And just like that the season is over. The Cavs were sent home packing after a miserable 5 games in which they only played to their potential for all of about 2 quarters (2nd quarter in game 2 and 3rd quarter in game 4). Despite some obvious red flags with the Cavaliers roster this season, this series was still viewed by many as a warm up for Cleveland before the second round. Whether this was due to confidence in the Cavs young core, or hatred for New York sports, I'm uncertain. Even those who picked the Knicks said it would be a great series, predicting it to go six or seven close games. With Donovan Mitchell, a superstar known for ramping up his scoring dramatically in the playoffs, playing against the team that elected not to trade for him the previous summer, it seemed most thought that his play would be enough to get past some of the younger Cavs growing pains that would be expected in such a series, with three games possibly being played in New York. In hindsight, this was a somewhat predictable upset. The Cavs, as of this writing, do not have a bench. This is hardly an exaggeration. Only 7 Cavalier players played all 5 games of this series. They ran a 7 man rotation with no big men other than Mobley or Allen. When I realized near the end of the season that this was it, that this would be the final roster and no late free agency signings would be made by Koby Altman, I was extremely disappointed, albeit somewhat fascinated. It reminded me of when you see a clearly totaled car on the road that has no business still being driven without several visits to a repair shop. You think, really, are they actually going to try to drive that? Why don't they just fix it instead of risking harm to themselves and others? Unfortunately the Cavaliers were on the highway and there was no turning back. Non Cavs fans may not realize this, but the only other big man on the roster other than the Twin Towers of Mobley and Allen, was Robin Lopez's corpse (unless you wish to include Dean Wade, who magically lost the ability to shoot as soon as Love was bought out and he was branded as his heir apparent), who despite being by all accounts a nice guy and a great locker room presence, was virtually unplayable outside of garage time due to his lack of mobility. He moves like a 50 year old man at LA fitness playing with the younger guys after a 9 hour shift (I feel bad shitting on Lopez, he is one of the only players in the league today to still utilize the hook shot, to perfection, might I add). I assume that he will not be resigned and instead a more athletic, playable big man will be brought in. Signing players like Lopez, for the locker room and to mentor younger players is fine, but you need actual, playable guys at the position to be afforded that luxury. Another massive advantage the Knicks had was offensive rebounding, something I noticed during the season series. This wouldn't be something you'd expect when your team has two uber talented 7 footers, such as Mobley and Allen, but Mobley's frame allows him to be pushed around by guys like Mitchell Robinson. The same qualities that make him such a great defender, his long, skinny frame and his ability to switch on to smaller guys, are weaknesses against a traditional big man such as Robinson. Also, Jarrett Allen has a bad habit of occasionally not playing his size defensively or on the boards. I hope this series lights a fire in him and he comes out next year much more aggressive. He can be so great when he does that. I'm reminded of last year, when after being snubbed from the all star team, in their very next game against the Hornets, Jarrett put up 29 points and 22 rebounds and looked like an All NBA force on both ends. The stats honestly, matter little. It was his demeanor. He played like he knew he could score every time and did. He used his physicality and god given gifts to put on a post clinic. We need to see more of that Allen if this squad wants to take the leap everyone is expecting them to. I will add, in the issue of fairness, that he does have to get more touches offensively for this to happen. Anyway, while the first point I mentioned with was the Cavs lack of depth when discussing how the Knicks won, Garland and Mitchell's performance of course, took much of the media's discourse. Garland threw up a stinker of a game 3 in the New York, shooting a dreadful 4 for 21, while Mitchell's shots simply would not drop much of the series. Quite honestly, I'm not overreacting to Garland's performance in this series. It was a 23 year olds first experience in the playoffs, playing against the crazies in New York for two of those games. That might sound like an excuse, because it is. I really want Garland to succeed. As Mitchell told him post game 1, while he might be the leader of this team, because Garland was with this core through their rebuild, a lot of the guys still look for him to lead, and guys feed off of his energy and play. He just needs to keep being aggressive, like he was in game 2 and the second half in game 4. I want him to keep driving and looking to throw lobs to the twin towers, just as he did last year when he was the primary ball handler. As for Mitchell, unfortunately his shots simply would not drop during this series. I didn't view it as a mentality issue, rather bad luck, a shooting slump that came at the worse possible time, however after this series, and a paltry performance (side note, I really gotta find a good synonym for performance when talking about a guys play. If you got one, email me at email@example.com lol) against the Mavs in round 1 last year playing for Utah, his identity as a playoff performer will dissolve if we see something like this happen against next year, and there will be serious talks about whether this core can ever succeed under Mitchell (Not saying I will, but NBA fans take the cake when it comes to overreacting). Anyway, more than 1000 words later and without further ado, let's begin the topic of this article, discussing what I want to see the Cavs do this season. Side note, notice I said, what I want to see them do, rather than what they need to do. I hate when media personalities act like they're the center of the universe and all knowing. And yes, Stephen A, I'm talking about you.
