WWW

Cavaliers may be mediocre … and that’s OK: While We’re Waiting…

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers started 2-14 in 2018-19. Indeed, that was the team’s record on Thanksgiving Day following a competitive, but ultimately losing effort against LeBron James and the Lakers. At the time, they were among the laughingstock of the young NBA season.

Now? The Cavs are 8-24, following Wednesday’s loss. They’ve already made a couple trades with likely multiple more to come before the trade deadline. They have three road victories, including two over East playoff teams! They’ve won six out of 16, which isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but far more closely resembles normal mediocrity than what we saw in the first 16 games of the season.

If the Cavs keep up with this practically win-two-out-of-every-five-games pace for the rest of the season, they’d finish with about a 28-54 record. Such a record would match the mark of the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets and 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers and would exceed the winning percentage of the first three seasons post-LeBron James from 2010-13. It would also far exceed expectations of many fans’ dire outlook circa just four weeks ago.

I was one of the few optimistic enough to think the Cavs might emerge from this early-season malaise looking fairly decent. With the record 2-14, I created a Twitter poll. And just look at these poll results!

I was banking on a healthy Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson with my earlier remarks, certainly. Love, who could hardly buy a basket in the only four games he played this season, should be back sometime in January. Thompson, who was playing at a very high level before injuring his foot last week, is expected to miss at least another week or so. With both back healthy, the Cavs have no business being in the same company as the lowly Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, and Phoenix Suns.

And is that a problem? Many fans would likely say yes. It’s very in vogue for fans of a below-average NBA franchise to yearn for more immediate suffering in the hopeful payback of more lottery chances and future star potential. But don’t forget, the lottery changed for the 2019 NBA Draft. And so should our desires for how an NBA franchise is “supposed” to rebuild.

The top-pick probabilities for the bottom-six teams previously were 25.0, 19.9, 15.6, 11.9, 8.8 and 6.3. No team could fall more than three spots from their initial lottery order. The system greatly incentivized getting one of those top few spots in order to stay at the very top of the draft.

Now, the new system evens out the playing field greatly in the hopes of curtailing blatant tanking. The odds for the No. 1 pick are broken out as 14.0, 14.0, 14.0, 12.5, 10.5 and 9.0. Yes, this means every team now has a greater range of potential scenarios. Teams can fall as many as four spots below their initial order. All this now levels out the landscape for what used to be considered no-man’s-land in franchise-rebuilding strategy.

The Cavs, even with their high salary obligations, still have a decent amount of flexibility. Almost everyone on the roster is up for grabs! Anything could happen! If some good deal comes to the fold, one could easily rationalize a deal for Love, Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, etc. That’s not to mention the inevitable departure of J.R. Smith and potentially just shopping around Alec Burks or John Henson, again. Perhaps someone will bite at the potential upside of Cedi Osman!

Note: The only players I didn’t mention there are Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic, Larry Nance Jr., Matthew Dellavedova, Channing Frye and the various remaining low-cost free agents the Cavs have scooped up. I’d expect Nance and Delly to stick around for high cost and marketability reasons. Sexton has to be a future cornerstone, especially given his last month. Frye and the others likely have little-to-no open-market value.

If the Cavs find a good and fair deal on the trade market – with an emphasis on potential future first-round picks and/or high-upside young players – then they should be aggressive. If the Cavs don’t, well, that’s probably going to be OK, too! There is a wide enough range of next-phase possibilities that nothing will be dire just yet.

Say they fall back closer to the No. 7-9 lottery range for the 2019 NBA Draft. That seems to be a pretty fair “worst-case” scenario if the team moves closer to that 28-win mark. The Nets ended up No. 8 in 2018 and the 76ers had the No. 4 slot in 2017. A lot still would depend on the vat of mediocrity surrounding the Cavs in both conferences.

Due to the new lottery reformulation, the No. 7 team has a 32 percent chance of ending up in the top-four and the No. 9 team has a 20 percent chance. The No. 7 team would have a 99.9 percent chance of remaining in the top-10 and the No. 9 team would have a 97 percent such chance. That’s the big key for the Cavs anyway, considering the top-10 protection on their first-round draft pick for this year and next.

This would provide another key young asset for the future. They could turn any number of current veterans into such future assets, too. That’s all the franchise should be focused on: accumulating more assets, not sticking just to one perceived notion of how the next few years have to unfold and being open to any potential opportunities along the way. This means that winning isn’t the end of the world. Things could still turn out just fine.

Now, here are some assorted sports links from the sports world that I’ve consumed recently: