Over, far from out.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ promising season came crashing down as quickly as it soared to heights not yet seen by their rising young roster. A turbulent regular season filled with many different streaks and a 71-point outing from Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell came to a sudden end when the New York Knicks took the hopeful Cavaliers down in five games, ending the series with a 106-95 win over Cleveland at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
Some of Cleveland’s biggest flaws were exposed in the Cavs’ 5-game series against the Knicks: The team’s lack of playoff experience was apparent during Game 1 and their two matchups at Madison Square Garden. A tough duo in forward Julius Randle and center Mitchell Robinson overpowered Cleveland’s bigs. The team continued to lean heavily on the scoring ability of Mitchell and Cavs guard Darius Garland.
But with every fall comes a chance to rise again.
The offseason will allow the front office to look over a roster with bright young players and an All-Star guard in Donovan Mitchell and see how they can shake things up to come back stronger. It will be a time for the Cavs to try and figure things out following the series loss to the Knicks.
“It’s not always going to go your way,” Mitchell said, via ESPN Cavs beat reporter Danny Cunningham. “And it sucks. It hurts. It’s terrible. I’m riding 30 minutes of sleep here, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I work hard for this. You go through this beauty and the struggle. This, there’s going to be a time where we figure this out.
“I’m six years in and I haven’t made it past the second round. There’s going to be a time where I figure it out and it’s coming. But if I’m not going to let this, and I don’t think any of us going to let this define us, define me and I’ll be better for it. We’ll be better for it.”
Cavs’ Biggest Offseason Need: Bench Depth
A team can only be as strong as its 15th man.
Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff largely stuck to a tight rotation featuring seven players with 14 minutes or more in Game 1, Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5 during the NBA playoffs, according to Basketball Reference. 13 players saw the floor in Game 3, but four of them played in a little under four minutes and one played in just more than five.
Cleveland’s bench had a net rating of -2.3 in the playoffs with an offensive rating of 35.5, putting it at 11th and dead last in the postseason in both categories, according to NBA.com. Its regular season net rating was boosted to 1.6, good enough for sixth in the NBA, but its offensive rating of 51.6 put it at 28th in the league.
The Cavs bench ranked 28th in the NBA in minutes played, only taking spots ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors.
Bickerstaff’s wish for players who can “create their own” received a massive boost with the trade for Mitchell, a point he highlighted during the team’s media day.
“In some of the bigger games, we understood we had a need of guys who can beat their man and create their own,” Bickerstaff said in a media day press conference. “(Mitchell) is elite at that. Having a guy who’s still relatively the same age as our group and our core, but still has a ton of experience.
“You think about how many player’s numbers increase in the playoffs the way that Donovan’s do… For him to take that step in those big moments, we’re going to face those moments and be able to rely on him as well.”
Still, if the Cavs are to prove they can roll with the best of them, they will need more.
The Cavs could use players who could “create their own” or score off the bench. Players who can grab rebounds and lock down the interior enough to give Cavs forward Evan Mobley and center Jarrett Allen a break. And players with the versatility and reliability to consistently see minutes on the floor and fit seamlessly with the Cavs starting options.
It will also be on Bickerstaff to find more fluid rotations throughout the season and find a way to comfortably mix the Cavs’ starters and bench options.
There’s plenty of work for this Cavs front office to do in the offseason.
One can only hope the team will come back stronger.