3 Steps the Cavaliers Must Take to Go on Deep Playoff Run in 2025

Despite the bummer ending to the 2023-24 season, the Cavs aren't that far away. Here are three moves that, if handled correctly, can elevate them to contender status next year.
May 13, 2024; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Injured Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts from the bench during an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics.
May 13, 2024; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Injured Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts from the bench during an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics. / David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to feel like the Cavs are stuck, that they didn't show enough improvement this year, that Donovan Mitchell is on his way out of town, that Evan Mobley has plateaued as a third option on offense.

However, it helps to remember that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are in their seventh season together and have no titles; Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't win until his eighth season and Nikola Jokic didn't win until his ninth. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid, Chris Paul, and Jimmy Butler are all future Hall of Famers in their thirties with no titles on their resumes.

In other words, this is hard stuff. To me, the Nuggets are the prototype for how we should be measuring the progress of the Cavs. Denver had their core of Jokic, Jamaal Murray, and Michael Porter, Jr. in place for several years without much to show for it in the postseason. Trading for Aaron Gordon took them up a notch, but they still needed to add Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and fill out their bench before they could win a title.

The Cavs face the same roster issues that Denver did in terms of fit and athleticism before they traded for Gordon, but they are in better position because they have more trade chips to use. The acquisition of Max Strus before this season could be equivalent to the Nuggets acquiring Caldwell-Pope, in terms of the defense and shooting that each provides, so if the Cavs can make the right move this offseason maybe they can skip a step in the progression.

To that end, here are three moves I would make to resolve the fit issues and plug the biggest holes on the roster:

1) Make Mobley a stretch-four. We have seen Evan Mobley shoot enough to know that he has a nice touch -- the only thing missing is volume. I'll admit that I'm prioritizing this partly as a way to keep Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the starting lineup together, but it also seems clear that Mobley taking 4-6 threes per game will create enough spacing in defense to open all sorts of driving lanes for the guards.

In addition to improving the offense, keeping Mobley and Allen together will optimize the defense, not to mention the Cavs still need Allen to avoid getting smoked on the boards every night.

2) Break up the backcourt. It's not a fluke that the Cavs were better with Max Strus and either Donovan Mitchell or Darius Garland than they were with Mitchell and Garland together. Besides the size and defense that Strus provides, Mitchell and Garland are just too similar, particularly in needing the ball in their hands to be effective.

Mitchell's player option means that the Cavs don't have full control over which guard they trade, but if any of the trade rumors are slightly accurate, the Cavs should be able to flip either of them for at least a big wing capable of scoring 15-20 points a game, along with some depth or picks.

3) Get a bench that is playoff-ready. We have two postseasons of data to assess the Cavs by, and in those two postseasons, Dean Wade has scored a total of 13 points. Isaac Okoro has scored 98 points and shot 27 per cent from three. Georges Niang scored a total of 28 points this postseason and shot 13 percent from three.

There may be mitigating circumstances, but the Cavs have reached a level where they are judged by what happens in the playoffs, and it would be malpractice to assume that any of these guys can play a key role next spring. Once the situation with Mitchell gets resolved, the biggest item on Koby Altman's to-do list is to assemble a bench that isn't a black hole under the bright lights.

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