For the first half of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked destined for at least one round of home court advantage in the playoffs.
Then, the team likely set its eyes on merely a favorable first-round matchup.
And, as the season’s twilight came into focus, the Cavs were a team just hoping, praying to make it through the play-in.
Unfortunately, Cleveland lost both play-in games.
It was a disappointing end to a once promising season.
Nonetheless, there are several huge lessons the upstart Cavs should have learned after last season.
Here are three:
1. Depth is Crucial
Of course, this was going to be first.
You could argue that the only reason that the team floundered down the stretch was because injuries crippled its ability to compete.
— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) May 10, 2022
But a collection of players can.
It started with an injury to Collin Sexton.
Then Ricky Rubio went down.
In many ways, the Rubio injury was harder to rebound from than Sexton; he was a stable contributor off the bench, giving Garland a chance to breathe.
And then losses to Allen and Mobley were essentially death sentences for the team.
The Cavs have quality starters; what they need are stronger bench contributors that can pick up slack in case of injuries or off nights from guys.
It’s an enviable position–teams like the Pistons and Magic are still looking for solid starting pieces.
The Cavaliers have that.
But this season proved that a competent bench is just as important.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Memphis Grizzlies, who seem to be three or four players deep.
The Grizz are an unusual case, but taking a page out of their playbook would be smart for the Cavaliers.
An excellent place to start?
Send Sexton to the bench and turn him into Euclid Ave Tyler Herro.
2. Defense is Still a Winning Formula
Unlike the Atlanta Hawks, who rely on scoring bursts from Trae Young to keep games within reach, the Cavs relied on steady defense.
Over the course of the season, the Cavaliers boasted a top-five defense.
It helps having two players in Mobley and Allen who ranked in the top ten for defensive win shares across the league.
And, in case you were wondering, defense still gets it done.
The four teams that finished ahead of the Cavs in defensive rating this season?
The Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Miami Heat.
Three of those four teams are gearing up to play in Conference Finals.
Phoenix posted a historic regular season, though it did fall short of expectations.
And the other conference finalist Dallas Mavericks–seventh in defensive rating.
The Cavs are in elite company.
Which makes it all the more shocking they didn’t at least make it past the play-in.
Maybe they should look to add a little depth?
I’ve heard it mentioned.
3. The Time is Now
Yes, the team needs depth and Cleveland’s defense should be enough to guide it to the Eastern Conference Finals for years to come, but one thing should be glaringly obvious above the rest: the time is now.
This team is ready.
Good morning, Cavs family!
Let's channel some good energy for tonight … tell us about a time you felt extremely lucky 🤞🍀
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 17, 2022
Cleveland need not wait for another LeBron Jamesian savior to walk through the clubhouse doors.
In Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen, it has such a foundation.
The front office should be aggressive in equipping this team with the complementary pieces it needs to ascend the league.
Aggressive, that is, but not stupid.
No dumb, desperate deals for Timofey Mozgov.
No whiffing on draft picks.
Fortunately, this front office has a track record of competence-and-then-some.