It’s been a tough go for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. In fact, it’s been quite a difficult and bumpy road ever since LeBron James decided to go to Los Angeles in 2018. Since the day No. 23 decided to become a Laker, the wine and gold have tried their best to get back to somewhat normalcy, one that they were hoping would include at least another appearance in the postseason. So much that in the following season after losing LeBron, the Cavs had playoff aspirations, ones that when looking back, were way too farfetched. Head coach Tyronn Lue was fired after the team started 0-6, which essentially began the rebuilding process, one that the Cavaliers were (somehow) hoping to really avoid in the Post-LeBron Era Part II.
It was clear that with the injury woes paired with the talent on the roster, Cleveland was one of the worst teams in the NBA even if they thought much different heading into the season. The problem was the that new-look NBA Draft Lottery system didn’t favor the worst (or second- or third-worst) teams in the league anymore. It instead made it tougher to rebuild, especially as a small-market, non-destination city like the one in northeast Ohio. That led to the Cavs finishing just 19-63, tied for the second-worst record in the NBA. Yet, given the (ridiculous) new draft lottery odds, they were stuck with the No. 5 pick, when they then decided to take guard Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt fifth overall. This came one year after the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick — one in which they acquired deal that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics — became just the eighth-overall pick thanks to a handful of game-winning shots by Spencer Dinwiddie. While Cleveland selected guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick, they, unfortunately, missed out on stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Even though the Cavs couldn’t help with any of that, it was those kinds of things that made it even more difficult to begin and speed up the rebuilding process.
Fast forward to this season, and it’s been quite a rollercoaster, one that has been filled with many more valleys than peaks. To say it’s been a tough first season for head coach John Beilein would be quite an understatement. At just 14-40, the Cavs have the second-worst record in the NBA at the All-Star Break. So tough and disappointing that, during Sunday night’s All-Star Game, reports surfaced that Beilein might be on his way out, less than a year after the Cavs gave him a five-year deal.
Story with @ByJasonLloyd/@kelseyyrusso: Cavaliers coach John Beilein is not expected to remain in position beyond this season — with momentum increasing toward his departure, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA. https://t.co/mis1uWLrlQ
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 17, 2020
Reporting with @WindhorstESPN: Cavaliers and John Beilein have discussed possibility of him stepping down as coach during the NBA All-Star Break. No decision’s been reached. After signing 5-year deal to leave Michigan, Beilein’s struggled w/ transition to NBA.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 17, 2020
That said, there’s plenty of hope in what seems like a hopeless season for the Cavaliers. The Cavs’ last game before the break reminded us of that, as they dominated the Atlanta Hawks, 127-105, in what was their first win in Cleveland since December 23. Even though it’s tough to leave out the downfalls and negatives involving the wine and gold, it’s important to focus on the positives as a whole, ones that will help the Cavs both now and in the future.
Kevin Porter Jr. is the real deal
KPJ was essentially a top-10 talent in the 2019 NBA Draft it was just do to his off-court issues, he fell all the way to the end of the first round. Luckily for the Cavs, they traded several second-round picks to move up and select the forward with the 30th-overall pick. It was a move and selection that they have been quite thankful for and will likely continue to be very happy that they made as Porter continues to gain more experience at the highest level.
While he might be averaging just 9.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and two assists a night while shooting 45.9% from the field and 34.7% from long distance in 22.7 minutes per game, it’s his potential that makes the Cavs so excited about his future. Over his last seven games, Porter is averaging 16.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting an efficient 51.9% from the floor and 50% from beyond the arc in 27.6 minutes a game. His minutes and role will only increase as the days and years go on and he gains more experience.
One of the youngest players in the league, the 19-year-old has the potential to be a very good forward for years to come. Whether it’s his athleticism, versatility, or just his ability to throw down a dunk or make an open jumper, Porter is very exciting to watch.
KPJ has been very impressive so far this season, so much that many are already calling him the “steal” of the 2019 NBA Draft and a player that the majority of analysts believe is one of the few (or only?) untouchable currently on the Cavs. He’s also a player that deserves to be a full-time starter for the rest of the season given the type of player Porter has already proven he can be.
Collin Sexton will do everything possible to be the best he can be
From the moment he was drafted, draft analysts raved about Sexton’s motor. He might not be the most talented guard on the court at times, but he will do anything and everything he can to try and be the best. After taking the place of Tyler Herro in Saturday night’s Rising Stars Game this past Friday, he proved that yet again. In the final practice leading up to the game, Sexton continued to get additional reps with former Cavs assistant coach Phil Handy. In a weekend that was supposed to be sort of a “fun and games”-type for the players, the second-year guard continued to take the opportunity to learn and get better as much as he can.
— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) February 14, 2020
He followed that up by notching 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and one steal while making 9-of-14 shots from the field in the Rising Stars Game itself. Not a bad weekend for a kid that was initially left off the roster in the first place.
Averaging 19.8 points, he is currently the Cavs leading scorer, more than two points more per game than Kevin Love, who is the team’s second-leading scorer. While he is shooting just 46% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc in 32.2 minutes a game, Sexton has continued to improve his efficiency as the season has gone on, especially the last few weeks. Over his last 14 games, the 21-year-old is averaging 23.1 points, 3.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.1 steals while shooting 48.4% from the field and 47.1% from three-point range in 33.9 minutes per game. Add in that he’s also shooting 94.1% from the free-throw line and Sexton’s efficiency and overall game since January 14 has been quite impressive. It’s just important that he continues to build on that, both in terms of scoring and his ability to find open teammates.
While some people will focus on his assists or lack thereof, ever since getting drafted by the Cavs, it’s also worth reminding you that many, including me, believe that Sexton will be a solid sixth-man on a playoff team, hopefully in Cleveland. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially because being a “starter” isn’t as big of a deal as the number of minutes one plays, but it just goes to show that Sexton, along with other players on the Cavs, is just currently playing out of their role right now.
Sexton still has plenty of room to grow, but it’s so easy to root for him simply because of the type of player he is (and hopes he can be).
Darius Garland has shown glimpses of his potential
After playing in just five games during his one and only season at Vanderbilt due to a meniscus injury in his left knee, Garland’s rookie season has been one that his been filled with him getting his legs back underneath him while also being the starting point guard in the NBA. It’s been a tough go at times, but, much like Porter, the 20-year-old is one of the youngest players in the league and while he has struggled in some games, he has also shown his potential as well.
Garland is currently averaging 12.2 points, 3.8 assists, and 1.9 rebounds while shooting just 39.4% from the field and 35.2% from three-point range in 30.5 minutes a game, but it’s those glimpses of potential that continue to make Cavs fans excited for his future.
Andre Drummond is a dominant big man
When the Cavaliers acquired two-time All-Star center Andre Drummond at the trade deadline, it caught many by surprise. While it was a solid move by Cleveland, they were essentially buyers at the deadline. That rarely happens when it comes to one of the worst teams in the league.
Yet, they took the chance on a player that they could give a “dress rehearsal” to and either sign him long term or at least keep him around for another season if Drummond decides to accept his $28.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season.
The move gave the Cavs a dominant big man, one that can help mold players like Sexton, Garland, Porter, and the other young players on the roster into the types of NBA players they could potentially become.
While Drummond’s first game with the Cavs came at the expense of the worst home loss in franchise history, it’s the fact that acquiring Drummond should only help the young core and the team both in the present and in the future, all while also (hopefully?) being able to keep the big man in the wine and gold for a while. At the very worst, the Cavaliers can flip Drummond for draft assets at next season’s trade deadline, assuming he accepts his hefty player option, which many believe he will do.
Cedi Osman can be a solid role player (off the bench)
While he has been quite inconsistent so far this season, it’s pretty clear that, like other players on this team, Osman is playing out of position. On a playoff team, he’s a role player off the bench, not a starter. That’s certainly not a negative or even a knock on Osman, but it’s the realization that the Cavaliers still need plenty of work to do to be a legitimate playoff team.
Through 54 games this season, the third-year forward is averaging 10.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a night while shooting 44.2% from the floor and 38.2% from long distance in 28.9 minutes per game. While more scoring from the 24-year-old is certainly needed, consistency is also important.
Osman can (and hopefully will) be a solid role player off the bench in the future. Once that happens, that will only mean good things for the wine and gold.
As I stated last season, rooting for a tanking team is tough (and weird). Yet, whether they are tanking or not, Cavs fans are forced to root for one of the worst teams in the NBA until they can get lucky in both the NBA Draft Lottery and free agency, and that doesn’t even count the fact that they have to select the right player(s) in NBA Draft itself as well. Life without LeBron is tough, we all know that, but it’s important to focus on the positives as much as possible. Doing so will only make the rebuilding process more fun and the team easier to watch. It’s just that, hopefully, there will be many more positives than negatives surrounding the Cavs and they can be a legitimate playoff contender sooner rather than later. That’s all.