In nearly every facet of modern basketball, the 2018-2019 Cleveland Cavaliers constantly remind the athletic community how inept a professional sports organization can truly be. Despite their abysmal on-court performances, this particular Cavaliers team provides ample opportunities for the fans to enjoy below-average basketball.
Oddly enough, the loyal fans continue to show support. The Cavs currently rank seventh in home attendance across the entire league, ahead of organizations including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. During the offseason, the Lakers signed LeBron James and somehow manage to get fewer fans to attend their home games than Cleveland. For this midseason recap, this is precisely the obvious point where the season entered its descent into dysfunction.
When James left Cleveland, there was little optimism the Cavs could perform to playoff capabilities. Obviously, this stood true. The Cavs currently own the worst record in the league. While the team wouldn’t be viable if healthy, the injuries hindered some progress.
The Key Injuries
As redundant as it is, the injury to all-star forward Kevin Love provided faint hope for the Cavs. On the surface, Love put up solid numbers, with 19 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He’s only appeared in four games before an injury to his toe required extensive surgery.
Last calendar year, Love affirmed his commitment to the Cavs organization and told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon he planned to return mid-January. It was reported earlier this week he’s still “weeks away” from his on-court return. At this point, the Cavs should shut Love down. They need to aim for a fresh start come training camp next season, considering his injury history.
On the opposite side, center Tristan Thompson consistently remained healthy throughout his entire career. Given the Cavs injury riddled season, a left foot sprain sidelined the iron-man Thompson for nearly a month. This season, Thompson’s missed 10 games, but has returned to action since Jan. 2.
Even if everyone was healthy, the Cavs would no doubt still be a lottery team, but a fully healthy Thompson and Love would create an impact on the otherwise disastrous roster.
The Abrupt Coaching Change
While the injuries piled up, the organization’s staff overhaul created dysfunction from the very beginning. After an 0-6 start, the Cavs fired their head coach, Tyronn Lue, despite a depleted roster.
Before Larry Drew took over, the Cavs front office had to guarantee his contract for this season. Drew threatened to resign if Cleveland didn’t offer him the permanent head coaching position. If the organization left the interim tag on Drew, the Cavs would be on their third head coach this season.
These types of decisions point out the obvious flaws within an organization; furthermore, stunt the growth of youth talent.
During his first season as coach, Drew currently has a record of 8-28. While the majority of fans can’t name players on the Cavs roster anymore, it’s difficult to imagine Drew will return as head coach next season. The Cavs should let a new, young coach help rebuild the team. Thankfully, the rebuild has already commenced.
The moment James announced his departure to Los Angeles, the front office should have dealt their remaining assets. Instead, they chose to start the season with the same roster the season before. When the season turned poor, the Cavs had easier decisions to make.
On Nov. 29, 2018, the Cavaliers traded guard Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz. In exchange, Cleveland received guard Alec Burks and two second-round draft picks. While Burks has played well for the Cavs thus far, it’s likely the team will attempt to trade him again before the deadline.
Soon after, the Cavs traded forward Sam Dekker to the Washington Wizards and guard George Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team trade. Cleveland received their former champion, Matthew Dellavedova, forward John Henson and draft picks in return.
Henson hasn’t appeared in any games for Cleveland this season, nursing a wrist injury with no timetable to return. On the other hand, Dellavedova has provided interest in the fans otherwise tired of watching players they can’t put a name to the face.
While the Cavs will likely field tons of trade offers before the deadline, one particular guard has apparently received no interest from other organizations.
The JR Smith Dilemma
When the season first began, veteran guard JR Smith quickly saw his role diminish. His playing time suffered and his attitude became an issue the Cavaliers organization was left to deal with.
Smith helped the Cavaliers reach the NBA finals four times during his tenure in Cleveland, but once the organization was forced to rebuild, Smith felt dissatisfied with the team’s direction.
After the team’s 2-13 start, Smith decided it was time to leave. For a few Cavaliers, losing Smith provided a tough situation for the team to overcome.
On Nov. 20, 2018, Smith announced he would take an immediate leave from the Cavaliers in hopes to work with the front office to find a trade. With Smith gone, the Cavaliers only had three players left from their 2016 championship – Love, Thompson and Channing Frye.
Since Smith left the organization to focus on his future, there has been almost no news regarding a potential trade or buyout from Cleveland.
During December, basketball analyst Marc Stein reported Houston had “expressed exploratory interest in acquiring JR Smith.” Nothing ever materialized. As of right now, there is minimal interest from contending teams in acquiring Smith.
Smith only appeared in 11 games before leaving the Cavaliers organization this season, averaging career lows in nearly every relevant statistical category. In regards to leaving the team, Smith cited the franchise no longer had any interest in winning any time soon, focusing instead on developing younger talent, if there is any to begin with.
The Rookie Development
Through a botched trade with Boston, the Cavs still managed to acquire a lottery-protected draft pick during last year’s offseason, which they used to select Alabama point guard Collin Sexton.
In his first season, Sexton has shown flashes of becoming a viable scorer and scrappy defender most organization’s struggle to find, but consistency has been an issue. While the rookie is still experiencing his first months as a professional, his assist numbers continue to provide the sense he might be better served as a shooting guard. Through the first 42 games, Sexton has only averaged 2.7 assists per game, well below where the organization most likely wants it.
Despite low assist totals, Sexton has averaged nearly 15 points per game and three rebounds, giving the front office optimism they chose the right player. Since the Cavaliers roster is riddled with inexperienced or mediocre basketball players, Sexton’s statistics and on-court performance continue to garner positive reviews.
Last month, head coach Larry Drew spoke highly of Sexton’s development.
