Such a distasteful phrase is sure to leave many in Northern Ohio with a distasteful sentiment. Only natural; for four years those who have adored the wine and gold have been plagued by none other than the Golden State Warriors. For four straight years, the NBA Finals hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. In these four years, the Warriors won three titles, at the expense of the city of Cleveland. Though the sting is eased with Cleveland’s very own Larry O’Brien trophy gracing Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Nevertheless, many of those long-buried feelings have risen for many following Golden State’s resurgence, once again reclaiming the NBA’s throne with the 2022 NBA title. This is shortsighted. While there wasn’t a parade coming through Cleveland following the 2022 playoffs, there is arguably no brighter future in the NBA than what resides with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers witnessed the greatest season the franchise has ever had since the 1997-98 season ( without LeBron James on roster ). This last season turned fans, players and media into believers of the culture and roster that Koby Altman has steadily built over the last four years since the departure of LeBron James. We witnessed the growth and arrival of the young, budding team that went from a mere 22 wins in 2020-21 to 44 wins in 2021-2022. Follow that with Darius Garland being named an NBA All-Star as well as a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year, Jarrett Allen being selected as an NBA All-Star and sensational rookie Evan Mobley finishing second in voting for Rookie of the Year. There is plenty to be excited about for the Cavaliers. Especially when you factor in the number of unfortunate injuries that the team sustained while finding a way to still achieve excellence. Going forward, the hope is that those pieces will return with health.
It is understandable how many could come to the conclusion to accelerate the timeline of a team when the trajectory takes such a massive meteoric rise. It would be easy to consolidate and try to win now. But before doing so, I urge you to look at the long abhorred team that has won four of the last eight NBA titles. Since 2009, the roster has taken shape very patiently outside of a three-year span starting in 2016. Slowly adding pieces that were well drafted and allowing them to organically grow. The roster was granted time to flourish, explore and develop into the dynastic terror that once again sits atop the NBA.
One could argue that this is exactly the approach that the Cavs have been and should be taking in their rise back into contention. Cleveland has seen firsthand what this patient, cultural, organic growth can do when it is developed correctly. It should behoove them to learn from their defeats to such a team and organization. To any doubting the plans of the organization, one could look to the most recent draft. Many clamored to move the pick for an established veteran, but Koby Altman opted to keep and use the pick on Kansas wing Ochai Agbaji at 14th overall. Another nice depth piece to a roster that is becoming increasingly deep, not unlike many of the teams that have made deep runs in many of the most recent playoffs. Cleveland knows that it has the pieces to compete now, but instead of thinning the roster for a hasty, shortsighted move, they continue to organically build their roster and depth.
The Cavaliers are on the cusp of creating the very monster that plagued them for three out of the four years that they ventured to the NBA Finals. Players inside and outside the organization have begun to sing the praise of the culture and team building that the front office has created, most notably from players like Steph Curry, Draymond Green and LeBron James. All of whom have not been shy in their infatuating with Cleveland’s young budding star point guard, Darius Garland. Much like Steph Curry, Cleveland has stumbled onto a player of Darius’ caliber of on-court talent, as well as character. Players and coaches alike have raved about what it is like playing with and against the young all-star. Players such as Steph, Draymond and teammate Jarrett Allen share that Darius is just a joy to work with, as well as a player that just sees the game at a different level. All of this would be meaningless without his play. Despite his all-star season, it still feels as though his season’s impact went under the radar by many. Even more so when comparing too many other star guards in their third year in the league. Steph Curry averaged 14.7
PPG and 5.3 assists per game on 49%/45.5% splits. Star guards Damian Lillard: 21 PPG and 6.2 assists on a 43.4%/34.3% split and Kyrie Irving: 20.8 PPG and 6.1 assists on a 43%/35.8% split in their third year put into perspective the kind of season that Darius Garland had just accomplished, putting up 21.7 PPG and 8.7 assists on a 46.2%/38.3% clip while winning at a much higher clip in his third year. All of this doesn’t even factor in all-star Jarrett Allen, rising superstar Evan Mobley, or the bevy of young talent on Cleveland’s current roster.
To put timetables into perspective, the Warriors won the title in Steph’s sixth year in the league, as well as Klay’s fourth year and Draymond’s third year. For Cleveland, this was Darius Garland’s third year in the league, Mobley’s first and Jarrett Allen’s first full year with the team. And when you add in the remaining talent residing on the Cavaliers roster, the team is well ahead of schedule.
Golden State showed the blueprint. Finding the right players in the draft is the hard part. Cleveland has done that and they are already reaping the rewards of nailing every draft selection since the departure of LeBron James. They have established a true culture that has started to become the envy of competing organizations. Lastly, they have been and are continuing to allow their young players to find themselves and grow organically.
Be patient for now; years of watching Golden State’s blueprint unfold may very well be the key to the new blossoming era of Cavaliers basketball. This organization has taken note and may be on the cusp of something truly special. The Cavaliers could be on the verge of their own version of this Warrior’s dynasty. As absurd as it may sound, there may come a day when fans in Cleveland give a thank you to Golden State.