Oh, how the goals of the Cleveland Cavaliers season have changed since the season began back in mid-October when the starting lineup featured Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, and George Hill and they were coached by Tyronn Lue. Going into the game on that October 17 night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, the Cavs expected to make the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed and prove all the doubters wrong that they can indeed win without LeBron James. Of course, a good idea but an unlikely one.
Then, Love, the man the Cavs signed to a ridiculous four-year $120 million extension to prove to the NBA that they were indeed looking to compete for playoff contention suffered an injury. Right then and there, the Cavs had to scrap their optimistic plans and Cleveland began to look towards the 2019 NBA Draft.
Looking back on Love’s extension now, it would make sense to figure that the Cavs would have liked Love to play on his past deal (player option in 2019), which would have made him a prime trade candidate this January. Cleveland would have likely received a short-sighted return but one that could potentially be valuable in the future for the Cavs moving forward — Which is the goal now, right? Instead, the Cavs are left with an All-Star player that is being wasted on a team with little hope of making any noise in the next three seasons, on a contract that makes it difficult to be moved for a fair return price. At least Love seems happy to be in Cleveland, and the Cavs are certainly happy for him to be here.
In the first four games with a healthy Love, the Cavs lost by a combined 58 points against the Raptors, Timberwolves, Hawks, and Nets. The next two games without Love the Cavs lost to the Pistons and Pacers, and Lue, the head coach that managed the championship season was fired with hardly any chance at winning with his own team without LeBron. The cherry on top was the fiasco of the organization trying to name an interim coach as Larry Drew initially would not take the job without a contract extension. He still became the coach after a handful of odd days which still resulted in no extension.
The race to be the worst team in the NBA is now on and the Cavaliers are the house favorite to finish in that position. Two of the starters on opening night (Hill and Hood) were traded, and the Cavs received Matthew Dellavedova (a contract dump and conveniently a fan favorite), John Henson, and a protected first round pick in 2021 in return. Hood was traded for a pair of second round picks and two players they eventually cut — well the one (Nik Stauskas) re-signed after a tour of the country for a week.
With 24 games to be played, the current roster looks as followed: Love, Thompson, Collin Sexton Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, David Nwaba, Dellavedova, Brandon Knight, Henson, Marquess Chriss, Channing Frye, Jaron Blossomgame, and Stauskas — and technically J.R. Smith, who only lasted 11 games during the Cavs tankathon before going (team sanctioned) MIA. Welcome to the post-LeBron Cavs, folks.
Priority number one for the Cavs will remain losing as many basketball games as possible. The Suns (11-48), Knicks (11-47), and Bulls (14-44) are going to challenge the Cavs for the worst team in basketball, with hopes of taking Duke’s Zion Williamson. How ironic is it that the Cavs will begin the second half of the season against the Suns, in a game they absolutely must lose. They will play that same Suns team on April 1 and have just one game remaining between the Knicks and Bulls, which will come in New York on February 28.
Development of young players is the second priority, which essentially sets up the previous priority because young players on the floor gaining experience is a perfect setup to lose games — the Cavs have positioned themselves to do just that. As of right now according to Tankathon, Cleveland has a 14 percent chance for the first overall pick, as do the Suns, Knicks, and Bulls.
Despite the doom and gloom of what is left of this Cavs team in “part two” of the post-LeBron era, there is one spot that is slowly starting to be bright after all and that’s Sexton. In the month of February, the rookie point guard is averaging 21.2 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.7 rebounds on 41 percent shooting. Most importantly, Sexton is starting to shoot the ball from three. He is taking 5.5 three-point attempts on average which is up nearly three shot attempts from his season mark of 2.7. Sexton’s defense has improved as well as his defensive win shares have improved from 0.013 from an even zero before February. For the guy that the Cavs essentially banked on making the Kyrie Irving trade plausible, Cleveland will be begging for a development like his to some level over the next few years.
Osman and Nance will also be two building blocks moving forward, considering both are under 26 years old. Osman was selected to play on the “World” team for the 2019 rising stars game. The Turkish-Bosnian basketball player is averaging 12.9 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Cavs and has scored 20 or more points in nine games this season. Nance is still trying to find his groove in Cleveland but is still putting up fair numbers. He’s averaging a career-high nine points and a career-high 8.3 rebounds in 43 games for the Cavs.
How many games Love plays in this season with key minutes is still yet to be determined, but I would imagine he will not be active for every game for the remainder of the season, considering the Cavs current goal. Thompson seems to have more off the court problems than on-court problems and should expect to keep his key leadership role in the locker room.
The expectation as of now for the Cavaliers is to lose basketball games and win the summer. Getting Williamson in the lottery will be Cleveland’s number one priority from here on out. The hope for the future of the Cavaliers franchise will be to build from within and develop through the draft. Not an ideal strategy but Cleveland is not going to be a strong selling point to marquee free agents. Moving forward, the Cavs will look to do what they did the first time LeBron left: find a superstar player in the draft … except this time LeBron is not coming back in the prime of his career with Irving by his side. It is time for the Cavs to build a team and win from within. A tall task but one that needs to be done correctly to sustain money-making basketball in Cleveland.