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

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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.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.