Wish #1 Fix the Wing Situation
I know this has been discussed ad nauseam all season, but something seriously has to be done about their problems at the wing slot. We need a 3 and D guy, preferably one with playoff experience. I like Levert a lot more than most Cleveland fans, however I would prefer to see him come of the bench, as an offensive energy kind of guy, as he needs the ball in his hands to succeed. I don't think he can be utilized properly with most of his minutes being played with both Garland and Mitchell. Okoro, while he did improve his shot dramatically this season, still did it on a very low attempt rate, shooting less than 3 three pointers a game. Osman, who played a much larger role in this past series than I think anyone expected, is far too inconsistent. Something's gotta change here. I expect either Okoro or Osman to be off the roster by the time the 2023-2024 season begins.
Wish #2 Get a more reliable backup PG
I gotta say, I was hyped when the Cavs brought back Rubio on a 3 year deal, despite him tearing a knee ligament and missing a year of basketball. He was such a big part of the Cavs early season success in the 2022 season and I will always remember him fondly for being such a massive catalyst in ending Cleveland's rebuild, as well as his incredible 37 point, career high performance in the Garden in November 2021. It worked perfectly, having an unselfish, veteran, basketball savant such as Rubio playing alongside a budding All Star in Garland, and three big men to negate their size disadvantage in the backcourt. I thought his injury wouldn't impact his game as much as it has. He's always had kind of a sneaky, old man game, taking off balance shots that you never think will drop until they miraculously hit the bottom of the net. He actually averaged a career high in scoring in the 34 games he played for us until going down with that knee injury. I thought, due to his game being more about being a high IQ player, and much less about relying on athleticism, he would bounce back much better than most would when faced with a similar injury. I expected a drop in production, especially with Mitchell, another extremely high usage ball handler being added to the mix, but I didn't see this coming. Rubio was completely unplayable come playoff time. It reminded me of Delly after coming back from his numerous concussions in the 2021 season. Every time Rubio shot the ball, you unfortunately expected him to miss. He definitely lost a spring in his step as well. While he still is a high IQ player and gives effort defensively, he can't be relied on like the old Rubio could. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm heavily overreacting to thirty something games he played post a serious injury, this isn't the end of Rubio and he bounces back with another team. That might happen, but I wouldn't want to roll those dice if I were the Cavs, looking to make a serious jump to contenders next year. He's a 32 (He'll be 33 by October) year old guard with a history of injuries. I think we should throw him in a trade for a wing, despite having little value, and look for a different point guard option, someone who can spread the floor as well as facilitate. We don't need much already having Mitchell and Garland in the back court, we just need someone who can reliable knock down shots and run the offense for 15-25 minutes.
Wish #3 Fix the Front Court Situation
As I mentioned, above, the Cavs lack front court depth. They need a backup traditional big man, hopefully a veteran, who can help on the boards and catch Garland lobs. I'd also like to see them target a stretch 4, especially if Wade's shooting woes continue.
Wish #4 Get a shooter
Bringing Danny Green in was a smart move by Altman. While it might have been too little too late, given Green's age, health, and the point in the season in which he was signed, I'd like to see the Cavs bring in a shooter, someone who's specialty is running around screens and shooting threes. I want the the front office to find someone who can stretch out the defense and give Mobley and Allen more space in the post.
And that's it for now. I'll be posting more articles and wishlists throughout the offseason with more comments about how I think Cleveland should go about this summer, with more specific players mentioned. More than anything, what this young roster needs above all else is experience. Thanks for reading and keep on rocking in the free world.
Thomas Maddox, Freelance Writer (Someone Please Hire Me)