Five minutes after LeBron James announced he would be signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, Cavaliers fanatic C. L. EVELAND accidentally struck his head and slipped into a coma. This morning he woke up.
A Cleveland Clinic hospital room. The table is littered with cards, flowers, and old newspapers. A young man, EVELAND, sits upright in the bed eating yogurt and shaking off nine months of rust. An old FRIEND enters the room.
FRIEND: Hey buddy…how’re you feeling?
EVELAND: Weird. It’s like I’m using a bicycle no one has touched in years.
FRIEND: Yeah, I bet. We missed you at the holidays.
EVELAND: Thanks, I’ve been reading everyone’s letters this morning. It’s funny, everyone has been telling me all about what I missed with family, friends, the Midterm Election, music, movies, but no one seems willing to talk about the Cavaliers.
FRIEND’s face goes white. He gulps.
FRIEND: The Virginia Cavaliers? They just won the men’s basketball tournament. What a story. Y’know they were down against Purdue…
EVELAND: No, the Cleveland Cavaliers. We are in Cleveland, aren’t we? I wanna hear about Collin Sexton’s Rookie of the Year campaign, JR’s gutsy three’s, the playoff push. All the fun stuff.
FRIEND sighs. He didn’t want to be the one to break this news. He sits down.
FRIEND: Okay, I was hoping someone else was going to tell you about this, but I’ll do it. You know LeBron left right?
EVELAND: Yeah, I heard. Stinks. Still, there was so much talent on the team I’m sure we contended.
FRIEND: Actually, the Cavs did not have a very good season.
EVELAND: You mean they wound up with a seven seed?
FRIEND: No…they…missed the playoffs.
EVELAND: You’re kidding! How did Ty Lue let this happen?
FRIEND: Oh boy. Let me start at the beginning. First, James leaves.
EVELAND shudders then interjects.
EVELAND: I just hope that he and the Lakers can knock off the Warriors in the Conference Finals.
FRIEND quietly nods.
FRIEND: Let’s put a pin in that for now. James leaves, but the Cavs decide they want to still try to contend. They sign Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million extension.
EVELAND: Wow, so weird that Love is the only one left from the Big Three.
FRIEND: You don’t know the half of it. So first four games, Love is the man. He averages 19.0 points and 13.5 rebounds. But this nagging foot injury won’t get better, so he has to have surgery. FRIEND pauses. He misses the next fifty games.
EVELAND: FIFTY GAMES?
FRIEND: Yeah, it was an inauspicious beginning. We also started out 1-11. After the sixth straight loss, the team fired Ty Lue and replaced him with Larry Drew.
EVELAND looked even more ill than when FRIEND arrived.
FRIEND: Hey, if this is too much to stomach we can go over it later. Did you know Lady Gaga can act?
EVELAND waved his hand to dismiss this change in subject.
EVELAND: Keep going.
FRIEND: All right. By Halloween it’s pretty clear that the team will not be a playoff contender so GM Koby Altman does the only thing he can do: make trades. The team starts dealing every veteran it can.
EVELAND: Oh no. Kyle Korver?
FRIEND: Sent to Utah for a second-round pick in 2020.
EVELAND: George Hill?
FRIEND: Shipped to Milwaukee for Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson plus a 2021 first round pick.
EVELAND sits up a little straighter in his bed
EVELAND: Wait we got Delly back?
FRIEND: Yeah, but he missed the last seventeen games with a concussion.
EVELAND slumps back down.
EVELAND: Drat. Rodney Hood?
FRIEND: Gone to Portland for Nik Stauskas and a pair of second-round picks.
EVELAND: Dear God.
FRIEND: Then they turned around and swung a deal with Sacramento and Houston which netted them Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight plus a 2019 first-round pick. So that’s something?
EVELAND: This is getting bleak. What happened when LeBron came back to the Q? I bet the crowd really let him have it.
FRIEND: Actually…not really? He got a mostly standing ovation during the pre-game introductions and the Jumbotron played a highlight video during the first quarter. There was no bad blood. Or at least if there was it was greatly overshadowed by the good vibes. Then the Lakers won 109-105.
EVELAND slouches, his head in his hands. He looks up.
EVELAND: Did anything go right this season?
FRIEND: Well…not really. The Cavs never won more than two games in a row, though they did win three of four in February. Love came back strong from the injury and helped after the All-Star Break. Cedi was named to the World side of the Rising Stars Challenge.
EVELAND: They didn’t invite Sexton?
FRIEND shakes his head
FRIEND: No, but he honestly got better during the season. In the first 41 games, he averaged 14.6 points/3.0 rebounds/2.8 assists shooting .420 from the field and .391 from three. In the second half of the season, he managed 18.8 points/2.8 rebounds/3.2 assists shooting .439 from the field and .407 from deep. He really put the work in during the season and got visibly better.
EVELAND: How did everyone else do?
FRIEND: No All-Stars or anything but some decent players:
Cedi Osman: 13.0 points/4.7 rebounds/2.6 assists, .427 FG%, .348 3P%
Larry Nance: 9.4/8.2/3.2, .520 FG%, .337 3P%
Jordan Clarkson: 16.8/3.3/2.4, .448 FG%, .324 3P%
Oh, and Channing Frye came back. He mostly rode the bench but hit a couple of shots in his last game and got a nice sendoff.
EVELAND: Wow. So, how many wins did we end up winning? 25? 28?
FRIEND: More like…19.
FRIEND: The good news is we did not set the record for most consecutive losses in a season.
EVELAND: Jeez. What happens next?
FRIEND: The NBA will hold the draft lottery on May 14. Cleveland has the best top pick odds along with New York and Phoenix. Plus, we will have the twenty-fifth pick thanks to Houston. The club is on the hook for several massive contracts through next year, though the books get better next summer. For now, we just hope the ping pong gods are kind and pray for Zion.
EVELAND: Zion? Who’s Zion?
FRIEND smiles for the first time since he began this topic.
FRIEND: Let me tell you about Zion. You’re going to love him.