If we learned anything about the Eastern Conference from the 2022-23 season, it is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a young, hungry team that will be a problem for a long time to come.
When LeBron James left Cleveland in 2018, the Cavaliers finished with the second-worst record in the NBA and they were looking at yet another long and grueling rebuilding process.
Drafting Collin Sexton eight overall in 2018, Darius Garland fifth overall in 2019 and Isaac Okoro fifth overall in 2020, the Cavaliers began to assemble an athletic young core that they could build around for the foreseeable future.
They also were able to get themselves involved
Perhaps the peak of the Cleveland Cavaliers rebuild though came during the 2020-21 season, as they claimed the third pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and were able to get Evan Mobley, a young All-Star in the making in the frontcourt.
Now, Mobley and Allen make up one of the better frontcourt duos in the entire league, both Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen were first-time All Stars this past season and defensively, the Cavs are one of the stronger teams in the entire league.
Collin Sexton still remains a free agent heading into the month of September, but when you look at Cleveland’s roster, it is really hard to find any weaknesses. They have young All Stars, they are a great defensive team and almost this entire roster is under the age of 30, giving them some of the best potential for growth in the league right now.
Heading into the 2022-23 season, the Cavaliers have continued to add on to their young core and after finishing 44-38 a season ago and making the Play-In Tournament, Cleveland is ready to prove that they are a legit playoff threat in the Eastern Conference.
Can the Cavaliers clinch an actual playoff spot this upcoming season for the first time since the 2017-18 season? The Cavs ended up being quite busy this NBA offseason and each one of these moves could end up making a huge difference in them taking yet another big step forward as a young franchise.
The 2022 NBA Draft began early for the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, as they dealt the draft rights to forward Sasha Vezenkov and about $1.75 million in cash considerations to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the No. 39 overall pick in this year’s draft ahead of the start of the draft, giving the Cavaliers a total of four picks (one first-rounder and three second-rounders).
Sitting in the final lottery spot with the No. 14 overall pick, many thought that the Cavaliers could end up with a talented young player that ended up falling outside of the Top-10, but there was also a lot of speculation that they could go with a perimeter player that displayed his “score-first” mentality in college like Ochai Agbaji out of Kansas.
Well, Agbaji was on the board for Cleveland and it did not take long for them to select him, as Agbaji is just the latest young guard to join this organization.
At Kansas, Agbaji proved to be a leader in many different ways other than scoring. He proved to be the main catalyst for the Jayhawks, leading them to a national championship, and the Cavs are hopeful that he can supply them with the second-unit scoring they were lacking a season ago.
In Las Vegas Summer League, Ochai Agbaji played in a total of four games, averaging 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and shooting 37.5% from three-point range. A confident scorer, especially out on the perimeter, Agbaji had a very comforting presence to his game that caught the attention of many in Las Vegas, yours truly included.
As for who the Cavaliers ended up drafting in the second-round, they made out with Khalifa Diop at No. 39 overall, Isaiah Mobley at No. 49 overall and then Luke Travers at No. 56 overall.
Khalifa Diop and Luka Travers are both “draft-and-stash” options for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as both players will be spending the 2022-23 season overseas. Only Travers joined the team for Summer League.
Isaiah Mobley, the younger brother of Evan Mobley, signed a two-way contract with the Cavaliers for this upcoming season and he has a chance to actually see quite a bit of playing time at the NBA level. His length and mobility at the power forward position is definitely something Cleveland will look to utilize similar to what they did with his brother and Isaiah’s game is slightly different because of his ability to create for others out on the perimeter.
Not to mention, Isaiah Mobley is a versatile defender that can guard multiple positions, something that the Cleveland Cavaliers have looked for in their draft picks over the years.
General manager Koby Altman and the Cavs’ front-office had a successful draft this offseason and it is not hard to believe that they will look to get Ochai Agbaji incorporated right away once training camp begins, especially with Collin Sexton still remaining unsigned.
