Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Isaac Okoro has missed three straight games with a knee issue, and as much as fans would like to think that the 22-year-old will be back before the 2023 NBA Playoffs begin, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t committing to anything.
For that reason, it’s no surprise that Bickerstaff is looking to establish a “safety net” for the Cavs amid uncertainty around Okoro’s status. On Sunday, that safety net looked like Dean Wade.
The 26-year-old was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in months. Fellow wing Caris LeVert had started the two previous games with Okoro out, but he went back to his bench role to make way for Wade on Sunday.
After the game, Bickerstaff spoke about the decision.
“Trying to strike a balance with our starting group and our bench,” Bickerstaff said. “Trying to make sure that there is a safety net as we work through the Isaac situation.”
The Cavs head coach spoke about Okoro, who was dealing with the knee issue even before he started missing games.
“We need to get him to a place better than he was,” Bickerstaff said. “If Isaac doesn’t play, it’s because he’s in real discomfort. We’ve got to make sure we’re taking the steps to get him to a place of comfort and safety. That’s more important. It’s something we’re just monitoring every day and hopefully he continues to improve.”
“I don’t have an answer right now to be honest with you,” he said after being asked if there’s concern about Okoro’s status heading into the first round of the playoffs. “We are trying to progress him. We’ll see what happens. We’ve always got to do what’s right by him.”
LeVert seems to understand the value of him playing off the bench. In an ideal world, he’d be able to keep that role in the playoffs. But in order for that to happen, someone else is going to need to fill the starting small forward spot. If it can’t be Okoro, perhaps it’ll be Wade.
“It honestly just depends on who I am playing with and where I’m needed,” LeVert said after being asked by Cleveland.com whether he prefers coming off the bench. “With Don (Donovan Mitchell) and D.G. (Darius Garland), they have a good chemistry, especially when it comes to who is making the plays and things like that. I feel like me coming off the bench is kind of a good switch-up and keeps it balanced with myself and Ricky [Rubio]. I know the responsibility of those guys and I know what I’m capable of, so I feel like me coming off the bench is kind of like a secret weapon in a sense just because we all know what I can do on both ends of the floor.”
In Wade’s start against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, he posted five points and five boards in about 27 minutes of action. He went 2-for-3 from the field and 1-for-2 from deep.
As for Okoro, it’s a safe bet that fans are going to be itching for updates in the coming days. His status moving forward is suddenly one of the biggest storylines of the year for the Cavs.
In 76 games this season, the former lottery pick has averaged 6.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He’s having a career year from a shooting perspective, knocking down 49.4 percent of his shots from the field and 36.3 percent of his shots from deep.
Last season, Cleveland’s special campaign was completely derailed by injuries. This season, the team has had significantly better injury luck, which is a trend that will hopefully continue into the postseason. But if Okoro has to miss any playoff games, there’s no doubt that the Cavs will have to get creative in looking for solutions.