Former NBA executive explains what it would take for Cavs to reach Eastern Conference Finals this season

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Former NBA executive John Hollinger recently offered his opinion on what it would take for Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers to reach the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals.

“The good news is that the Cavs are built to once again crush in the regular season,” Hollinger wrote. “Their defense is airtight, the one-through-nine depth is enviable with the offseason additions and they have two elite perimeter creators in Mitchell and Darius Garland. If one of Boston or Milwaukee stumbles or has injuries, there’s enough talent for a Cavs’ conference finals run. But can the house of cards survive the first round of the playoffs this time, or is it a fatally flawed construction?”

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are widely perceived to be the two teams to beat in the Eastern Conference with the start of the 2023-24 NBA regular season less than one week away.

Both teams made blockbuster trades for stars during the offseason, as the Celtics traded for big man Kristaps Porzingis and guard Jrue Holiday, while the Bucks traded for floor general Damian Lillard, who spent the first 11 seasons of his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers franchise.

Boston and Milwaukee also finished with the two best records in the Eastern Conference last season. The Bucks won 58 games during the 2022-23 regular season, and the Celtics won 57.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, ended up as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago with a 51-31 record. Cleveland’s playoff run was brief and underwhelming. The team lost to Jalen Brunson’s New York Knicks in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

Mitchell — the Cavaliers’ best offensive player and one of the better scorers in the NBA today — had a hard time scoring the ball efficiently in the team’s first-round playoff series against New York. He averaged 23.2 points per game for the series but converted just 43.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and 28.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.

The good news is that Cleveland is arguably a better team on paper now than it was last season. The Cavaliers agreed to a sign-and-trade for former Miami Heat sharpshooter Max Strus in the offseason and also made additions like Georges Niang and Ty Jerome.

The Cavaliers will play their final preseason game before the start of the 2023-24 regular season against the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 20.

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Jesse is a sports journalist with extensive experience covering the NBA. He has worked as a staff writer at SB Nation’s CelticsBlog and The Knicks Wall.