CLEVELAND — Before the 2020-21 season began, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff had high hopes for the team coming together to play as well as they could smack dab in the middle of a rebuild.
"We're early in it, but I think the buy-in has been huge by everybody,” Bickerstaff said. “Two things, can we be the most competitive team on the floor every night, and the most unselfish team on the floor every night? Those are two things that we can control. Those are two things that our fan base, you guys, can all see. We can all tell if we’re competing. We can all tell if we’re playing unselfish basketball. We can’t always control if shots go in. We can’t control what the other team is going to run or what they’re going to do, but we can control those two things every single night, so that’s our expectation of what we want to be.”
The expectations for the Cavs were not exactly high, and at times throughout the season they both exceeded and failed to live up to them. It was a strange season to say the least, but that comes with the territory of rebuilding.
The Cavs once again have their work cut out for them this offseason as they look to move the rebuild forward and put themselves in a position to be competitors in the league once again.
But where do they start?
Here are three things the Cavs need to address.
1. Plan to extend Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen
Yes. I said Collin Sexton. And that might make some people mad. But Collin Sexton is good, like it or not. He averaged 24.3 points this season and has proved he’s a legit scorer and playmaker, notching similar stats to the Donovan Mitchells and Devin Bookers of the league. The problem is, the Cavs didn’t have much strength around Sexton, aside from Darius Garland.
Of course, Sexton has areas that he needs to improve in, most notably his defense, but, with his size, that may never reach the high expectations set upon him. Instead, the Cavs can surround him with talented defenders who provide size on the court.
Sexton has been criticized relentlessly throughout his first three years in the league—and has taken it all in stride. He’s never lashed out and uses those criticisms to better his game, working on his craft non-stop. That’s the kind of player you want on a rebuilding team.
As part of that rebuild, the Cavs should be building the offense around Sexton and his play style, rather than try to make Sexton the one to conform.
Speaking of size, keeping Jarrett Allen in wine and gold is crucial to keep this rebuild on its tracks.
Allen, who is set to become a free agent this offseason, was acquired by the Cavs in January as part of the multi-team trade that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. Allen seemed to be the long-term plan at center for Cleveland, and he proved this season to be the guy for the job.
Allen is a high-energy center who can easily move up and down the court while providing efficient scoring and rim protection. His ability to play both ends of the court while also being a stabilizing voice amid his teammates make him invaluable.
Extending Allen should be a no-brainer for the Cavs this offseason. The decision on Sexton may come later, depending on how the lottery plays out for Cleveland and who the newest piece of the puzzle will be.
2. Say thank you and goodbye to Kevin Love
In an almost metaphorical ceremony amid construction workers while Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse was being renovated in 2018, Kevin Love signed a 4-year, $120 million contract to keep him on the team as one of the last remnants of the 2016 championship team. Looking at him to be a veteran leader for what was going to clearly be a very young, inexperienced roster in the early stages of a rebuild post-LeBron James, the Cavs put their money in Love, and Love put his loyalty in Cleveland.
Now, two seasons deep into his monster contract, things have progressed well past the smiles and excitement when the pen was put to paper in 2018. Love played just 25 games this season due to a nagging right calf strain, and while no one can fault injury, it’s the way Love presented himself on the court when he could play that puts him on this list.
Love’s tantrum during a game against the Raptors where he let his frustration get the best of him, giving up a three while the game was within six points, set an example of the worst kind to the young guys he’s supposed to be leading.
That, along with comments Love made about wanting to play in Portland, are exactly why the Cavs need to move on.
Kevin Love on “Posted Up w/ C. Haynes Pod” reveals he’d love to play for hometown Trail Blazers.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 3, 2021
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Dame Lillard?...If I was wearing a Portland jersey, that’s special. That’s playing at home.”
🎥: https://t.co/EvFn1WFU4M pic.twitter.com/33513fXXOj
No one in Cleveland will soon forget Love’s lockdown defense in Game 7 of the 2016 Championship that sealed the win and broke the city’s championship drought. But the memories of that season can’t get in the way of the rebuild.
Love has not shown himself to be a veteran voice you can trust to help mold the team. Instead, he’s been arguably detrimental to the culture of the team.
The 32-year-old Love would be hard to deal in a trade with two years and $60 million guaranteed left on his contract, but it is worth exploring. Waiving him entirely would be a financial catastrophe, but a buyout of his contract is another option.
The Cavs might be in a lose-lose-lose situation. Trade Love and have to package valuable assets to make it happen, or buy out his contract and lose millions, or keep him on the roster and continue to allow the culture to crumble and ruin the morale of the young players who should be seen as the future of the organization.
That said, there is no bigger loss than breaking the core players you hope to build around long after Love is off the team. With all of the drama that has unfolded with this roster and Love, the damage seems irreparable for anything other than a fresh start.
Cleveland owes it to their young players, to the fans and frankly, to Love, to move on before its too late.
3. Keep their fingers crossed the ping pong balls fall in their favor
This one is not something the Cavs can control but something they desperately need.
With the draft lottery just over a month away, the Cavs need to do all of the things to bring them luck. Put on the lucky T-shirt, eat the lucky meal, sit in the same place they did when the team got the first pick in 2014. Anything to make the ping pong balls fall in their favor, and for one good reason: Cade Cunningham.
Cunningham, a 6-8, 220-pound two-way wing would fit right into the Cavs' rebuild and could take the process from baby steps to leaps and bounds. Using his size to body opponents on both sides of the ball, Cunningham would provide the Cavs with a much-needed ability to space the floor and create opportunities on offense while also lending his 7-foot wingspan to the defensive side of the ball.
It is almost entirely certain Cunningham will be the No.1 overall pick in the draft, and if the Cavs want him, they’ll need luck on their side.
Before the lottery even takes place, the Cavs will have their fingers crossed as they hope to win the coin flip to break the tie with the Thunder to determine the fourth and fifth spot in the lottery order, which will take place on May 25.
If the Cavs win the tie-breaker, they’ll secure a 12.5% chance at the top pick in the draft, as opposed to a 10.5% chance if they lose.
No matter what happens, the Cavs might find another piece to rebuild in a later position in this year's draft, like Jonathan Kuminga, Scottie Barnes or Jalen Johnson, but without the talent Cunningham shows the promise to provide, completing that puzzle might take longer than many Cavs fans would like and another season with road bumps and growing pains will likely be on the horizon.
There are other questions that linger this offseason, like the fate of general manager Koby Altman and head coach Bickerstaff, but those rest on owner Dan Gilbert's confidence that they've made the most of what they have to work with and can continue to grow through the Cleveland rebuild.
The offseason just began, and the lottery isn't for another month, so in the meantime we'll just have to wait and see—and don't forget to wear that lucky shirt when the time comes.
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