Cavs must win at least one playoff round for season to be a success | Jeff Schudel

Oct. 24—Koby Altman went into the offseason after the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Knicks determined to improve the team's scoring potential without sacrificing the core of the team.

Altman considers the mission accomplished with the additions of Max Strus, Georges Niang and Ty Jerome. None of the three are superstars, but they are vital pieces who should make the bench stronger.

The 2023-24 Cavs open the season on Oct. 25 against the Nets in Brooklyn. The core of the team — Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen — learned from getting knocked out by the Knicks that playoff basketball is different than the regular season. The acquisitions made by Altman should make the Cavs deeper. A lack of depth was exposed in the playoffs.

With that as a prologue, the only way this upcoming season should be considered a success would be for the Cavs to at least advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Anything less than that could cost Coach J.B. Bickerstaff his job.

"We have to start building winning habits every day in practice and in games," Altman said. "That's going to get us ready for the playoffs.

"What's success in the playoffs? We want to have success in the playoffs. Having gone through what we did last year — I'm not going to label it or pigeonhole ourselves into that, but I do want that to come from the players as well."

The Cavaliers finished 51-31 last — a seven-game jump from how they finished in 2021-22 when they stumbled after the All-Star break chiefly because Allen suffered a broken middle finger on his left hand and missed the final 17 games of the regular season.

Apparently, the Las Vegas oddsmakers don't have the same faith as Altman that the Cavs will be better this season because Caesars Sportsbook has set the over-under for the Cavaliers at 50.5 wins.

That is fine with Altman and Bickerstaff, because the Cavs have shown in the past to be very good at proving the highly paid experts in Vegas wrong. Caesars set the over-under for the Cavs at 47.5 last season. The over-under before the 44-win season of 2021-22 was a mere 27.5.

"We think we're going to be way more dynamic on offense," Altman said.

Altman and Bickerstaff are insulted that the Cavaliers were branded as soft because of the way they were knocked out of the playoffs. The Knicks ruled the boards, especially the way Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dominated the offensive glass. He pulled down 11 offensive rebounds fighting Allen for missed shots in Game 5.

"It's funny to me," Bickerstaff said. "We're making the point as if our guys aren't tough. I don't believe that. Our guys are physically and mentally tough. Sometimes you run into people that are stronger than you and they can make you pay. That's the nature of our business.

"I don't feel like our guys backed down from a challenge. I don't feel like they ran from the competition. I don't think they were afraid of the moment by any means."

Even so, Bickerstaff said the Cavaliers plan to be more physical this season. He said players worked individually to get stronger in the offseason to make that happen. But he was adamant about making a distinction between being tough and not physically as strong as the more experienced Knicks.

It might take some time for Strus, Niang and Jerome to fit into their new roles and for Bickerstaff to find the best way to use his revamped bench. There are other questions that might need time before they can be answered.

How will Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson be used behind Allen and Evan Mobley? Can Dean Wade finally stay healthy? Will Strus be used more as a starter or off the bench?

Mobley played 79 games last year. Darius Garland played 69 and Allen plus Donovan Mitchell each played in 68 games.

Can the starters stay healthy for the most part again? That, of course, is a question that can't be answered until the end of the season. But the answer could determine if the Cavs are still playing basketball in May for the first time in six years.