The Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot more questions than answers about their future. Is it worth tearing everything down and tanking in order to start the rebuilding process in the post-LeBron James era? Is it worth keeping Kevin Love, being mediocre, and maybe making the postseason as the No. 8 seed? Is it worth being in the middle of the pack in such a top-heavy league? The latter two would mean that the Cavs wouldn’t have a first-round pick in 2019.
These are a handful of just a bunch of different questions the Cavaliers front office and coaching staff must figure out this summer after losing its superstar.
While there’s still plenty of time to figure things out, general manager Koby Altman wants the Cavaliers to keep Kevin Love and at least continue to be competitive.
“The years where you’re non-competitive aren’t fun,” Altman told a group of reporters on Friday during the Las Vegas Summer League, according to cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon. “And I know that’s hard to build a culture that way and we’ve had a great culture of winning because of LeBron and that infrastructure that he brings right away. And I’d like to capitalize on that.
“You won’t be nearly as good if you lose a player of that magnitude,” Altman said, speaking of James. “But we can still be competitive, we can be tough, we can be skilled, we can be talented and we can still use that culture that’s sort of been embedded these last four years.”
If this is the case, it seems as though Love will, in fact, remain a Cav, which the team has stated all summer, whether James left (again) or not.
“Kevin is an All-Star and you don’t get better by moving Kevin,” Altman said. “Kevin’s been incredible for us for four years and he wants to be here, and to me that’s a big part for guys that are here and the guys that we’re gonna acquire, is that they want to be here and be a part of this new chapter and culture that we’re creating.”
By trading the All-Star (please don’t let it be a trade for Andrew Wiggins), the Cavs could most likely acquire either young, up-and-coming talent and/or future draft assets, either of which would speed up the rebuilding process. This would also mean that, while getting younger and/or getting more draft capital, they would also be one of the 10 worst teams in the league, which would allow them to keep their first-round pick next summer. But that doesn’t seem like an ideal plan for Altman.
“To go the complete opposite direction, which we’ve been through, is not fun and it’s hard,” Altman said. “It’s hard to sort of come out of that. And the unknown is really daunting to me.
“I really like what we have now and I don’t necessarily want to go backward.”
Sustaining a positive, winning culture is important, especially when you have some young players that you want to develop in your system, but is a “winning culture” meaningful when your ceiling this season is basically sneaking into the playoffs and most likely making a first-round exit in the postseason at best, all while lengthening the rebuilding process? I don’t think so.
Being bad sucks, that’s obvious, but the worse the Cavs are this upcoming season, the faster it can begin to rebuild. There have been plenty of teams that have tanked over the years, some of which the tanking turned into a bright future like The Process in Philadelphia, but for others, they’re still in the bottom half of the NBA. It seems as though the fastest route to get back to NBA relevance is through the draft though, especially if you’re a team like the Cavs, who may have a tough time signing big names through free agency.
During the three-headed beat writer roundtable on 92.3 The Fan, Dave McMenamin, Jason Lloyd, and Joe Vardon all agreed that owner Dan Gilbert’s pride factor could set it, which would force the Cavs to actually be competitive (and potentially a playoff contender) in a weak Eastern Conference. If that’s the case, then the Cavs will all but certainly keep Love, be somewhat competitive, and prove that they can still compete even without James.
The problem with not taking a step backward and possibly tanking is that the Cavs 2019 first-round pick is top-10 protected. This means that if the Cavs keep Love, they all but certainly won’t be one of the 10 worst teams in the league, which will, therefore, force them to miss out on having a first-round pick next summer because it will be sent to the Atlanta Hawks. All of this would further delay the rebuilding process. Tanking isn’t fun, but neither is being a mediocre team in a league that has super teams and arguably the best team in NBA history.
Keep in mind, Love has just two years remaining on his five-year, $113.2 million extension he signed with the Cavs in 2015. The last year of which is a player option. So, if Cleveland decides to keep the big man, there’s a chance that they would not only lose their first-round pick in 2019, but they would lose the last member of the Big Three either in 2019 or 2020 as well.
Is that a risk worth taking if you’re the Cavs? Probably not.