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We need to talk about... the Cleveland Cavaliers

WKYC.com's sports team takes an in-depth look at the state of the Cleveland Cavaliers after their poor playoff performance against the New York Knicks.

CLEVELAND — The dust is starting to settle after the Cleveland Cavaliers' promising season, yet disappointing playoff performance. Hopes were high for a long postseason run for the Cavs after the team won 51 games in the regular season. 

As we would find out, appearances were a bit deceiving when it came to the Cavaliers. They were quickly booted out of the first round of the playoffs by the Knicks. 

As we start to look ahead to the offseason, WKYC.com's Ben Axelrod, Chris Beeble, Tyler Carey, Dave "Dino" DeNatale, and Anna Meyer each have separate thoughts about the state of the Wine and Gold. You know the expression, 'we need to talk'? That's what we want to do here. We need to talk about your Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ben Axelrod - We need to talk about Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley playing together

Let me start this by saying I like Jarrett Allen -- a lot. Not only do I find him to be a good basketball player -- his 2022 All-Star selection was well deserved -- but I think he's an engaging and thoughtful person, whose personality helps make him an understandable fan favorite.

Similarly, I love Evan Mobley. While I had concerns about Cleveland selecting him with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft -- more on that later -- he's been every bit as good as advertised through his first two seasons in the league.

But Allen and Mobley together? While the supersized frontcourt has been a big (pun intended) reason for the Cavs' regular-season success for the past two seasons, I'm skeptical about its potential in the postseason.

After all, this is 2023, and there's a reason why teams have veered away from going big in favor of more shooting. The Steph Curry-era Golden State Warriors changed everything, and Cleveland's 10 made 3-pointers per game in the playoffs ranked 14th out of 16 teams in this year's playoffs.

Not only are Allen and Mobley both players currently incapable of consistently making threes, but their skill sets help clog up the lane for the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman knows his roster needs more shooting, but so long as the Allen-Mobley frontline is a part of the team's core lineup, the team's offense will remain limited?

What's more is that despite their size advantage, Cleveland was out-rebounded by the smaller Knicks, with the Cavs surrendering an alarming number of offensive rebounds. If Allen and Mobley aren't going to stretch the floor, at a minimum, they need to be making up for it with their size.

So what's the solution?

While Mobley developing a reliable jumper would solve some of Cleveland's spacing issues, it wouldn't fix all of them. Plus, hope isn't a viable strategy.

Ideally, the Cavs would be able to trade Allen this offseason and improve their spacing, perhaps fixing two of their issues -- be it shooting or bench depth -- with one move. I'm skeptical, however, of what the return on an Allen trade would currently be, and from a pure business perspective, it's never a good idea to sell low.

But what if Allen moved to the bench?

Even if he was replaced by a lesser player in the starting lineup, it could prove to be a net positive for Cleveland so long as his replacement helped improve the team's spacing. Keeping Allen as a bench player would also allow him to help spell Mobley and also provide insurance against potential injuries in the Cavs' frontcourt.

It's also worth noting that while Allen's contract pays him $20 million per season for the next three years, that salary won't seem so large as the salary cap continues to rise. The question, then, becomes whether or not Allen's ego would allow him to accept a perceived lesser role for the betterment of the team.

I think it would. It's one of the reasons I love him.

Chris Beeble - We need to talk about improving the Cavs roster

There is no doubt the lackluster play of nearly every Cavs starter will highlight the list of issues that led to a quick, five-game exit from the NBA Playoffs. However, an argument can be made that the thin, ineffective bench unit the Cavaliers presented against the Knicks is near the top of the list of reasons why they exited postseason play with a whimper rather than a fight.

Maybe we should have seen this coming. The Cavs entered postseason play with a bench unit that ranked 28 of 30 teams in terms of scoring.

Ineffectiveness, age, injuries and Kevin Love's departure via buyout all contributed to the lack of contributions in the regular season and playoffs.

Dean Wade, whose previous contributions led to a contract extension and the front office's ultimate belief that the loss of Love could be softened on the court, struggled after returning from shoulder and ankle injuries. 

Making matters more difficult, the return of Ricky Rubio following ACL surgery did not go as planned. Rubio became a fan favorite last year before a torn ACL shut him down for over a calendar year. This season, he managed to shoot a paltry 34% from the field and 25.6% from beyond the arc. 

How can the bench improve?

As my colleague Ben Axelrod outlined above, figuring out the texture of what the Cavs want their starting lineup to be will go a long way in figuring out who will be available on the bench and what areas they need to improve. 

Is it realistic for Jarrett Allen to move to the bench? Can the Cavs add the amount of shooting necessary to facilitate a move of that caliber? How creative is the team willing to get to shake up the roster with little wiggle room financially?

Caris LeVert will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. The Cavs are unlikely to find a player of his caliber on the open market, so a reunion is likely (assuming the feeling is mutual) given the Cavs ability to sign him to the best possible contract given his Bird rights status.

But that only puts the Cavs back to where they were roster-wise going into the offseason. The Cavs need a true "Three-And-D" wing in the worst way. The combination of Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade and Cedi Osman proved that point over and over again.

The moral of the story? Cavs GM Koby Altman will need to be to be creative in order to reshape the roster in any significant way. There is a price to pay in paying big money to your stars in Mitchell, Garland (rookie extension kicks in next year), Allen and LeVert (assuming he re-signs).

Okoro would be the most appealing trade piece for the Cavs to float out in search of a more established wing that fits their needs. He's the only Cavalier in the goldilocks zone of being young enough to be appealing to another team, while not being a clear core piece of the Cavs near future.

