Yes, folks. We are now mere days away from Cavaliers season – with Media Day slated for Monday afternoon and, in all likelihood, practice for the fellas later that evening at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
The Wine & Gold had an eventful summer following a disappointing Playoff loss to the Knicks in April. They might’ve gotten a steal in the Draft, they were active on the trade and free agency markets, they went undefeated and won the Summer League title in Vegas and - for a capper - brought back the incomparable Tristan Thompson a couple weeks ago.
And while there were some changes made over the offseason – Cedi Osman, previously the longest-tenured Cavalier, is now in San Antonio, and after three frustrating seasons, the Dylan Windler experience came to an end – Cleveland’s young core remains fully intact.
Darius Garland and Dean Wade – age 23 and 26, respectively – are now the longest consecutively tenured Cavaliers. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are the squads established pillars. Donovan Mitchell is bona fide superstar. And Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has shaped a culture that’s produced the league’s stingiest defense.
But as last year’s five-game postseason exit proved, there’s still work to be done. So, as we head into Training Camp, Cavs.com gives you a two-part preview heading into Monday’s grand opening …
In the 210 games that Isaac Okoro has played as a Cavalier, he’s started 83 percent of them. But the competition at the starting 3 spot gets much stiffer heading in 2023-24, with the Wine & Gold seriously shoring up that spot in the offseason.
Despite his shooting percentage increasing each year over his first three seasons, Okoro – who tallied double-figures in 18 games last year – has seen his scoring average has dip at the same pace. Still one of the team’s top perimeter defenders, he was inserted into the starting lineup at the start of a road trip in January and didn’t come out of it until Caris LeVert replaced him to start Game 3 of the Playoff series in New York.
But the Cavaliers also decided to upgrade offensively, and in early July swung a three-team deal for 27-year-old veteran Max Strus, who started all 23 postseason contests for Miami during their improbable Finals run last year.
The Cavs sent Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and a Second Rounder to San Antonio in the deal, acquiring Strus – who drilled multiple three-pointers in 14 postseason contests last year and did so 55 times in the regular season.
Cleveland also bolstered the position in the free agent market – inking 8th-year man Georges Niang over the summer. The man nicknamed “the Minivan” – who spent four seasons alongside Donovan Mitchell in Utah – has shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in each of the last five seasons and finished 13th in the league last year.
The NBA Draft’s Second Round can be a bit of crapshoot – especially when a team is picking 11 selections from its bottom. But the Wine & Gold might have rolled a seven when they tabbed 19-year-old Emoni Bates out of Eastern Michigan at No. 49.
The 6-9 swingman’s backstory through the prep ranks is well-documented, and though he fell to the Draft’s second round, he might’ve landed in the perfect spot – free from great expectations for the first time in his young life.
And after the Cavaliers went undefeated in Summer League with Bates leading the way – averaging 17.2 points per as the Cavs went undefeated through six games. He grabbed at least six boards in four of those games, shooting 48 percent from long-range and grabbing at least six boards in four of them.
It’ll be interesting to see how the youngster does against stiffer competition starting next week.
When Koby Altman spoke to the media following last season’s postseason exit, he talked about the importance of signing Caris LeVert over the summer. And they did exactly that at the first opportunity.
Since his arrival midway through the 2021-22 season, the 29-year-old Columbus native hasn’t had a defined role and usually found himself in the middle of trade rumors. But the swingman from Michigan – who closed last season on a tear – is on terra firma with the Cavs now.
LeVert notched double-figures in 11 of his last 12 regular season appearances – with Cleveland going 8-4 over that stretch – and came up big in the Playoffs, netting 24 points off the bench in Game 2 against New York, going 9-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-9 from deep. In the series, he averaged an even 15.0ppg.
It wasn’t a big headline move, but the Cavaliers quietly retained their most versatile player over the summer.
The Cavaliers have one of the best two-way starting big men combinations in the NBA in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. But their postseason ouster at the hands of New York last spring exposed a need to bolster the backup role(s).
Cleveland added some muscle, acquiring Damian Jones from Utah in exchange for cash. The 8th-year man – who shot 71 percent from the floor and three-point range over his last 19 games with the Jazz – was with the Warriors teams that topped the Cavaliers in the Finals in 2017 and ’18.
And speaking of Cavaliers Finals appearances, on September 12, the Cavs brass put the finishing touches on the offseason – inking 32-year-old Tristan Thompson, the beloved big man who Cleveland tabbed with the 4th overall pick back 2011.
Tristan, a fan favorite and one of just four players in franchise history to pile up at least 5,000 points and 5,000 boards, will be an invaluable practice floor presence right from the start.
One of the priorities this offseason was obviously to add outside shooting to space the floor – especially after shooting just 33 percent from long-range in their postseason matchup with New York.
The aforementioned additions of Strus – who finished fifth in the league with 197 triples last year – and Niang – who once drilled at least one triple in 31 straight games – will help greatly. But the Cavaliers might’ve also gotten another pleasant surprise from Summer League besides the Championship.
Sam Merrill – who signed with Cleveland last March and had a nice stretch with the Charge, shooting 44 percent from long-range – had an even better stretch in Vegas – going 25-for-56 from deep and 31-of-68 overall from the floor in the Cavs six-game run at the title.