What a chaotic week, Cavs Nation.
28 teams made a trade by the time the clock struck 3 p.m. The days leading up to the 2023 NBA trade deadline saw the Brooklyn Nets go from what looked like a championship contender on paper to a starting five that features guard Spencer Dinwiddie as its top scorer as Nets guard Kyrie Irving went to the Dallas Mavericks and forward Kevin Durant moved to the Phoenix Suns.
As the dust settled from the 12 deadline day trades on Thursday, Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said the team didn’t see any transactions that would move the needle for them before the season’s final stretch.
“I think you guys know me well enough to know I scoured the market and talked to every team I could,” Altman said, via Kelsey Russo of the Athletic. “We could have made a move that was lateral, multiple moves that were lateral, that I didn’t think appreciably made us better.
“I really wanted to see what this group looked like together, fully healthy, that we’ve seen in the last week, week and a half, and the potential of this group, which we’ve seen right in front of our eyes, continue to grow.”
Four 4-team trades, 51 total players and 37 second-round picks were traded during the deadline frenzy, according to Spotrac Co-Founder Michael Ginnitti.
Still, the Cavaliers did not falter.
“I think there’s value in continuity,” Altman said. “I think there’s value in giving this group a runway. Sometimes as a GM, you just say to yourself, ‘Don’t mess this up.’
“And I think that was a big key for us this deadline. It was not easy for me. You guys know I’m volume-heavy, but to take a step back and realize the growth we’ve seen already, mixed with the results. … I’m really happy with where we are and where we’re going.”
While the rest of the league frantically exchanged players and second-round picks to find the right fits for their current-season goals, the Cavs and Chicago Bulls sat back and watched the chaos as they chose to work with the rosters they currently have.
One of those teams has one of the league’s youngest starting lineups, the NBA’s top defensive rating, the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a massive offseason trade for an All-Star guard to nearly complete their Eastern-Conference contending roster under its belt.
The other one doesn’t.
Cleveland had the same record after 57 games last season, moving to 35-22 after a 10-point loss to the 76ers in the Wells Fargo Center last February, according to Basketball Reference. The Cavs finished with a 44-38 record, taking the 8th seed in the 2022 play-in tournament before losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks knocked them out of the playoffs for the fifth year.
As similar as their records may look now, this team is far from the Cavs of old. Mitchell became an All-Star starter for the Cavs this season, the first Cleveland starter since LeBron James was voted into the lineup in 2018. Cleveland is second in the Central Division, giving it an excellent chance to earn its highest spot since the 2017-18 season should they keep up their winning streak.
And, above all else, they stood pat at the trade deadline.
With their nine-man rotation nearly set, and their final 25 regular season games laid out in front of them, only one question remains.
Push for the Playoffs
This year may be the one, Cavs Nation.
Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s wishes for a player who could “create their own” were all but answered with the Mitchell trade, a point he hit upon on Cleveland’s media day.
“In some of the bigger games, we understood we had a need of guys who can create their own.” Bickerstaff said. “(Mitchell) is elite at that. Donovan’s a guy who’s still 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 those big moments and be able to rely on him will be huge for us.”
Mitchell is averaging a career-high 26.8 points per game and 47.3% from the field with the Cavaliers. He has 1,232 isolation points this season, putting him at 15th in the NBA in front of Durant, Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Chicago guard Zach LaVine, according to Statmuse.
The Cavaliers may be more prepared than they have all season to make their first run at the playoffs since the 2017-18 season, the last edition of the series between the Cavs and Golden State Warriors that kept a chokehold on the Finals for four straight years. Cleveland won 104 games and lost 197 in the four seasons before this one, loading up with young talents like guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton before the blockbuster trade that sent Mitchell to the Land.
That doesn’t mean these Cavs can take their foot off the gas just yet.
The Cavaliers will have to fight through two games against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics, the team that gave them a “playoff-type” matchup in the Miami Heat and the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Cleveland will face the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons again before the playoffs. Both games will happen in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, putting the Cavaliers in a favorable spot to build upon their 23-6 home record.
The Cavs will not have to face the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the second seed in the East. Cleveland earned a 2-2 split with the Central Division’s leading contender, falling in their first two matchups before big-time scoring nights from some of the Cavs’ more reliable scorers pushed them to two straight wins at home.
Regroup in the Offseason
Who will stay, and who will go?
Nine players are listed on Cleveland’s 2023-24 salary grid by Spotrac, including all five of Cleveland’s current starters. Two forwards, Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens, were listed with non-guaranteed deals for next season. Osman’s agreement will become fully guaranteed on June 24th.
Love was not listed as a buyout candidate after the NBA trade deadline, leaving the nine-year Cavalier on the roster for now. Guard Caris LeVert was not traded before the deadline despite rumors of potential swaps with two other teams. Altman hammered home the point of LeVert being an essential part of the team on Thursday, saying there was much interest in keeping the 28-year-old scoring guard in a Cavaliers uniform.
“There’s a lot of interest to keep him here,” Altman said. “We obviously kept him through the deadline for a reason…
“He remains a very important part of what we’re doing. He’s a really good basketball player, and I know he’s thrilled to still be here, and we’re happy that he’s here as well.”
The Cavs could try to resign both on team-friendly deals in the offseason, keeping the two key Cavalier players on the roster as the young starting lineup continues to grow together.
They could also try their hand at other future free agents, should they have the cap space.
The Cavaliers own a second-round pick from the Golden State Warriors in the 2023 NBA draft. A 7-21 away record pushed the Warriors to a 28-27 record after 55 games played, putting them at ninth in the Western Conference and 16th in the NBA.
Bleacher Report’s most recent mock draft had Cleveland selecting UConn junior Andre Jackson Jr., a 6-foot-6-inch guard averaging 5.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. A late-January mock draft from Yahoo! Sports saw them selecting Illinois senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., a Texas Tech transfer who leads the Illini in scoring with 17 points per game.
No matter what direction they go, Altman got one thing right when he made his bold statements in 2021.
Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse had some exciting basketball over these past two years.
The Cavs will tip off against the New Orleans Pelicans at 10 p.m. EST on Friday in the Smoothie King Center. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN and Bally Sports Ohio.