During last week’s mailbag, a reader asked which Cleveland sports team has the brightest future and, subsequently, the largest championship window. In all honesty, it’s a great question since all three major teams are primed for contention in various capacities. Of course, there’s star power like Donovan Mitchell, Myles Garrett and Jose Ramirez headlining every squad. But, there’s also plenty of pop to every team’s roster whether it’s the Cavaliers, Browns or Guardians to support them.
As a fan, you don’t have a pulse if that doesn’t excite you that Cleveland, once known as the “Mistake by the Lake”, could be a major sports pillar for the foreseeable future. Today, Right Down Euclid will try to gaze into said future and figure out who has the brightest future in Cleveland. We’ll look at what’s good, and bad, for each team and then name a definitive champion of the aspiring champions. First, let’s take it to the hardwood and take a long look at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
A second championship in less than a decade?
The Cavaliers took everyone by storm last season thanks to superstar forward Evan Mobley elevating the team on the defensive side of the ball. Heading into the current season, Cleveland got a lot more offensive firepower when they acquired Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji and a boatload of draft picks. Supporting Mobley and Mitchell are fellow co-stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen and a strong supporting cast in Isaac Okoro and Ricky Rubio. The Cavaliers are still a defensive-first team whenever they take the hardwood. But, with the addition of Mitchell, they’ve quickly become one of the most complete teams in the NBA.
Heading into tonight’s tilt with the Miami Heat, Cleveland leads the NBA in net rating and currently possesses the no. 1 defensive rating and the no. 9 offensive rating in the NBA. They’re also on pace to win 50 games this season and make the playoffs for the first time without LeBron James since the 1997-98 season. The Cavaliers have built a rock-solid foundation that’s set them up beautifully to contend both now and in the future. Sure, many players on Cleveland’s roster need time to figure out what it takes to win in the postseason. But, as Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman continuously says – it’s not championship or bust this season for the wine and golders.
Cleveland is on a path to making the playoffs and hopefully making some noise when they arrive. But, how about the future goal of one day winning a championship? Obviously, there’s a lot that the Cavaliers can control internally and their young core foundation will continue to grow and improve. But, will they be able to go from good to great to championship-worthy? It depends on how the rest of things shake out in the Eastern Conference and the NBA as a whole.
Sure, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers will eventually wind down due to age. Ditto for the Phoenix Suns or the Golden State Warriors on the Western Conference side of things. Sure, teams like the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies and even the Oklahoma City Thunder will all be in the mix in the future. But, none truly hold a flame to the Boston Celtics, the biggest threat to Cleveland in the future.
The defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics, who the Cavaliers went 3-1 against this season, is where Cleveland hopes to end up. Similarly to the Cavaliers, Boston has a strong young foundation between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and a robust supporting cast that compliments the duo. Sure, the Cavaliers finishing with a winning record over the Celtics this season can be some reason for optimism in the future. But, Tatum is an MVP-caliber player and will only get better. Can Mitchell or any of Cleveland’s young stars match Tatum’s heliocentric greatness? Only time will tell.
When it comes to the Cavaliers, there’s a lot of beauty behind this thought exercise. Cleveland’s future foundation is locked into place and will only get better. But, there will come a time when things will also hit their limit for the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, Cleveland is limited on assets due to acquiring Mitchell and has to work within the margins to maximize the potential the future has in store for them. A lot of clarity will come when the Cavaliers soon reach the postseason. But, if you were to shake the Cleveland-themed Magic 8-ball right now, it would say “Reply hazy, try again.”
Super Bowl, Super Browns?
Similarly to the Cavaliers acquiring Mitchell, the Cleveland Browns emptied the clip to acquire star quarterback Deshaun Watson to lead them to the promised land. Unlike the Cavaliers landing Mitchell, many ethical questions came with the Browns receiving Watson that sharpen the focus that being morally bankrupt can sometimes be the only way to win in the NFL. Sure, Cleveland finished Watson’s first season 7-10 overall but that’s mostly because the quarterback was suspended for most of the year. While he was out there, Watson looked rusty but there were flashes of what made the price the Browns paid worth it.
With the luxury of a full training camp and regular season to get a rhythm, along with Lamar Jackson likely leaving the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, Cleveland can take the next steps in the AFC North and try to make the playoffs for the first time in several seasons. With a stud running back in Nick Chubb, a consistent receiving threat in Amari Cooper a superstar defensive end in Myles Garrett, the Browns should be able to make some serious noise next season. If they can address some of their significant flaws this offseason (the first big one being hiring Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator), then it feels like Cleveland should be a lock to make the playoffs next year as well.
But, in the grand scheme of the NFL, are the Browns good enough to win the Super Bowl in the next year or two? With how finite the window is in professional football, probably not. It’s already hard enough to go from a losing record to the playoffs. But, to make the Super Bowl? In the same conference that Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes haunt? That’s a tall order, to begin with already and considering how fluid some situations can be in football, it is hard to quantify now and in the future.
Besides, even if Watson improves and Jackson is gone, there’s still Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Fans will say the Browns have a winning record over Burrow and company. But, it doesn’t change that Cincinnati has been to a Super Bowl once and made two conference championship appearances while Cleveland remained futile. Burrow and the Bengals are likely only going to get better and, if that happens, the Browns’ championship window will never truly open.
AL Central Champions to just Champions?
Of the three major league teams in town, the Cleveland Guardians are a melting pot. Like the Browns, they have playoff experience, and even an AL Central title, under their belt with their main superstar Jose Ramirez leading the way. The Guardians are also similar to the Cavaliers, where they have an overwhelming amount of young talent with plenty of room to grow and help shape the team from good to great to a possible contender.
What’s unique about the Guardians is that they’ve found a way to thrive in this unique duality they found themselves in. Cleveland acquired Josh Bell in the offseason, which perfectly compliments what they’re building and gives the younger players more time to grow. It puts the Guardians in an awesome spot to repeat as AL Central Champions again and build further momentum toward winning a World Series title one day.
But, how wide is Cleveland’s window for contention? Sure, the Guardians can win their division now and in the future. But, when facing the rest of the field, Cleveland cannot hold a candle to the competition. Simply put, the Guardians lack the spending power that teams like the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees or even the Toronto Blue Jays possess. Anything can happen when the postseason rolls around but with so many other teams remaining dynamic in the offseason, while Cleveland remains somewhat static, it does put a cap on the future overall for the Guardians.
That’s not to say the Guardians aren’t going to do special things. They have a ton of young, promising talent waiting in the wings that’ll make things better down the line. But, unlike the Cavaliers and Browns, the Guardians could cash in on some of their assets to make a serious push toward contention. Cleveland controls their fate regarding their prospects and could make a splashy move similar to their neighbors. It could be special or just another lap on the treadmill of good enough.
Ranking it out
In terms of future potential, here’s how things shake up:
Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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 [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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