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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had a tremendous season and an incredibly disappointing playoff experience that came to a close a few weeks back at the hands of the New York Knicks.
The offseason ahead was always going to be an important one for the Cavaliers. Especially after a season that showed so much promise and could be characterized as a year ahead of schedule by some. Last offseason, the Cavs made the late addition of Donovan Mitchell in September to a promising young core.
Before the next time the Cavs play a basketball game, things can look drastically different. That was the case at the end of last season just as it is now. Acquiring Mitchell was a big swing by Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman. It completed the foundation of the roster. That’s a really big deal. How Altman follows it up this offseason is just as important when it comes to keeping that group together and growing it into a championship contender.
Here are four questions Altman and the rest of the front office for the Cavs should be asking this offseason.
Should the Cavs look into trading Jarrett Allen?
In his end of season presser, Altman referenced the team’s ‘Core Four’ that includes Mitchell, Allen, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley. After the series against the New York Knicks, it’s fair to wonder whether the team should look to move Allen this offseason.
Allen was outplayed by New York’s Mitchell Robinson pretty severely during the series in just about every facet of the game. That doesn’t diminish how effective Allen was this season, but it certainly does lend the question of whether or not the Cavs can be at their best with both him and Mobley on the floor together.
The style of two bigs is one that is a rarity across the NBA. The reason for that is because of the lack of spacing it provides, unless one of the two big men is a respectable shooter from the perimeter. Right now, neither Mobley nor Allen is for the Cavs.
If Mobley develops a consistent shot from beyond 15 feet, maybe things change, but even then the Cavs might be better off reallocating the money that’s spent on Allen into a wing that fits the roster better.
Maybe the Cavs want to stick with their ‘Core Four’ but it might make the most sense if it becomes a ‘Big Three’.
Who starts on the wing?
For most of the season the Cavs used Isaac Okoro as their fifth starter alongside the four players listed above. That lineup was one of the better one for the Cavs, outscoring opponents by 48 points across 398 minutes.
The only lineup that outscored opponents by more during the season for the Cavs was when Caris LeVert slid in for Okoro. That group outscored opponents by 82 points in 231 minutes and held teams to just 98.3 points per 100 possessions. Interestingly enough, the Cavs took a step back offensively with LeVert on the floor instead of Okoro, but their defense improved tremendously.
The biggest reason LeVert was moved to the bench back in November was so he could find his rhythm easier. It was a challenge for him to operate as the team’s third ball handler during his first shift in the game. Once this adjustment was made, LeVert would typically replace one of Garland or Mitchell midway through the first quarter.
Once the change pushing LeVert to the bench was made, that fivesome played together in the first half just 11 times, averaging 2.6 minutes across those contests. That same lineup played in the second half of games 20 times, averaging 4.6 minutes in second halves and was the team’s best lineup, statistically, of groups that appeared in at least seven games together after Nov. 18.
It’s obvious that LeVert works alongside the rest of the starters, even if he’s better individually coming off the bench. Should that remain the case next season (assuming LeVert returns on a new contract)?
What’s the best way to remake the bench?
One of the reasons that the Cavs struggled against New York in the playoffs was the lack of depth the Cavs had. During the series, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff turned to either LeVert or Okoro (depending on the starting lineup that game), Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, Ricky Rubio, Danny Green, or Lamar Stevens.
Very few things went well for any of those members of the Cavs against the Knicks.
Furthermore, the Cavs finished 28th in the NBA in bench scoring this season, averaging only 28.7 points per game.
There’s no other way to put it other than the Cavs had a top-heavy roster this season. Even if depth matters a little bit less in the postseason, the Cavs were at the point where it seemed as if only four of their players were good enough to stay on the floor in the series against the Knicks. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed going into next season.
What’s going to keep Donovan Mitchell happy?
The elephant in the room right now for the Cavaliers is that Mitchell can hit free agency just over two years from now if he doesn’t sign an extension with the team first.
What that really means is that if next season doesn’t bring a better finish than this one did, then the Cavs may have to look at trading Mitchell before his final year under contract. He’s great enough that the Cavs cannot afford to lose him for nothing, but he’s also not at the level where he cannot be traded under any circumstance.
The question here is how to prevent that from being the case? What exactly do the Cavs have to do this offseason to ensure they’re not in this position a year from now?
Early postseason exit aside, Mitchell had a terrific year in Cleveland on and off the floor. He genuinely seemed happy to be part of the organization, and it was something that was often mentioned by Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff when he would be asked about his assimilation into the group. Ensuring that remains the case in his second year in Cleveland is paramount to keeping Mitchell around long term.