Cleveland’s 51-31 record in 2022/23 was the best mark for a Cavaliers team without LeBron James since 1992/93 and resulted in the franchise’s first playoff berth since James’ most recent departure in 2018. Unfortunately for the Cavs, their postseason run was short-lived, as the Knicks quickly dispatched them in a one-sided first-round series.
Speaking to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff admitted that the playoff loss “took some time to process.” But now that he’s a few months removed from it, Bickerstaff is more willing to focus on the Cavaliers’ regular season success and to find silver linings in their early postseason exit.
“I think when you sit back, look at the regular season – and I think the regular season was a test that was passed – and then you get to the playoffs where things ramp up a notch, it was the greatest learning experience our guys could have had, that I could have had,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s the opportunity to be in a position you have never been in before and a responsibility that you’ve never had before. Nothing worth having has ever come easy to anybody.
“At the end of the day, you sit back and look at it and the season was successful. The experience our young guys gained in the playoffs is only going to make them better. That’s the reality of it. We get caught up in the emotion of it all in the moment because we are all so competitive. But in reality, we’re not above the process either. There are steps that just can’t be skipped.”
As Bickerstaff notes, many of the Cavaliers’ core players – such as Evan Mobley and Darius Garland – are still young and were experiencing a playoff environment for the first time. He believes they learned important lessons during that five-game series and will benefit from the experience going forward.
Here are a few more highlights from Fedor’s interview with Bickerstaff:
“I don’t want to give away too much. But the spacing on the floor becomes different. The attention that goes to those two guys because of Georges’ career 40% 3-point shooting and Max Strus’ ability to make shots off the move, defenses have to make different decisions now than they had to last year. Those are different dynamics that we added.
“Our offense can improve and be more dynamic and difficult to guard — even though we were a top-10 offense in the regular season. You learn from the playoffs about how to become more difficult to guard in that setting. I think there is a more dynamic nature that we can have offensively. Those are things I’m studying now and we will implement this coming season.”
On Donovan Mitchell‘s potential long-term future in Cleveland:
“He was with us in Las Vegas and stayed longer than most. He worked out with the guys and went to dinners. … There were conversations we had with him during free agency about trying to get the people we needed in here. There were conversations he had with the guys we were able to bring in.
“All those things tell you that Donovan is all in. If a guy is not attentive to free agency and how we are going to get better as a team, if he is not attentive to his teammates over the summer, if he is not attentive to working on the individual things that may make him uncomfortable but also are best for the team moving forward, to me that would be a guy who is not engaged. I have seen the opposite. I have seen a guy who is all in.”
On whether he’s feeling pressure to live up to increased expectations in 2023/24:
“Pressure from what? I think the funny thing for us coaches when it comes to pressure is you want to have a good team and you want expectations. If you have a team with no expectations, as a coach, competitor, and player, that is ultimately not the job you’re looking for. The word pressure is kind of comical, to be honest with you, because you have a good team and that’s what you want.
“… Pressure isn’t a word that coaches really think about because it’s our job to continue to get better. I think we have done that here. From where we started with this team to where we are now, there is no way to say we haven’t done the job building this the right way. Look at the environment. Look at individual development. Look at team development. There are no holes. Our job is to continue to do what we’ve already done but also continue to get better. That’s what we want.”