Speaking of creativity, could Jarrett Allen be a piece that the Cavs are willing to listen to offers for to help shake up not only the starting lineup, but add potentially key role players that fit the identity of what the Cavs are missing (shooting, wing length, frontcourt fit with Mobley)?

The Cavs have given no indication that Allen is a realistic piece to move on from with three years left on his contract extension. If the Cavs really wanted to make a splash and shuffle the deck beyond the core three of Mitchell, Garland and Mobley, that would be the piece that could yield a significant player in return barring a soft trade market after Allen's abysmal playoff performance.

Tyler Carey - We need to talk about J.B. Bickerstaff and his future as head coach

Let me start by saying I like J.B. Bickerstaff. I think he's done a fine job not just helping build the Cavs back into contenders, but providing stability to the head coaching position (Would you believe he's the longest-tenured coach the team has had since Mike Brown, Part 1)? Bickerstaff's record also speaks for itself, as the club's win total has improved each year he's been on the bench.

Yet as is the case for all teams looking to take that next step, it's worth asking: Is Bickerstaff the "guy before the guy"? For you see, for every Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, or Steve Kerr, there is a Paul Westhead, Doug Collins, or Mark Jackson.

There are many things to talk about when it comes to J.B. — the questionable rotations, the poor late-game management, even a growing trend of his teams collapsing down the stretch of a season. I would also throw in his role in the Kevin Love fiasco (did he really think the guys left on this bench were better players?) and that fact that, quite honestly, he doesn't exactly have a track record of winning big in the NBA (207-256 in parts of seven seasons, with zero playoff series victories).

But in covering the series loss to the Knicks, I was most alarmed by how many of his players seemed to be surprised at how "physical" the postseason would be. You would think those "jitters" would be gone after a rough Game 1, but in reality, it seemed like the Cavaliers only got worse as play continued.

Dare I say it, but they looked "soft," and I think that's at least partly on J.B.

While it’s the players' job to execute, it's the coaching staff's job to have them prepared, and Cleveland looked about as unprepared as any team could’ve been in their position. Obviously Bickerstaff didn't want them to play that way, but the results are the fruits of his labor. I also wish the coach would've had a less lackadaisical attitude about the the team's series performance (at least in public), rather than praising the squad for "learning lessons."

Forgive me, but with Donovan Mitchell and other emerging stars, the Cavs are in "win now" mode. The time for "wins and lessons" has long passed.

Koby Altman seems to have thrown his support behind Bickerstaff as the future head coach, and we also must remember he is under contract through 2027 (not that that's stopped Dan Gilbert before). There's also the issue of finding a replacement, although I believe either Mike Budenholzer or Nick Nurse — both with championship rings to their credit — have proven they can win with ready-made contenders.

I understand the willingness to give Bickerstaff another chance, and I'm more than OK with it. But at the very least, his seat needs to be a bit warmer this coming fall, and the Cavaliers shouldn't hesitate to make a change if they feel it's warranted. Let's just hope things work out for the best.

Dave "Dino" DeNatale - We need to talk about the moves (or lack thereof) that the Cavs made heading into the playoffs

Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that if Kevin Love were still on the Cavs, they would have beaten the Knicks. So let's not go there.

But I do want to focus on what the Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman and his front office did (or did not do) in the months leading up to the playoffs. 

At the time of the NBA's trading deadline in early February, the Cavs were 35-22, despite the fact they were gutting out several injuries. But was it not clear that this was not a complete roster? The Cavs were lacking a wing player that could not only hit shots, but help defend the perimeter. My man Ben Axelrod laid out some targets for the Cavs to focus on before the deadline, including veteran guard Josh Richardson. Some reports had the Cavs targeting Malik Beasley. Another had Bojan Bogdanović as a possibility. 

Nothing happened. Altman said there was nothing out there that would "move the needle."

The Cavs then decided that Kevin Love was no longer worthy of a rotational spot, even though we're seeing in the playoffs that he is still capable of knocking down threes and getting rebounds — the two things that haunted the Wine and Gold most in the Knicks series. Instead, they settled for Danny Green in a buyout, who hit exactly one shot that mattered in his return to Cleveland.

We saw up close that the Cavs, while talented, clearly have a flawed roster. Let's hope that they find something this offseason that will move their needle.

Anna Meyer - We need to talk about why Donovan Mitchell was a non-factor for most of the Knicks series

While the regular season seemingly promised a bright future for the Cavs in the playoffs, the spark from Donovan Mitchell was dimmed in the postseason.

After a season-ending 106-95 loss against the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Mitchell sat at the podium reflecting on the series, but mostly taking the blame for the loss. This feeling was all too familiar for Mitchell, as this wasn’t the first time his team struggled to get past the early rounds.

Throughout the series, the Knicks' physicality seemed to knock Mitchell off of his ‘A-game’ that he displayed in his first season with the Cavs.

During the regular season, Mitchell averaged 28.3 points per game and 38.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc compared to a significantly lower stat line in the postseason of averaging 23.2 points throughout the series and a 28.9 shooting percentage from beyond the arc.

An aspect of consideration to keep in mind is the secret weapon that the Knicks had, with associate head coach Johnnie Bryant being the former Utah Jazz assistant that mentored Mitchell in his early NBA years.

The Knicks seemed to know how to disrupt Mitchell’s regular routine by slowing him down. The constant double-teaming and smothering by the Knicks’ defense led to Mitchell struggling to make simple plays, as well as facing more challenges at the rim and not being able to find a rhythm from downtown.

As for the future, Mitchell’s time ahead remains bright in Cleveland, for now. The Cleveland Cavaliers face a call to be an aggressive team this off-season. If necessary changes aren’t made, the discussions of Mitchell pulling out of his contract for the 2024-25 season could begin.

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