Former Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Ty Lue said this season won’t be measured in wins and losses, but rather “wins and lessons.” With that in mind, and in honor of his memory, WFNY is going to follow along with what we learn every week.
Last Friday, for my Wins and Losses segment, I wrote over 1,500 words on the complete dysfunction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. You may notice I didn’t provide a link to the said piece. That’s because I chickened out and didn’t post it.
I thought the post rambled too much, and I was also a little worried that maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe the Cavs weren’t really in as bad of a position as I thought. Maybe Koby Altman isn’t in as deep over his head as I thought. Maybe it’s too early to be pointing out all these warning signs. So I spiked the piece and never ran it.
Then, The Athletic’s Joe Vardon released a piece titled “Things are even worse on the Cavaliers than they seem, from the top to the rookie“. Turns out, my piece was being kind, because as bad as I thought things were, Vardon was right: things are even worse than they seemed.
I don’t really need to rehash what I wrote or what Vardon wrote, although you should definitely read the piece if you haven’t already done so (sign up for a free trial if you need to, it’s worth it for this piece alone). There are a couple of key takeaways, however, that apply to where the Cavs are as a franchise and how we got here. It starts with the top, of course.
In some ways, Dan Gilbert is exactly what you want in an owner. He doesn’t hesitate for one second to spend money on the roster to try to keep the team competitive. He has shown a willingness to pay luxury taxes time and time again when the team is in contention. He has a passion for the team and the city, he spares no expense in providing the absolute best in amenities for his players, he fights for things like All-Star games to help keep Cleveland on the national map. That all sounds great, right?
With that, however, you also get the less great parts of it. Putting politics and business models aside for a second (although I know plenty will say it’s impossible to do so), just from a basketball ownership side there are serious issues. Firing coaches left and right, a lack of vision or direction for the franchise, and refusing to hire or keep veteran front office staff.
The last one is the most serious issue. For all the talk over the years of Gilbert wanting to hire a big name to oversee basketball operations, the reality is that not only has he never re-upped any of his GMs, but he has also never hired anyone with experience in that role. That’s how the team goes from having a well-respected NBA Championship-building GM like David Griffin to a rookie GM like Koby Altman.
Now, to be clear, Griffin speaks extremely highly of Altman often. Altman was groomed under Griffin and in the Cavs organization. He was a completely logical hire in a certain situation. However, the Cavs were not in a normal situation when he was hired. Altman had to run the draft despite not being the GM yet at the time. He had to deal with the Kyrie trade request. And he had to figure all of this out in time to try to figure out how to keep LeBron James in Cleveland.
The issue, of course, is that Altman came up short in all of those tasks1 and he put the Cavs in a position where it’s unclear what the team’s goals and expectations are supposed to be. You have the Jom Boylan situation where Altman tasked Ty Lue with firing Boylan, which led to an Age Discrimination lawsuit. You had the bungling of the Kyrie Irving trade. You had the Kyle Korver situation2. You had Ty Lue being fired after six games. You had the turmoil with Larry Drew’s contract. In every way, the team is a mess.
And I mean in every way. On the floor, the turmoil is no better. Kevin Love and George Hill are out for extended periods. Young guys haven’t played well for the most part. Vet players are unhappy with their roles. The Vets have been talking to the media so much about how the young guys, Sexton, in particular, don’t know how to play. It’s gotten so bad that Larry Drew reportedly had to tell the vets to knock it off and give Sexton a break.
There was an idea that having some vets from the Finals era teams still be around would be good for the young guys, especially Sexton. We all remember the problems that developed when there was a leadership void for Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were drafted. You have to wonder, though, if this old vs new divide is any better for the team and for the development of younger players.
The Cavaliers, as an entire organization, have botched this season so badly I don’t even know where to begin. If rebuilding is the plan, fine. But the way they hyped themselves up as still fighting for a playoff spot, re-signing Kevin Love, not trading Korver, keeping Ty Lue, etc all make no sense if this was the plan. But pivoting to this plan after two games makes no sense, either.
Any talk of the playoffs is long forgotten now. The Cavaliers are 1-10 and I honestly don’t know how this team wins more than ten games right now. Cavs fans are now all Duke fans for the rest of this season. Being in a position to land one of the three Duke super freshmen is now looking pretty likely. Get to know the names RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, because those are probably going to be the highlights of this Cavs season. Pay attention to the trade rumor mill as well. The Cavs will certainly be making some moves this season to unload vets. Trades and draft are the things to look forward to.
At some point, we can get back to watching what’s happening on the court for the Cavs and finding lessons and things to build on. But right now, there’s is just too much chaos, turmoil, and dysfunction that needs to be sifted through before the franchise can get back on track. The question is, who is going to provide the leadership for this franchise through this storm? Is Altman up for the job? Is Gilbert willing to let him? Are more changes to the front office coming? Until those questions are answered, it’s hard to say when the dust will settle for the Cleveland Cavaliers.