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Early Monday afternoon the 2022-23 NBA season began for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland hosted their annual media day where many would hear from old and new players about what lies ahead for them. For the second year in a row, Right Down Euclid was in attendance for the massive media event. Typically, things are held at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the practice facility of the Cavaliers in nearby Independence. But, due to the practice facility's courts being redone to match the team's new branding, things were changed up to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the team's home arena.
The change in venue for this year's event does seem a bit more fitting. Unlike last year's media day, the expectations are much higher for the Cavaliers heading into this season. They finished last year 44-38 overall and were a win shy of making the playoffs after falling to Brooklyn and then Atlanta in the play-in tournament. With that alone, there was plenty of momentum in Cleveland's favor heading into this season and things looked bright heading into next year.
But, just before the start of training camp, the Cavaliers traded for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell. That shifted things expectation-wise into overdrive for Cleveland, who now is a firm favorite to make some noise in the Eastern Conference this year. But, if you were to ask the coaches and players on the Cavaliers, they'd tell you otherwise. Today, Right Down Euclid will be breaking down some key takeaways from the pre-preseason opener for Cleveland.
The dog days still aren't quite over for the Cavaliers
Last season, the Cavaliers caught everyone by surprise, Vegas included. Oddsmakers initially projected Cleveland to win around 26.5 games last season and, clearly, they surpassed those expectations. This Cavaliers team was young and hungry, wanting to prove that they're more than just what LeBron James built and then left in his wake. They were seriously flirting with the playoffs and, at one point, had one of the best records overall in the Eastern Conference. Sure, injuries as well as youth and inexperience dismantled things towards the end. But, when their season came to a close, Cleveland made a fairly emphatic statement in the grand-scheme of the NBA.
Again, a lot of things changed when Donovan Mitchell arrived with the Cavaliers and the expectations to do more than last season became even more heightened. To many outside the team, it felt like Cleveland had finally arrived. But, based on what the players as well as head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, the Cavaliers haven't done anything to earn that praise quite yet.
"We didn't accomplish anything last year," said Bickerstaff. "We improved and got better but, we didn't win a championship. We didn't make the playoffs. So, there's no reason for us not to have that same spirit. You don't change who you are because of expectations. What we were last year wasn't a fluke it was a combination of the personalities and characteristics of our guys. So, a summer shouldn't change that. Our mentality shouldn't change by any means."
Sure, at first it seems like harsh criticism from the coach towards his players. But, Bickerstaff does have a point. While the Cavaliers were great last season and have now added Mitchell to the fold, they still haven't even begun playing meaningful basketball yet. It's easy to crown Cleveland as the preseason champions based on how their offseason went.
But, as Bickerstaff said, the Cavaliers still need to actually prove they're worth all the hype they've gotten. Mind you, they aren't shying away from the expectations. But, they've gone from the hunter to the hunted, with plenty of teams no longer expecting to be surprised by Cleveland this upcoming season. Factor that in with all the young star power on the roster, the Cavaliers will get the very best from their opponents every night. But, based on the vibes around the team heading into this year, they wouldn't have it any other way.
Who's going to start at the small forward for Cleveland?
Heading into the preseason, 80% of the starting lineup for the Cavaliers is figured out. Darius Garland will start at point guard with Mitchell will be alongside him at shooting guard. Meanwhile, a much more muscular Evan Mobley at power forward will be joined by Jarrett Allen at center protecting the paint. All four will likely be All-Stars together. More importantly, all four will be a consistent threat on a night-to-night basis, carrying Cleveland on both ends.
That's all well and good but the Cavaliers are still incomplete in terms of their starting five. Heading into training camp, there will be an open competition on Cleveland's roster to find their missing piece. While Right Down Euclid has written in the past about what the Cavaliers need, unfortunately media day didn't provide much clarity on who will start. Hopefully, that happens in the coming day as training camp opens up. But, based on what some of the players shared, there could be some initial insight on who could be in the mix.
Mobley, who primarily played at the four last season, shared with media that he has focused on adding a reliable three-pointer to his arsenal and expects to act as a primary ball handler in the team's offense. That certainly fits the bill of what Cleveland needs at the three. Dean Wade, meanwhile, shared with media in a scrum that it doesn't matter whether or not he plays on a night-to-night basis, despite signing a multi-year extension. Wade just wants to help contribute to his team by playing winning basketball.
Caris LeVert expressed similar sentiments to Wade. None of Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman or Lamar Stevens were available to be reached for comment due to pre-existing media responsibilities but it's safe to assume they'll be in the mix as well. But, it's safe to assume they feel the same way as their teammates. Hell, even Dylan Windler, who seldom played for Cleveland last year, seems like he could be in the mix as well based on being back in good health and focusing on shooting, something the Cavaliers need, all offseason long.
It'll be hard to fully gather what the Cavaliers want to do on the perimeter but, thankfully, everyone is focused on the singular vision of leveling up and making the playoffs. It's going to take time to figure out where things should head and a lot of that hinges on how Bickerstaff wants to mold his team. It's going to be a popular question as training camp opens. So, be sure to subscribe to Right Down Euclid so you don't miss a second of it any of it.
It feels likely that there will be an open competition for the starting small forward spot this season for the Cavaliers. Both Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman could be in the mix as training camp opens. Photo credit: Jason Miller, Getty Images
Darius Garland, the new franchise man and leader for the Cavaliers
There are plenty of key veterans sprinkled throughout the roster for Cleveland. All of Kevin Love, Robin Lopez, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and a few others will be expected to step up a key veteran presences in the locker room this season. A combination of those aforementioned players will also be key voices on the court as well for the Cavaliers.
But, only so many of those veterans will get minutes for Cleveland next season, due to a mix of the talent ahead of them as well as injuries to players like Rubio. Mind you, it's no disrespect to any of those guys mentioned before. Rather, it's just the nature of the beast and how a young Cavaliers squad that's overloaded with depth is ready to take the next step.
That means that more than anything, Cleveland will have to learn on their younger stars not only just for on-court production but leadership as well. They'll get plenty of it from Allen, who has always viewed himself as a veteran leader despite being a key face in the young core four. Ditto for Mitchell, who falls into a similar vein as Allen, albeit at a different position. The softspoken Mobley will lead by example but still needs time to find his voice as a leader as well.
But when it comes to Garland, who the Cavaliers signed to a mammoth rookie-scale maximum contract extension this summer, sharing leadership responsibilities is most important thing the young guard can shoulder. Thankfully, it appears that Garland is more than comfortable with taking on the task.
"Darius has been amazing with that," said Love. "You know, it's funny for me to say these young guys but, to be that age and to really take the reins to be a leader, he's really stepped up in that way.
"I think we saw flashes of that last year but he knows it's his team. It's his team to run."
Garland's teammates shared throughout the day that the point guard stayed in contact with them all throughout the summer and spent time with many of them as well. As Love said, this is Garland's team and they'll only go as far as he can take them on the court some nights. But, with him also pushing Cleveland off the court as well, Garland could lead the Cavaliers to new heights.
Featured image credit: Jason Miller, Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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