the Jazz last year. He earned one start during his 22 games with the Lakers during the 2022-23 regular season, a 9-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves last October that saw center Rudy Gobert notch a 22-point, 21-rebound double-double at the Target Center.

Tristan Thompson

Thompson was signed to a one-year contract with the Cavaliers in September. The Cavs selected Thompson with the No. 4 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, three spots after they took guard Kyrie Irving with the first-overall pick. The former Texas center played for nine seasons with Cleveland before signing with the Celtics in 2020.

“Tristan embodies every trait we want as part of our team culture, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring his experience and character back into our franchise,” Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said in a September release. “His impact both on and off the court is immeasurable, and his history with our team adds a layer of familiarity, leadership and physicality that will undoubtedly make a positive impact with our younger players.

“An integral part of our four consecutive NBA Finals trips and an NBA Championship in 2016, Tristan represented the organization with the utmost charm and professionalism during his nine seasons in Northeast Ohio. We are thrilled to reunite with Tristan and welcome him and his family back to the Cavaliers family.”

Thompson’s rebounding prowess and NBA experience could make him a valuable part of a Cavs squad that took 25th place in the NBA with 41.1 rebounds per game during last year’s regular season.

Ty Jerome

The Cavs signed Jerome to a two-year, $5 million contract in July. The former Virginia Cavalier has played for three NBA franchises in four seasons. He suited up in 45 regular season games for the Warriors last year, scoring 6.9 points per game while hitting 38.9% of his 3-point attempts.

Jerome earned high praise from Bickerstaff following a Wednesday practice.

“He’s playing his way where it’s making it hard not to put him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said during a Wednesday availability, via a video from the Cavs. “You just watch him play and he makes the game easy for everybody else.

“He’s a two-way player. He’s a leader, a communicator, a facilitator. He knows how to push the tempo and get guys in their spots early. He’s making it definitely difficult to not play him.”

Jerome must find his role in a Cavs guard rotation featuring LeVert, Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. If he can, Cleveland will be one step closer to creating a solid rotation around its more notable contributors before it heads to a hopeful extended run in the NBA playoffs.