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.
Early this season, the Cavaliers were experiencing essentially only lessons. In fact, they felt less like lessons and just plain, old losses. Many, many losses. Soul-crushing, franchise-altering, future-disrupting losses. What was anyone learning through that opening 1-11 stretch? A lot was changing, sure, but it’s hard to argue for much in terms of learning.
Today, things are a little different. The Cavs have gone 6-10 since that opening 1-11 run. That’s still pretty bad, of course, but not “worst team of all-time” levels bad. 6-10 is a much more “normal” bad. Having transitioned from the contending and building on the fly mantra of the offseason, the Cavs have now said goodbye to veterans leaders like Kyle Korver, George Hill, and JR Smith. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are sidelined with injury for the next few weeks.
Do you remember the days of Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, and Manny Harris? Well, those days are back, only with the likes of David Nwaba, Jalen Jones, Jaron Blossomgame1, and Tobias Featherbottom2. The Cavs are heading straight toward a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft where they will look to draft a franchise cornerstone who they can build around. Love and Thompson can provide the veteran leadership (if the Cavs don’t trade them, which they very well might do) and Collin Sexton is a young player they hope can grow with the said cornerstone. That’s the best case outlook for the franchise.
But along the way, we will be trying to find out if any of these young players can be contributors on an eventual playoff team. We’re going to continue trying to figure out Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, and Jordan Clarkson’s value. And we’re going to see how Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman can develop. And for now we get to watch Matthew Dellavedova play again. This may not be what the Cavaliers veterans (or the Cavs’ front office, for that matter) had in mind this offseason, but it’s the reality of where the team is.
So how did this week go for the Cavaliers? They dropped a rough game in Milwaukee to a Bucks team that was without Giannis Antetokounmpo and then they won a tight game at home against the New York Knicks, who are still without Kristaps Porzingis. Another .500 week with some bright spots and some clear points that still need work.
The loss of Tristan Thompson for a few weeks is a real bummer. It’s hard to put into words how much TT has meant to the Cavaliers this season. Earlier in the year, I wasn’t sure how much I cared for the way it seemed like he was dividing the locker room with his comments about the younger players. But to his credit, Tristan more than backed up his words and has been an exemplary role model on the floor, playing his heart out every night and putting up career bests in scoring and rebounding.
Tristan wasn’t in position for an All-Star nod or anything like that, so it’s important to keep this in perspective, but we’ve talked a lot this season about leadership and continuing the culture that was built the previous four years, and Tristan has more than done his part in delivering on that. With Love’s injury, JR Smith’s banishment, and the trading of Korver and Hill, Thompson has been the sole remnant of the previous era of Cavs basketball. And he’s pretty clearly having the best season of his career. In a season mostly void of bright spots, Tristan has been consistently solid all year.
On the flip side of the coin, we have Cedi Osman. There was a pretty decent amount of excitement for Cedi coming into this season. For years Cavs fans have been following Cedi’s development overseas and last season we saw exciting glimpses in small spurts. But Cedi played the same position as LeBron, so, his opportunities were limited. Now that LeBron is gone, the position was left to Cedi. After Cedi was seen working out with LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, expectations were raised a little higher.
In the first few games of the season, Cedi delivered and looked like he was poised to take a leap into the next stage of his development. Cedi suffered back spasms, however, and missed a couple of games. Since that time, he really hasn’t been the same player.
Looking at Cedi’s first eight games, he was shooting .410 from three-point range and .384 from the field overall. Since then, he’s shooting .253 from three and .346 from the field. He’s still being aggressive and trying to get to the rim, but he’s not drawing a ton of fouls (2.3 FTA per game) and he’s not necessarily finishing, either (.506 FG percent at the rim).
Anyone who has had any kind of back issue knows how debilitating it can be, and it certainly could explain some of Cedi’s issues with consistency. It’s not that Cedi has been bad overall, it’s more of an issue of it seeming like alternating good games with bad games. And even then, the good games are all relative. Cedi probably played his best and most complete game of the season against the Lakers, but outside of that, many of his best games occurred early in the season.
The extent to which his back issues are to blame is unclear, which makes it hard to know how much to read into this. There was real hope that Cedi would establish himself as a reliable contributor, but he’s been the opposite of reliable. Hopefully, he can work on his shot some more, which would open up his driving ability further.
I had more I wanted to say about Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, but I think I’m going to hold off a little longer before I make any sweeping generalizations.
To summarize briefly, though, Clarkson has been a largely frustrating player, but he also provides a valuable asset. Being able to score off the bench is something almost every team craves. And Clarkson shines at it. But at what cost? His disruption to the offensive flow is palpable and when he’s not scoring and he’s being careless with possessions, it can feel destructive. If Larry Drew or any coach can reel that in a bit, it would make a huge difference.
And Hood is similarly maddening, but for different reasons. You can see the potential there. He has the skills to be a solid NBA player. He showed it in flashes again in the first quarter against the Knicks this week. When he’s aggressive and staying involved, he can be a useful player. But far too often he disappears into games and is the victim of his own questionable shot selection. His love of the long two-point shot isn’t doing himself or anyone else any favors. He’s probably never going to be a very efficient player, but there’s still time for him to develop a more well-rounded game.
Both players probably are who they are at this point, but I’m still going to wait a little longer before I write them off completely. The circumstances of this Cavs season have shifted goals and expectations in a way that has probably had a serious imprint on this team. Until the dust fully settles, and until Love and Thompson are back playing together, the rest is just pure development time.