The Cleveland Cavaliers have a very bright future, and their future rests largely on the shoulders of All-Star point guard Darius Garland.
The 22-year-old averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists a game this past season, and he may still have plenty of room for improvement, given his impressive skill set.
Cleveland is certainly a work-in-progress at this point, as it hasn’t made the playoffs since LeBron James’ last season in town, but Garland is aiming high and seems to have the utmost confidence in himself and his team.
He recently said he thinks his squad can reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 2023.
“I think we can get even better,” he said. “I think we can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals next year for sure. We’re coming back with a chip on our shoulder. … We’re a young team. Like you said, we battled through a lot of adversity this season. So, it was cool just being there, but we not satisfied. We all in. We all ready to rock and roll.”
Whether it’s a realistic goal or not, Garland is putting everyone on notice that the Cavs are going to be for real moving forward.
The 2021-22 Season was A Harbinger Of What May Lay Ahead
Going into this past season, no one outside of Northeast Ohio expected much, if anything from the Cavs.
The most optimistic forecasts seemingly had them winning 30, maybe 35 games at most.
Instead, they finished with a 44-38 record, and they came within minutes of reaching the NBA playoffs by virtue of a second-half lead over the Atlanta Hawks in their second play-in tournament contest.
When young teams improve, it doesn’t happen in a straightforward linear fashion, and at some point, improvement will manifest as a big leap forward in their record.
Big man Evan Mobley, who narrowly missed out of winning the Rookie of the Year award, seems to have superstar potential, and if he reaches or even surpasses 20 points a game this coming season, it would greatly help Cleveland’s cause.
Garland himself showed off a greatly maturing game that was a far cry from what he displayed as a rookie in the 2019-20 season.
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) July 18, 2022
In particular, his ball-handling skills are extremely impressive and even reminiscent of former Cavs star Kyrie Irving.
Garland’s passing is also something to behold and seems to elevate his teammates’ play.
good morning, a reminder that darius garland’s passing is generational pic.twitter.com/kvCylQweNu
— Merrick (@MStorlie87) March 9, 2022
Darius Garland's passing is just marvelous pic.twitter.com/1pIxHnTesk
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) December 27, 2021
Is An Eastern Conference Finals Appearance Realistic For The Cavs?
Before Cleveland fans make plans to head to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for some games in late May of 2023, it should be pointed out how competitive the Eastern Conference has gotten since James headed to Los Angeles.
The Boston Celtics, the defending East champs, have gotten better by adding Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari.
The Milwaukee Bucks, who won the NBA title in 2021, are still intact and should be hungry after falling to Boston in the second round of the 2022 playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets may run it back and the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat aren’t going anywhere.
The Cavs would have to leapfrog all but one of those teams to make good on what Garland said, and although there’s a good chance of that happening, it will be very tough to pull it off right away rather than gradually over the next few years.
But nonetheless, Garland is showing leadership and letting his teammates know that they have to think big and act boldly.