The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the opening third of the NBA season, using a young core of talent to make a charge in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs endured three years of struggle following the departure of LeBron James after their defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. The franchise failed to qualify for the post-season, finishing 14th, 15th, and 13th in the Eastern Conference.
The young core
Their struggles allowed them to acquire draft capital. The players selected, including Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Evan Mobley, are beginning to emerge into a talented core in Cleveland. After 51 games, the Cavaliers are 31-20 in the 2021/22 campaign. Despite their progress this term under J. B. Bickerstaff, the Cavs are still considered outsiders for the Eastern Conference crown in the NBA odds at +4500.
The Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks are the leading contenders to advance to the NBA Finals, with the Nets boasting a slight edge over the reigning champions in the minds of the betting sites. Winning the Eastern Conference would be a monumental step for the Cavaliers to take this season and is pretty unlikely to occur.
Taking a page out of Golden State's book
However, the campaign could be vital in building a foundation to take on future challenges in the east. The Golden State Warriors cultivated a young core of talent with the selections of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Steph Curry. Given their excellence over the last ten years, it would be easy to forget that the Warriors were not an overnight success.
With Curry and Thompson in the early years of their careers and Green as a rookie, the Warriors suffered a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs during the 2012/13 season in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. In the following campaign, Golden State was beaten by the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games of the first round, prompting the firing of Mark Jackson and the hiring of Steve Kerr. One year later, the Warriors were champions and starting a dynastic run of success over the next five seasons.
It would be a bold statement to say that Cleveland will have that level of success, but they can use the Warriors as an example of building a team over time. The Cavaliers have constructed their franchise primarily through the draft and are not blessed with a great deal of experience outside of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Fledgling players will go through their ups and downs as well as injuries, as seen with Collin Sexton. It is important that the Cavs stay patient with the process and do not panic if they suffer a first-round exit in the post-season.
For the first time in four years, it appears that Cavaliers' fans have a reason to hope regarding the franchise's future. Competing in the second round of the post-season in 2022 will be a good sign that Cleveland is progressing nicely with their rising core and perhaps ready for greater things in the future under Bickerstaff.