Sure, these Cleveland Cavaliers are not destined for the playoffs. Yes, Kevin Love might not be on the team next April. OK, there is a new head coach in place with zero NBA experience. But these Cavs are going to be plucky and, dare I say it? Fun!
With the scoring ability of Love, the dunking prowess of Larry Nance Jr, the post-FIBA World Cup bounce from Cedi Osman, Jordan Clarkson and Matthew Dellavedova, and the young exciting prospects of Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr to add to Collin Sexton, this Cleveland squad could be a dark horse League Pass team, and they might even win a few games to go with it.
The only player to manage all 82 games for the Cavaliers last season was the team’s rookie, Collin Sexton. In 31 minutes each contest he managed 16.7 points with 3 assists and 3 rebounds. These are solid numbers, but relying on a rookie so heavily resulted in a 19-63 record for the (then) defending Eastern Conference champions.
Love was out the majority of the year and a lack of veteran offense showed as the Cavaliers finished second to last in points per game. On the other end of the floor, it wasn’t much better, with Cleveland allowing 114 points per game under Larry Drew, after Ty Lue was fired just six games into the season.
The fact that Drew is no longer with the team speaks volumes about the coaching mess that took place last season. It wasn’t necessarily his fault, but the ownership and management refused to commit to the coach long term, which led to the team giving up as he did.
A new coach in John Beilein should hopefully provide some stability. He comes from a college background, which should help with some of the younger players on this roster. The only problem he might face is that this franchise is weirdly built as a win-now team, just in a bad way.
The massive contracts for Love, Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance looks like a typical set-up for a starting five on a 50-win team, but four out of those five are arguably better suited to be eighth or ninth in a good team’s rotation.
If they can shift Thompson and Love’s contracts in return for draft assets or young talent that better fits the youth movement, or even veterans on better value contracts, the strategy would possibly be better for the Cavaliers in the long term. The likes of Dellavadova and John Henson can provide leadership, Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson can offer scoring, and it would free up space for Sexton, Garland and Porter to get reps.
That being said, if Cleveland stays out with the current roster construction, you could see this team upset almost anyone on any night. Knight and Clarkson have never been consistent, and you don’t know what to expect from Nance, but if they all get going at the same time, with Love providing good averages across each category and Henson and Dellavedova adding the necessary toughness, the team could prove feisty – especially if some of the younger players pop off for 20 points, which they all have the potential of doing.
1.What’s Love got to do with it?
He has been important to the city of Cleveland. Not LeBron James-level importance, but he is the last holdover from the championship – fine, not completely the last either, but the only one that matters.
Any normal ownership group would want to do right by Love, so working with him to get healthy and then trade him to a place he’d like to be would be a nice way to close that chapter. But the Cavaliers don’t have a history of doing things the right way, even in the glory years. If he remains on the team in the final weeks of the season, expect a standing ovation in every home game.
2.Who’s running the show?
There are plenty of good guards for the future on this roster, but they will likely be playing behind Clarkson and Knight, who have never achieved much in the way of winning. For Clarkson, he is still young enough to evolve, but entering his ninth season, Knight won’t be able to offer much and will hardly be a starter for this team by the time the franchise has turned it around. Let him build up some momentum then make way for some of the younger guards like Sexton or the rookies.
3.Can the coach stick around?
Hardly any head coaches have ever had their options picked up for a second contract since Dan Gilbert took ownership of the franchise. The governor does not like spending money, which is probably why Beilein is getting his first shot in the NBA at the age of 66. University of Michigan alumni and die-hard college basketball heads might have an idea of what systems Beilein will run, but otherwise, it will be an intriguing watch.
Kevin Love | 17.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.2 apg
The power forward is, without doubt, the best talent on the squad but after missing most of last season and returning to a roster that looks nothing like the one that played in the Conference Finals the year before, his future on the team is unsure. He can average 18 and 10 on this team with ease as a scorer from multiple positions, but would he be better served on a contending team?
Collin Sexton | 16.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.0 apg
The point guard showed flashes of being a good scoring option in his rookie year, which largely got overlooked by the seasons Luka Dončić and Trae Young had. One area Sexton needs to improve is his playmaking: three assists per game is not what you want from the player with the ball in his hands most of the game, but he is still young, and some of the additional guard play could see Sexton work as a two-guard off the ball.
Cedi Osman | 13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg
Coming off a great FIBA World Cup, the NBA got to see Cedi Osman up close and personal as he averaged 20.4 points per game, including 15 against the USA in a close affair that almost handed the Americans their first loss of the tournament. He still needs some playmaking support but can be a finisher in tough situations, and alongside Matthew Dellavedova, opposing perimeter players will find it painful to compete against them.
Matthew Dellavedova | 5.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 3.8 apg
The Australian is coming off his own good World Cup performance, and he’ll be extra motivated after the Boomers missed out on a medal. He finished in the top 10 for assists per game for the Aussies, and Dellavedova is still a pest on defense. He was part of the warm-up squad that beat the USA before the World Cup, and he is back in Cleveland, a city that loves him for helping bring them a title, after a two-year stint in Milwaukee.
Larry Nance Jr | 9.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
Being the son of a Cleveland legend means that he gets a free pass for a lot of shortcomings, but Larry Nance does have some positive aspects to his game. With such great length, he can be a strong athletic defender if he sets his mind to the task, and his dunking ability always excites.
He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season, as well as three-point percentage. There is still room for improvement but Nance is trending in the right direction.