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Are the Cavaliers now a playoff lockout in the East?

Cleveland Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman laughs during a news conference featuring Donovan Mitchell at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on September 14, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this photograph, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers are really excited for the first time since LeBron James left.

A relatively quiet offseason was shaken up on Sept. 1 when they traded for Donovan Mitchell.

Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029, and two first-round pick trades in 2026 and 2028 were sent to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the three-time All-Star Guard.

The blockbuster trade comes after a disappointing end to the 2021-22 season for the Cavaliers.

Back-to-back losses in the game followed an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

But it was a step in the right direction for a team that failed to win more than 25 games in three straight seasons.

With the acquisition of a superstar comes higher expectations.

An eighth-place finish and a play-in appearance would be a disappointment with Mitchell now in tow.

Even in a strong Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers should be insurance for a playoff spot.

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A look at the Cavaliers’ roster

Cleveland sent three players in the trade for Mitchell.

Markkanen was a full-time starter for the Cavaliers last season, averaging 30.8 minutes in 61 games.

Sexton was also a full-time starter, but only appeared in 11 games before a torn meniscus ended his season.

Agbaji was Cleveland’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Looking at last season’s Cavaliers, they’re only losing one regular rotation player from a team that won 44 games.

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But they’re adding one of the most dynamic offensive shooting guards in the NBA.

Four of the five starting spots are set in stone: Darius Garland, Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.

Lineups with Garland, Mobley and Allen last season were effective.

In 1,514 possessions, they posted a +7.1 differential, a good number for the 87th percentile in the NBA.

And the main problem in those lineups was marking the ball.

The 111.6 points per 100 possessions they averaged were in the 44th percentile leaguewide.

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Those three will now be joined by Mitchell, who averaged just 25.9 points per game.

The Cleveland “Core Four” will be joined by Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Robin Lopez.

Mobley and Allen will help mask any attacking point issues the Cavaliers have on the defensive end.

Mitchell and Garland will help power what should be a much-improved offense.

Cleveland should have a good starting five, but may need to add some depth on the bench around the trade deadline.

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Eastern Conference Competition

As mentioned above, the Eastern Conference is pretty deep this coming season.

The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat are top heavyweights with real title aspirations.

While they may be a question right now, the Brooklyn Nets could quickly join those four if those questions are answered.

After those five, the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks will compete with the Cavaliers for that automatic sixth playoff spot.

Toronto didn’t make any spectacular additions this offseason, but it also didn’t lose much from last year’s 48-win team.

The Bulls are hoping for better health for Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to improve their 46-win campaign.

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And the Hawks will look to Dejounte Murray to elevate one of the worst defenses in the league a season ago.

But the Cavaliers should be able to earn the nod.

Markkanen is the only member of the rotation not to return from last season.

Cleveland allowed the fifth-fewest points per game to opponents and should stay in that range assuming Mobley and Allen continue to improve.

Whereas Mitchell should be able to elevate the offense ranked 25th from a season ago.

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Between the Raptors, Bulls, Hawks and Cavaliers, Cleveland should have the best two-way balance.

The Cavaliers will break their four-year playoff drought.


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