With COVID-19 suspending all the major leagues for at least 30 days, the season is, for now, suspended. With that already happening and the possibility of this suspension going on for longer, I want to look at the Cavs’s season so far and analyze how the rebuild went this year and where it could be going.
The standout player this year, without question, has to be Colin Sexton. After a rough first half of the year, and an especially rough rookie season, he really shined the last couple of months and most nights was one of the best, if not the best player on the team, leading the team in points per game. After the Jordan Clarkson trade, a lot more seemed to open up for him; his assists per game averages went up (along with his passing vision slowly improving) and he had the best stretch of his early career scoring wise. Obviously, he still has plenty of issues. He still loves to put his head down and run at the rim, often throwing up some questionable shots in the process. His passing is still very sub-par for his position, even if you say he is a natural shooting guard. His defense is terrible but the team’s defense is also terrible so some leniency should be given, at least for this year. His biggest asset is his hard work and there is little reason to believe he will not improve in these areas at least somewhat in the next couple of years. His ceiling may be low compared to the other young players on this team but he is definitely the best out of all of them right now.
Kevin Porter Jr., especially in the last month or so, has been a revelation. While he had a slow start to the season, he ended it on a high note. His best game came against Miami, which I wrote about here, where he had a career high of 30 points while looking like a quality starter throughout. Koby Altman gambled on him by trading up to the end of the first round to get him, and as long as he continues to work, that gamble should pay off. He was a very nice surprise this year, and he could be the x-factor that turns this rebuild around in the coming years.
There is not much to say about Darius Garland this year. He barely played any college games and was coming off of a major injury, he should never have been given any expectations at all. Even then, he often was a bit disappointing, especially later in the season. That being said, his passing is fairly far along for his age and he can shoot well from 3 point range, so I have confidence that with a full NBA offseason with the team, and with a (mostly) full year under his belt already, he can make a similar jump to Sexton in his 2nd season.
The biggest questions after this year involve Dylan Windler, Andre Drummond, and Kevin Love.
For Dylan, it will be all about his development. If he develops well he could be a great bench shooter for the Cavs down the line, but he is already a year behind on his development. We will have to wait and see how he looks next year to get a real feel for whether this becomes the case.
For Drummond, it is all about his player option. He only played 8 games for the Cavs, so it is hard to know whether he could become a better fit with the team with more time. The best scenario for the Cavs would be if he picked up his option and played his contract out next year, because they could get a much better look at how he would fit with this team in the long term while not having to commit to him for the foreseeable future. If he does decline it, there would not be much pressure to re-sign him, due to the team not giving up much of anything for him in the trade for him. But the question is: should the Cavs resign him? It is a difficult question. He is an all-star caliber center, and one of the best rebounders in the league, but he will be commanding a lot of money in free agency if he opts out this year. If he opts out, he will be one of the best unrestricted free agents available, and may get offers close to the maximum salary. Should the Cavs put a sizable chunk of their cap space into a center that is talented, but somewhat outdated due to how the game is changing and moving smaller? I personally do not think so, but there are not many alternatives that end up with the Cavs having better players than Andre Drummond.
With Kevin Love, the question has been lingering for months: will he be traded? It would be the best move for both parties, as Love wants out and the Cavs will get less and less production out of him as he ages more. But Koby and the team seem to value him higher than the rest of the league, which has become an issue in previous trade negotiations. He has been a good locker room guy for the young guys (he has his bad moments, though) while being a somewhat stable presence on the floor for the team, which would be great if his contract was not so massive. The biggest issue is that he wants to leave, and at any point if the Cavs stop trying to move him, he may become unhappy and take it public. With his contract, hardly anyone wants him unless they’re giving back a similarly terrible deal. Altman seems to want to get off of the money in some way (a contract that is similar but has less years on it overall) plus a pick of some capacity, which I do not think is possible. Maybe with a weak free agent class teams will get desperate, but the front office will probably have to lower their expectations to get a deal done.
If the season does resume and everyone plays the rest of their regular season games, the rest of the team’s schedule is manageable. The Bucks and the Lakers are tough matchups, but besides that, there are some very winnable games (notably against the Suns twice, Hawks, and Kings) in there to make the end of the season exciting and watchable.
In the more likely event that this goes on for longer and the NBA jumps to the playoffs or even cancels the season, I am optimistic about the team’s future after this year. The Cavs have a nice core that we will hopefully add to in this draft (Obi Toppin would be ideal). JB Bickerstaff signed a long term extension, so it seems that the Cavs have a coach committed to being here for the duration of the rebuild, which will really help with finding a direction and building towards it. The team has a lot of cap space, which is not useful in this free agent class but they could turn that into expiring contracts to trade next season, or they can wait until 2021’s class and try to get solid guys around Garland, KPJ, and Colin. While this season was a rough one to watch for fans, the future seems fairly bright for the Cleveland Cavaliers.