Are the Cavaliers Still a Top-Tier Team in the Eastern Conference for 2023-24?

September 21, 2023

Tony Camino

Can the Cavs be the Top Team in the Conference?

Heading into the 2023-24 season, the Cavs are in their second year as a true playoff contender. Despite a disappointing end to the previous season, things are trending up for a young Cavs team that had a productive offseason. While no league-shattering moves were made, the additions of Max Strus and Georges Niang will significantly improve floor spacing and enable more versatile lineups.

The Eastern Conference is quite top-heavy, and I believe there’s a real chance for the Cavs to compete with any of these teams. The outlooks for teams like the Heat and Sixers can change at a moment’s notice, especially with rumors of Harden and Lillard trades swirling around. Meanwhile, the Bucks and Celtics seem to be the top teams once again.

Finals Contenders: Bucks, Celtics

The Bucks and Celtics are poised to maintain their positions near the top of the East, coming off solid offseasons.

The Bucks didn’t make any drastic moves but retained their core players – Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday – alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. While this core secured a championship, concerns arise due to its aging roster and potential health issues this year. A year ago, the Cavs seemed to match up well with the Bucks, and they remain well-prepared to compete with them this season.

The Celtics nearly pulled off an incredible 3-0 comeback but ultimately lost to an eighth seed in the conference finals. This outcome led to a shakeup in their core, with Marcus Smart traded to Memphis, resulting in Kristaps Porzingis joining Boston. Alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Porzingis brings floor-spacing and elite rim protection. Their main challenge continues to be generating opportunities from the point guard position, especially with the departure of Smart. The Cavs had success against this team last year, and they possess the length and versatility to match up effectively this season.

Top-four potential: Sixers, Heat, Knicks

This next tier of teams has its flaws and will be actively seeking moves to elevate themselves to the next group.

The Sixers are essentially bringing back last year’s team, assuming Harden joins their roster. With Harden’s best scoring days now in the past, the Sixers will rely on Tyrese Maxey to step up as a perimeter threat and alleviate pressure on Joel Embiid. This is a core that has consistently fallen short, but the addition of Nick Nurse appears to breathe new life into the team’s culture.

The Miami Heat are coming off an incredible Cinderella run, but their prospects don’t seem as bright unless they can swing a trade for Damian Lillard. Key contributors from recent successes, such as Max Strus, Caleb Martin, and Gabe Vincent, have all departed, making the current roster appear somewhat lackluster. As it stands now, I don’t foresee the Heat posing too much of a challenge for the Cavs.

The Knicks bolstered their Villanova core by signing Donte DiVincenzo from the Golden State Warriors. While Jalen Brunson is a star who continues to improve each year, there isn’t another consistent scorer on this roster to propel the Knicks to a conference finals run. The Cavs have made numerous changes to ensure a repeat of last season’s postseason disappointment does not occur.

Early Cavaliers Eastern Conference Final Seed Prediction: 3rd

Apart from the Bucks and Celtics, no teams in the Eastern Conference should present an insurmountable threat to the Cavs this year. A second year with Donovan Mitchell, combined with ongoing improvements from Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, will raise the ceiling for this core. Offseason acquisitions have addressed the spacing and versatility issues, providing this team with all the necessary tools to elevate themselves to contender status. I believe this is the year they are poised to be right on the cusp of joining that contender group, sending a strong message to the league that they are a force to be reckoned with.

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