Three things that will determine if these Cavaliers can win a ring in a few years


With four All-Star level players on the roster — Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland have all made an All-Star team, and soon-to-be sophomore Evan Mobley hasn’t but could be the best of the bunch — the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be good after their trade for Mitchell. They are a playoff team (I think their regular-season range is No.4-7 seed, the East is deep).

The Cavaliers are not title contenders.

Not yet, anyway.

But they can be — this team is young, Mitchell will be their oldest starter at 26 — it’s just going to take a combination of internal growth and some clever moves from the front office to round out the roster. Here are the three things the Cavaliers need to happen to become a title contender.

1. Evan Mobley develops into a true No.1 option

The Cavaliers do not have a true championship-level No.1 scoring option. Mitchell is very good at shot creation, but he is not that guy — rank the best players in the NBA and he falls somewhere between 15 and 23, depending on who you ask. Mitchell is a deserving All-Star and max player, but he is not a top 10 player in the league, not a guy who many around the league consider the best player on a championship team.

Mobley has the potential to be that guy.

In three years, Evan Mobley could — and should — be the best player on this team. As a rookie he was already a top-level NBA defender and paint protector, a guy who deserved All-Defensive Team consideration and was pulling down 8.3 rebounds a game. On offense, he averaged 15 points a night and was a strong finisher around the rim, plus he showed some passing skills and the ability to set up others.

Mobley is the guy who could become a top-10 player in the league if his offense can catch up to his defense. Mobley must improve his jump shot — reports from summer workouts are promising — and his handles to do more shot creation. He’s also just 21. If he can take significant steps forward on offense over the next few years, the Cavs could have their No.1 option.

The one small challenge will be Mobley’s rookie contract extension — he’s a clear max guy, but with two other designated max rookie contracts on the books (Garland and Mitchell), the Cavs can’t sign him to one. It is not that big a deal, but it will require some finesse. The Cavaliers can extend Mobley on a four-year max deal, not five (something Mobley may want with the new television deal expected to bump up the salary cap), or they can wait until he is a free agent and then give him the full five-year deal (what the Pelicans did with Brandon Ingram). The sides will talk and work it out, but there’s likely no drama in the contract.

The drama is how good Mobley can become.

2. Find an elite defensive wing

A backcourt of Mitchell and Garland creates the same problem that put a cap on how good the Portland Trail Blazers could be for years — they make a dynamic scoring backcourt but are two undersized guards who are defensive liabilities (Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland; both Mitchell and Garland are 6’1″). It’s primarily a problem in the playoffs.

Mobley and Jarrett Allen — top defensive bigs who can move their feet and cover in space — will help mask that defensive concern. Still, Cavaliers GM Koby Altman has to find an elite defensive, versatile three.

The top of the East is stacked with elite wings: Boston has Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Milwaukee has Khris Middleton, Philadelphia has James Harden, the Nets have Kevin Durant, the Heat have Jimmy Butler, the Raptors have Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. As currently constructed, Cleveland does not have a good answer for these teams. Most likely Cedi Osman or Isaac Okoro will start at the three, but without an unexpected leap they are not the answer.

The Cavaliers are now light on trade capital and won’t have a lot of cap space to play with, Altman is going to have to be creative. But there can’t be a hole on the wing if the Cavaliers plan to contend for it all in a few years.

3. Keep Donovan Mitchell

The way this trade is structured, the Utah Jazz are betting Mitchell is in another jersey by the time his current contract ends. Mitchell has three guaranteed years remeaning on his contract but can opt out of a fourth year and become a free agent in the summer of 2025. Every first-round pick and pick-swap the Cavaliers sent the Jazz starts in 2025 and runs through 2029. Danny Ainge has made a bet the Cavaliers ultimately can’t keep this all together.

Cleveland was not on Mitchell’s list of preferred destinations (New York or Miami), but he was reportedly excited and running around a golf course when he found out he was officially going to Cleveland. Winning cures a lot of ills, and if the Cavaliers win enough and show enough promise, that could motivate Mitchell to stay. As will how welcomed he feels in Cleveland and with the organization.

Mitchell may be the lowest-maintenance superstar in the NBA, a guy good with fans and in the community. He will not be disruptive and the Cavs will get a real chance to make this work. But by the time it gets to 2024, Cleveland needs to talk honestly with Mitchell about his plans. If he is staying, they can talk next contract (with the jump in the salary cap extending is likely not an option), but if he wants out the Cavaliers can recoup some picks and what they gave up in a trade.

Maybe Mitchell is determined to be in New York. But a couple of seasons from now when these decisions have to be made is another lifetime in NBA years. The Cavaliers have time. They have a real chance to make this work.

The Cavaliers can become title contenders. They just need to take a few steps.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.

Watch Anthony Davis score 37, spark Lakers to key win against Thunder


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds, Dennis Schröder added 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers got a vital victory for their playoff hopes, 116-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Lonnie Walker scored 20 points in an impressive return to the rotation for the Lakers, who won their third straight to move even with Minnesota in seventh place in the Western Conference standings despite the injury absences of LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell.

“It was a must-win game for us,” said Davis, who made 15 of his 21 shots. “We had to come out and get this game, and we came out offensive and defensively just playing extremely well. … We’ve got to .500, and now it’s time to get on the other side.”

With Davis leading the way on both ends of the court, Los Angeles (37-37) reached .500 for the first time this year. The Lakers started the season 2-10, but they’re 12-6 since the trade deadline with a rapidly cohering roster and the looming return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

“This team is locked in and connected,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The vibe and the spirit have been great. Guys are really trying to figure out how we can be better. That’s what you want. … Guys are competing because they know what they’re representing. They know the history of the franchise they’re representing.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey scored 27 points apiece for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the fourth time in 12 games down the stretch. The Thunder (36-38) dropped into a tie with Dallas for 10th in the West despite holding the Lakers to only 42 points in the second half after LA put up 41 in the first quarter alone.

“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”

Russell sat out with a sore right hip, joining James on the sideline at an important game for the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Los Angeles still improved to 8-5 during James’ latest injury absence.

Oklahoma City erased all of Los Angeles’ early 17-point lead when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper tied it at 102-102 with 5:25 to play. Davis responded with three points, and Walker hit a tiebreaking shot with 3:50 left.

Schröder replaced Russell in the starting lineup and had another standout game, including six points in the final 3:18 while the Lakers hung on. Walker got his most significant playing time since early March in Russell’s absence, and the former starter responded with four 3-pointers.

“I’ve just been in the gym, being positive and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Walker said. “I love these guys, and I’m fortunate to play with them.”

Ham said Russell’s hip injury was “not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander played despite the Thunder being on the back end of consecutive games. The Thunder have been resting him in the second game of recent back-to-backs.