Seated at the podium prior to Monday night’s preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue rattled off the players who would not be available for the impending contest—Kevin Love and Rodney Hood were among the notables.
Lue had just received the news of Hood’s left ankle before stepping into his pregame address, but hinted that he would be rolling with rookie guard Collin Sexton alongside veteran point guard George Hill in the backcourt. Fans were instantly intrigued as Sexton represents the new-look Cavaliers and for this team to be competitive going forward, hitting on their first-round draft selection is imperative. Just a few minutes into the night, however, it became evident that how we judge the success of the selection may be just as important as the eventual outcome.
During multiple instances in the first quarter alone, Sexton dribbled down attempted to pass to the top of the key from the wing—one of the most basic sets in a half-court playbook—to either not have a player in the spot he had believed he’d be or have him covered in a way where the pass was ill-advised. Each time resulted in a turnover and easy points for the Pacers, adding a clear path foul on a similar play later in the night.
One game after Sexton looked like every bit of a player who could contest for Rookie of the Year this season, dropping 13 points in just 19 minutes, he looked like every bit of a rookie shooting 1-of-7 for just three points and three turnovers in a loss.
This year’s Cleveland Cavaliers team is in a very difficult place. Sure, the expectations are lower and the players seem to actually enjoy being around one another—something that can’t necessarily be said for stretches over the last four seasons.
But underneath the Instagram stories and JR Smith GIFs is a team that, assuming they wish to win, has to find a way to give playing time to veterans like Hill, Smith, and Kyle Korver while providing ample room for development of the Sextons and Cedi Osmans of the world.
There’s an axiom in the fitness community that says you can’t increase muscle, lose fat, improve a marathon time, and increase athleticism at the same time. Trying to do everything at once is a recipe for disaster as lengthening one leg of the stool only serves to take away from one of the others.
While professional sports allows for development behind the scenes in practices and film sessions, there will be a time where the team’s younger players will need to be on the floor. Tristan Thompson will have to share a role with Larry Nance Jr.; Smith and Korver will give way to Rodney Hood; and Hill, the known commodity, will eventually cede his role to the up-and-down Sexton.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) October 9, 2018
The butterfly effect of these decisions are the great unknown. There’s a segment of fans, largely spread throughout social media, who read into the ebbs and flows of every quarter. An ice cold start is treated like the subsequent three quarters shouldn’t even be played while a 13-point preseason outing from a rookie has some researching locations for a statue.
There are already fans drawing lines in the sand regarding whether or not the team should have blown things up. When they succeed, it will be in spite of a 2019 first-round draft pick; when they do not, it will be a parade of “I told you so.”
This Cavaliers team will be a beautifully frustrating mix of incredibly high moments mixed with head-scratching nights that make us wonder what the true direction will be.
There will be nights where Kevin Love drops 25 and 20 or Collin Sexton looks like the next Eric Bledsoe. There will also be nights where Love struggles and Sexton looks more like Drew Bledsoe. The trick as fans will be navigating this terrain on a big picture basis. It will be a drastic change compared to the prism we’ve used over the last four seasons where anything shy of a championship was considered a disappointment, and it will be one that will tests the patience of fans as we traverse through the unknown.
Fewer teams in the NBA have such a wide range of potential outcomes this season. The catch 22 is that this season also comes with a wide range of how we will individually gauge success.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “Can LeBron James Attract a Superstar Free Agent to the Lakers?” By Brian Windhorst (ESPN)
- “The Solution to the Indians’ Problem May Have Been in Front of Them All Along” by Jason Lloyd (The Athletic)
- ”Meet Baseball’s Next Supervillain” by Michael Baumann (The Ringer)