“One thing about Collin, he’s not going to back down. This kid is a fearless competitor and he will accept any challenge,” Drew said. “One of the reasons why we were so intrigued about bringing him in here was because his competitive nature and he doesn’t care who he plays against. That’s a great sign of a good point guard.”
In several contests this season, Sexton shows signs of an elite offensive presence. Consistency still remains an issue though.
Both the veterans and youth talent on the Cavaliers continue to praise Sexton’s effort and work ethic, despite a disastrous record from the entire team. While the Cavs sport the league’s worst overall record and rank toward the bottom in total offense and defense, there’s reason for optimism in some of their younger players.
Since trades and injuries defined much of the Cavs season so far, the opportunity for young players to prove themselves continues to grow. It’s difficult to discuss each young player the Cavs played this season. Some of them produced either irrelevant results or the names are difficult to even remember, at this point. We’ll highlight a few of them.
On the surface, guard/forward Cedi Osman can’t shoot. As it stands, Osman is currently shooting an abysmal 30.5 percent from 3-point range, and just 39.3 percent total. Overall, Osman has averaged 11.6 points per game, lower than what the Cavaliers organization likely wants from him.
It’s no secret Osman has struggled offensively, but given the Cavaliers talent on their active roster, Osman’s struggles aren’t entirely on him. Aside from his offense, Osman has averaged nearly five rebounds per game and 2.3 assists. With these statistics, it’s unfortunate to admit he’s been on their most efficient players. Osman entered the season with relatively reasonable expectations, and thus far, hasn’t produced to his capabilities.
Guard Rodney Hood is another player who hasn’t played well either, despite expectations entering the season. Betting on his own success, Hood took the Cavaliers one-year qualifying offer during the offseason, in order to prove himself. Based on the first-half of the season, his bet hasn’t quite come to fruition.
Former coach Tyronn Lue said before the season started, Hood would be expected to become the Cavaliers second scoring option, behind Love. While he’s averaged 12.9 points per game, he hasn’t fit in very well. Sometimes, I forget the Cavaliers even still play Hood after watching a few of the team’s games.
Since Hood is under contract for this season only, he’ll likely find a new organization during the offseason. He’s better suited as a role player on a contending team. He hasn’t fit on the Cavs, last season or this season.
Despite certain inconsistencies, a young player that does fit with Cleveland is Larry Nance Jr., who dreamed of becoming a Cavalier since his childhood.
While Nance hasn’t stood out with the Cavs this season, he’s at least fit in. In 39 games, Nance has averaged 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s continued to express his desire to remain a Cavalier long-term; the organization will likely comply. While certain trade rumors continue to swirl throughout the Cavaliers organization, Nance is here to stay. It’s reasonable to expect his play will continue to progress.
Nance even provided one of the Cavaliers only significant highlights from this season, hitting a game winner against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 18. The Cavaliers won 92-91.
Strangely enough, guard Jordan Clarkson has averaged the most points per game for the Cavaliers at 16.9… off the bench. While Clarkson continues to put up solid offensive numbers, the Cavs still utilize him as a role player rather than a starter. He hasn’t started a single game this season, which seems strange considering his statistical output.
He’s still young, however, and has plenty of time to show the organization he’s worth another sizeable contract by the 2020 offseason.
Through a horrendous season, the Cavs want to see progress from their younger players during the second half of the 2018-2019 season, all while continuing to aim for a top lottery draft pick.
The Season Going Forward
On Jan. 5, the Cavaliers became the first team in major professional sports history to lose four consecutive home games by at least 20 points. Judging by that statistic alone, you’d expect Cleveland’s season hasn’t been good. You’d be correct in that assumption.
With an 8-34 record, the Cavaliers are at least in a good position to draft a top prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The season hasn’t quite gone as planned. In an interesting twist of events, the Cavaliers could be punished in the form of a draft pick with the signing of guard Patrick McCaw, formerly of the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers no longer have McCaw on their roster, but a league investigation could potentially punish the organization.
Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News reported; “The NBA immediately had suspicions about McCaw and the Cavaliers reached an agreement to waive him so he could become an unrestricted free agent.”
It’s unlikely the Cavaliers will actually be punished for the McCaw signing, and ironically enough, Cleveland still had interest in signing him back to a different contract. As of Wednesday, McCaw chose to sign with the Toronto Raptors.
The Warriors expressed concern that the Cavs violated certain NBA rules, but it’s expected there won’t be any serious punishment at all. Cleveland should be fine, barring anything unusual.
While the season has taken some obscure twists and turns, especially with the McCaw contract situation, none of the players want to turn their backs on the organization, especially Love, who’s continued to battle trade rumors despite his injury.
“I would love to be here,” Love told reporters. “Would just love to get through a whole season healthy just because I’ve had nagging things that have taken time and been a little bit unlucky, but I would like to play ball here.”
Other Cavaliers expressed interest in remaining with Cleveland for several years to come, despite the team trending in the wrong direction all season. Thompson and Nance have been especially vocal about remaining in Cleveland long-term.
Cleveland hopes the young talent on their roster continues to develop. In addition; however, the Cavaliers fully expect to finish with one of the league’s worst records, giving them a solid opportunity to obtain the first pick in the next draft. It’s reasonable the 2018-2019 Cavaliers will finish with only around 15 to 16 wins this season, but the team has been delightfully miserable to watch amidst one of the franchise’s worst seasons in their history.
Disclaimer: A few Cavaliers players, including Ante Zizic, David Nwaba, Jaron Blossomgame, Jalen Jones, Cameron Payne and so on weren’t mentioned in the article, but have contributed some statistics toward Cleveland this season, but nothing very memorable or meaningful.
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