Real expectations aren't something the Cleveland Cavaliers have dealt with in a while. Trading for a 26-year-old, three time all-star in Donovan Mitchell to pair with two other All-Stars and an up-and-coming superstar talent in Evan Mobley undoubtedly changes things. President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman, despite raising those expectations with that trade, tried to downplay things as much as possible Monday afternoon.
"This year is not contention or bust at all,” Altman told reporters during media day. "We're still a very young group. We're gaining experience. We played 84 games last year. We certainly want to play more this year. This is a runway we have here with multiple years, guys under contract for the foreseeable future. We want to grow and add more playoff experience and build toward something."
There's a delicate balance between going all in now and building for the future. Altman's comments, and him dodging a similar question about expectations later on, make it seem like he's trying to make sure the Cavs have one foot on either side of that line for as long as they can.
It's understandable why Altman would want to try and do both. The goal of every organization is to build a sustainably good team that has a chance to compete year over year. Keeping the expectations realistic and gradual can work to keep everyone rowing in the same direction when things inevitably go against them. There are countless examples of teams who accelerate the timeline and inevitably breakup after a few years due to that pressure and only a few that can keep things building year over year.
That doesn't mean you can necessarily run from expectations either as coach J.B. Bickerstaff pointed out. “It's about embracing who you are. So those expectations don't bring any added pressure. We have a talented group of players in that locker room that support each another. That's what our focus is on. If we do the right things, good things will happen for this group."
The players seemed welcoming of those expectations and what the ceiling on this team could be. "Just looking at us on paper, seeing how we compete and seeing the guys on this team, you can only dream about what this group can accomplish." said Caris LeVert, "We don't worry about that [expectations]. We can't control that. But everyone on the team can say just being surrounded by elite talent is fun. Playing with great players is fun. It makes your job a lot easier."
Kevin Love followed that line of thinking by saying, "We have the makings of a team that could have four all-stars. We were right there in playoff contention [last year]. We were a team that we hoped could've been playing basketball into May and into June. With Donovan stepping into his role, guys getting another year under their belts, having continuity within our lineup is all going to be huge for us."
Mitchell told Taylor Rook on NBA TV he and this team have a lot to prove. "I’ve made it to the playoffs every year. Ultimately I haven’t gotten to the end goal and that’s what I’m looking to do here.” He went on to say, "Our goal is not just to make the playoffs, but go deep into the playoffs."
Going deep in the playoffs could realistically be the goal for this team. The Cavs were tied for third in the conference last season over 70% of the way through last season before falling off due to injuries. It's only natural that making it into the playoffs and advancing should be the goal given who they've added and the untapped potential of Mobley and Darius Garland.
Increased expectations and scrutiny can also be met with increased tensions. But that doesn't seem to be something Garland is all too concerned about. "I don't think there's any pressure on us," said Garland. "We're just some young guys trying to go out there and win basketball games. I think the media and you guys' job is to put pressure on us. I don't think in our locker room we have any pressure. We've been playing basketball for all of our lives. We've been working to get here so we're just going to go out there and play our game."
This is the first time this core will have the burden of expectations on them. We'll see if they can answer the calling.