Departures: C Moses Brown, G Rajon Rondo, G Brandon Goodwin
A restricted free agent this offseason, Collin Sexton entered free agency as one of the better names available. However, Sexton has not played in a game since November 7 and the market for guards dropped off considerably after the New York Knicks signed Jalen Brunson and the Detroit Pistons drafted Jaden Ivey.
Still remaining unsigned heading into September, the Cavaliers and Sexton have been in contact and continue to negotiate the terms of a potential new deal. As of right now, all indications point towards a deal getting done ahead of training camp, but it is worth noting that the two sides are still far apart on how much this new contract should be valued at.
Outside of the talk surrounding Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers continued to address key needs on their roster and they did so by adding three experienced, veteran players, one of which is a familiar face that gained the trust of the entire organization and locker room a season ago.
Ricky Rubio returns to the Cavs on a new three-year deal after he was traded ahead of the trade deadline to the Indiana Pacers due to the fact that he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. While he will not be ready until some point in 2023, Rubio proved to be a high-impact bench player for the Cavaliers a season ago and will once again be one of the leaders of this young team.
Cleveland also signed 30-year-old point guard Raul Neto and 34-year-old center Robin Lopez, both of which will supply the team with depth in the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively.
Neto rarely turns the ball over and has proven to be a capable facilitator over the years, making him a very solid mentor and No. 2 option behind Darius Garland with Rick Rubio still on the mend. As for Lopez, he joins a frontcourt with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Kevin Love. Always a favorite in the locker room on every team he has ever been on, Lopez should once again be a morale booster that acts as a mentor alongside Love to the Cavs two young starting big men.
While they did not make any flashy moves in free agency, the Cavaliers went out and signed three players that can all make an impact in more ways than one. Best of all, this team really did not lose any part of their core, even though Sexton remains unsigned at this time.
Now that we know what the Cleveland Cavaliers are capable of, it is time for them to really step out of the shadows and lock themselves in as a playoff contending team in the Eastern Conference.
The saying of “defense wins championships” still holds true in the NBA today and the scary thing about Cleveland is that they are only going to get better. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen are going to be better than they were this past season, a year in which they were both All Stars, and Evan Mobley is going to be a prime candidate to be a first-time All Star during the 2022-23 season.
Not to mention, Isaac Okoro is going to be a key “sixth-man-like” talent for this team, Lauri Markkenen is going to continue to be comfortable as a secondary scorer, Kevin Love will continue being a high-impact bench talent and Caris LeVert is still on this roster.
The Cavaliers are deep, they are athletic and most importantly, they simply looked like they were having fun out on the basketball court a season ago.
Buy stock in the Cleveland Cavaliers right now because I truly believe that they have a chance to be one of the biggest “surprise teams” during the 2022-23 season. J.B. Bickerstaff is arguably the most underrated head coach in the league right now and if they can strike a deal with Collin Sexton before the start of the season, this team will have everything it needs to make the playoffs.
In fact, making the playoffs not even be the peak of what this team can achieve this upcoming year. Assuming they can stay healthy, this team, on paper at least, has everything they need to win a playoff series or two.
The Atlanta Hawks went on a run to the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2021 NBA Playoffs as major underdogs and if there is one team being labeled as an underdog to make a deep playoff push this season that absolutely can, it is 100 percent the 2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Brett Siegel joined Fastbreak on FanNation as a credentialed NBA journalist in April 2022 after previously covering the NBA for NBA Analysis Network and working with Louisville Basketball, aiding in daily operations, scouting and recruiting. From playing to coaching to covering the game as a media member, Brett has been involved with the game of basketball from many different perspectives. Breaking the news of All-Star Andre Drummond signing with the Lakers in 2021, yearly NBA Draft news and other key stories around the league, Brett is always on the phone, getting the latest news and rumors around the NBA. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @BrettSiegelNBA.