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Change is inevitable in sports. It’s an incredible rarity for one roster to be the exact same as it was the season before or the season after. As time passes, things look different. Players move on to different places and replacements are brought in. That’s life in this business. Sometimes, those changes are major, sometimes they’re minor.
The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t believe the changes to their roster need to be major.
“In terms of personnel, obviously we're going to look at what we can do to adjust, but there's no sweeping changes,” President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said on Friday afternoon in his end-of-season press conference.
Whether or not sweeping changes are needed to the roster is up for debate, but there’s no questioning that some changes are needed. The Cavs were exposed in their first-round loss to the New York Knicks for not having enough shooting from the outside and not enough depth off the bench. Those are issues that need to be fixed for this team to have success in the playoffs.
The roster as is, is good enough to win a bunch of regular season games. If the Cavs ran it back with this exact same group next season, they would likely find themselves in the same position, if not better due to positive growth from the younger members of the team.
Regular season success isn’t what this team is going to be judged upon moving forward. This year was terrific, the Cavs won 51 games and aren’t shy about being proud of that fact. It is something to boast considering the lack of success this organization has had when LeBron James hasn’t been wearing the uniform over the past 25 years. But now the Cavs have to prove they can advance deep into the postseason. To do that, the roster is going to need to look different in some capacity next season.
“I think for sure shooting, I think everybody would love to add some shooting,” Altman said when asked what skillsets he’d be looking for this summer. “But we're not going to overreact and make sweeping changes to a roster that had 51 wins. We’re one of six teams to do that this year in the NBA — tied for fifth and for the best season in the NBA and one of the most competitive years in the league ever. And so those are results that we don't take lightly.”
Not taking the regular season lightly is fine. It’s not something that should ever be swept over, but throughout this postseason it’s been shown – and not just in the series the Cavs had against the Knicks – that the playoffs are an entirely different brand of basketball. This current roster clearly wasn’t ready for it on multiple fronts. The lights were too bright, maybe these playoff scars will change that. Offensively, there wasn’t enough spacing, and that’s not something that can be fixed by just running this group back.
Ultimately, because this is a group that has graduated from being judged on the success of what happens between October and early-April to a group that needs to see real progress in the postseason. It’s hard to imagine the Cavs not having a terrific regular season next year, provided they’re not hit by major injuries. Donovan Mitchell is just entering his prime, and Darius Garland and Evan Mobley should level up higher than what they were this season. That means this franchise is going to collect a lot of regular season wins.
Expectations next year aren’t just finish with homecourt advantage in the first round. Now, they’re a team that should be fighting for the best record in the league and anything less than a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals next season will feel like more could have been achieved.
“It was almost like we accomplished something that hadn't been accomplished in so long that there was almost like, wow, we did it, right? That's out the door now, right?” Altman said. “Now, it's how do you win rounds of the playoffs? Which are incredibly difficult and that's a great place to be and that's why this is part of the journey.”
To do that, there do need to be changes. Even if they’re not sweeping. Running back the ‘Core Four’ with Jarrett Allen part of it can still be defended despite his poor performance against the Knicks. But there do need to be significant changes to other parts of the roster.
The hardest part of building a team is finding the guy that can be the best player on a championship team. The Cavs feel as if they’ve done that, maybe twice with Mitchell and Mobley. They’ve got two other All-Stars in Garland and Allen. That’s certainly been a success and can’t be said otherwise. Figuring out the rest of the roster now becomes the biggest challenge for Altman and one of his most important tasks.
How Altman upgrades the roster with the limited draft assets at his disposal this offseason will be vital to the future success of the Cavs. It’s no secret the team needs to add shooting. Whether or not they fix their problems this offseason will show up roughly a year from right now.
Other news and notes
Altman shut down any speculation that the Cavs could be making a coaching change after a disappointing series from head coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Friday morning.
“J.B.’s been through this rebuild from ground up, and what he's done, a phenomenal job is instilling a culture here of accountability, hard work. You can't fluke your way into 51 wins. You can't fluke your way into the number one defensive rating in the NBA. That's coaching. I know we have great defensive personnel, but you have to have buy-in from them and that comes from the head coach. And so, we're extremely happy with J.B. and the job he's done.”
One of the first tasks that should be on Altman’s to-do list this offseason is re-signing swingman Caris LeVert. LeVert is set to hit free agency this summer and told the media on Thursday during his exit interview that he’d like to remain in Cleveland.\
“Absolutely,” LeVert said on Thursday. “Obviously, that's something that I definitely want to do. I definitely want to be a part of this culture, be a part of this team. This group is a super special group and I definitely want to be a part of that. But you all know it's a business, so we'll see what happens this summer, but I would love to come back.”
“Absolutely. Caris has been incredible for us. He was traded, two seasons ago, mid-season for a vastly different role,” Altman said about potentially bringing LeVert back for his third season with the team.
The other nugget that Altman dropped at his press conference regarding LeVert was that the Cavs didn’t make a trade during the season was due to their belief in LeVert.
“He's a big part of our attack and it's a big reason why at the deadline I didn't do anything because he was a big part of what we were doing and I didn't want to lose that. So we'd be fortunate to have him back.”
The belief in LeVert does look good in hindsight, even if failing to make a deal in-season has drawn some deserved criticism.