The Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-2019 campaign reached its conclusion on Tuesday. From the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, the Cavaliers season went as expected. Just not in a good way.
After just six games, the organization decided to relieve former head coach Tyronn Lue of his duties. Larry Drew assumed head coaching duties, although his future beyond this season was always doubtful at best, at least with Cleveland.
While the Cavaliers finished tied with the second-worst record at19-63, the young talent provided glimpses of potential stardom. The veterans helped keep the season from completely falling off the rails. There is credit obviously directed toward the Cavaliers roster, but the real praise should be given to Larry Drew himself for maintaining consistency and keeping the locker room together.
Neither internal disputes or friction within the Cavaliers organization played a role in their lackluster season. The players maintained camaraderie, especially Kevin Love and Channing Frye, who despite injuries to both, helped develop the team’s young talent. While the Cavaliers will proceed with a fresh coaching staff next season, it would be foolish to overlook the work Drew accomplished during the 2018-2019 campaign.
The Cavaliers front office announced on Thursday that Drew would not return as head coach. Cavaliers GM Koby Altman commended Drew for bringing steady leadership in an otherwise poor season, as well as his work as an assistant for the previous four years. Drew helped guide the Cavaliers to their 2016 NBA Title as an assistant coach.
While Drew won’t return, he deserves a lot of credit for developing the young talent and keeping the locker room in check. When Drew first took over, it was all about player development, although it wasn’t smooth sailing.
Drew’s first days as coach
On Oct. 28, the Cavaliers named Drew their acting head coach, following the firing of Tyronn Lue. From the beginning, Drew made his intentions clear to the Cavaliers organization he didn’t want the interim tag. Shortly after this, in early November, the Cavaliers made Drew their permanent head coach.
Lue’s firing certainly created a discord with the players, whose frustrations they took out on rookie Collin Sexton and sophomore Cedi Osman early on. The Athletic reported certain, unnamed veterans in the organization felt Sexton didn’t know how to play. In addition, Osman’s inconsistency raised some concerns if the small-forward was even ready to play regular minutes in the NBA.
While the Cavaliers managed victories here and there, the roster lacked serious talent. In early January, Drew questioned if he wanted to ever coach again. At this point, the Cavaliers stood at 9-40, the worst record across the league.
“I don’t know if I ever want to be a head coach again after this year,” Drew told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon in January. “I’ve never been with a team that has had this amount of injuries.”
“You know with a rebuild, particularly if you’ve got young guys, you want them to play and get experience and you live with the mistakes they make as they continue to learn and grow. But when you throw in injuries with that, that can kind of put you in a tailspin, which is what it has done to me.”
As players returned from injuries, most notably Love, and the young talent continued to develop, the Cavaliers played much better basketball. Drew had one of the league’s worst rosters, but managed to get the most out of it.
Osman overcame inconsistent play to become the Cavaliers most-improved player. Sexton averaged nearly 17 points per game, managing to play in all 82 games. Jordan Clarkson showed his prowess as one of the NBA’s top role-players, while additional youth talent, including Ante Zizic and Larry Nance Jr. provided the organization belief this team could contend for a playoff spot in the next two or three seasons.
Despite the 19-57 record, Drew did a much better job than it shows. There aren’t many head coaches who could win this amount of games with this roster.
After their final game against the Charlotte Hornets, Drew told cleveland.com he was comfortable with the progress the Cavaliers made this season and felt the staff did a great job keeping the team together.
“When I took over, I really looked and just tried to make sure that a few things happened,” Drew said. “One, that the guys developed. Collin [Sexton] and Cedi [Osman], Larry Nance Jr. and Big Z [Ante Zizic] and those guys that were going to be playing minutes. I really wanted them to develop, and I think all four of those guys did that. The other thing was making sure that this team stayed competitive, and I thought my staff and I thought that we did a good job with that as well.”
While Drew coached his last game in Cleveland, his job shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Going forward without Drew
With two first-round picks next season, the Cavaliers roster next season should improve quite a bit. Earlier in the season, I advocated for the Cavaliers to start fresh the following year. This meant a new coaching staff and player development coordination. After Drew’s work this season, I changed my stance. Both the Cavaliers and Drew felt differently, however.
The organization and Drew agreed to part ways, since Drew’s contract expired at the conclusion of this season.
“I want to thank Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, the entire organization, and especially our fans, for what has been a very special and rewarding time here in Cleveland. Koby and I had a good discussion following the season and have both decided that the best decision for each of us was that I would not return to coach the team,” Drew said.
In addition, Drew thanked the players and appreciated the entire team working to continue their development.
“I am very proud of what we accomplished over the last several years together and will always cherish our championship,” Drew continued. “I also want to commend our players this season for the bond that they established, the way they approached their jobs and the hard work and growth they had every day. I am very proud of them and wish them the best as they continue to develop for the future.”
As of Thursday, the Cavaliers will search for a permanent replacement as head coach.
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