Without Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t made the playoffs since 1998, where they lost in a “gentleman’s sweep” to the Indiana Pacers in a five-game series. Without one player, the Cavs would be the sorriest NBA franchise in the last 30 years. With next season approaching and many thinking the playoff drought will continue, do the Cavaliers actually have a playoff shot?
As an optimist, yes. As a realist, no.
As of now, the Cavaliers look to be a mess. Their centers, Tristan Thompson and Andre Drummond could both either leave or stay depending on what they decide based on the current climate of the salary cap and free-agent market. Then there’s Kevin Love, a disgruntled star who seems to have more fun in the offseason than during the season. This is all going on while the front office doesn’t even know what to do with two of their star prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. While Garland may be young, his disappointing rookie campaign has left many wondering if the Cavs should move on from him before his value continues to decrease, while Sexton is a high scoring guard that struggles to guard the two on the other end. Looking at the roster on paper, it seems without a doubt this team will be in the lottery yet again.
The thing about this team, though, is there’s more than what meets the eye.
Garland may have struggled mightily last season, but given he was coming off a season-ending injury in only his freshman season in college, it was not surprising he struggled to adapt to the quicker, more physical and faster play in the NBA. While the two centers in Thompson and Drummond aren’t the typical modern-day centers, they can still provide extra defense and strong rebounding. Kevin Love may be getting disgruntled in Cleveland, but he is still a solid floor spacer and quality shooter the Cavs desire at the power forward position. This is all while not even mentioning small forward Kevin Porter Jr., whose stats last season don’t even begin to reflect how much talent and potential he has, which has led many in the NBA community to believe he may be the best prospect on the Cavs right now.
Depending on who the Cavs grab at the fifth pick, whether it be Deni Avdija (a high IQ wing, who can score or distribute on offense), Isaac Okoro (a defensive specialist), or Onyeka Okungwu (a Bam Adeyebo-type center), the Cavs could fill their holes on either end of the floor. There is even a possibility the Cavs get someone like Onyeka Okongwu. Unless the Cavs move on from Kevin Love, Andre Drummond (who has a $28.7 million dollar player-option), or Tristan Thompson (who is an unrestricted free-agent) this offseason, Okongwu would see limited playing time and would only have a small influence on the Cavs’ playoff hopes in 2021.
Then there are the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot. Even if most things go well, the Cavs will most likely end up in either the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. As of right now, the Eastern Conference has seven playoff-caliber teams heading into next season: the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Pacers, 76ers and Nets. That means, barring any injuries, the Cavs will be fighting for that final spot with teams like the Wizards, Magic, Hawks and Hornets. So if the Cavs want to make it, they will need to bring their “A-game” every game.
The Cavs may need a lot to go right in the draft, standings, injuries, etc. but there is still a slim chance this team could push for a low playoff seed. Though an unlikely playoff appearance would most likely end in a first-round exit, any playoff experience for this young team is a step in the right direction for a team that won 22 games just two years ago.
Fedor, C. (2020). Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. [Digital image]. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.cleveland.com/cavs/2020/09/cleveland-cavaliers-back-at-rocket-mortgage-fieldhouse-for-first-time-since-march-looking-to-capitalize-on-voluntary-team-workouts.html