We’re ready to take the next step, I don’t know quite what that looks like until after free agency and the draft but we’ll get better and there’s going to be some exciting basketball at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse next year.
Those were the words of Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman as he wrapped up his end-of-the-season press conference just under two weeks after the final game of the team’s season.
Altman’s words don’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in fans who are ready to see results after three years, going on four, of a rebuild. The words almost feel as though the Cavs are resting on their laurels after finding Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen.
But as last season’s 22-50 record shows, there is still something missing — still things that need to be corrected and addressed.
“We know that it's time to take a next step. I don't know what that next step is, but definitely move this thing forward and put ourselves in a position to be playing real games, meaningful games at the end of the season,” Altman said earlier in the press conference, again stating his uncertainty of where the Cavs will go from here, other than assuring the direction will be up.
Not knowing that next step, in a way, makes sense. Altman and the Cavaliers are hoping the odds are in their favor and they end up with the top pick in the draft lottery. After losing the coin toss to the Thunder, the Cavs hold the fifth-best odds in landing the first overall pick. The probability of that happening: 11.5%
With the first overall pick, the Cavs could land Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham and develop a much clearer plan for year four of the rebuild. That next step wouldn’t be so much a step as it would be a bound.
Altman can’t rely on luck though. That’s not what any sensible general manager would do, and Altman is plenty sensible. He and the fanbase know that there has to be a plan. But what is it?
Well, it seems as though, despite some words of uncertainty, there are some things Altman does have on the agenda in this fourth year of the rebuild.
Clearly, the Cavs are in need of some roster rework. A big-bodied wing efficient on offense and defense would fill a much-needed hole for the Cavs with the intention of building around a backcourt of Sexton and Garland—which Altman insisted they are.
“The plan for sure moving forward is to supplement that young core,” Altman said.
The general manager went on to detail why that’s the plan, praising the talent and growth of Sexton and Garland together.
“We do have a significant amount of data on our young guys and that's, to me, more meaningful because that's the foundation of everything that we're building,” Altman said. “When you see Collin Sexton average 26.5 points a game in April and Darius follow up in April with 20 and seven, and they're both doing it super efficiently and collectively putting up together 50-point games and 10-assist games together, that's exciting to us. We can work with that, we can work at that level of talent. We just need to figure out how to supplement that.”
Altman described the two features most important to the team in the sense of adding talent as “size and athleticism.”
The general manager is aware that a backcourt of Sexton and Garland is a bit undersized, but that doesn’t mean the duo can’t work in the NBA; they just need some additional help to reach their full potential.
“There's no secret we need some size and some length and some talent around them and to keep adding to that would be really meaningful to us. Teams have been successful with small backcourts. Teams have gone to the promised land with small backcourts. We've studied this. It's more what you put around them,” Altman said.
But according to Altman there are some specific prospects on the team’s radar—the problem now is getting lucky enough to draft them (i.e. Cade Cunningham), or clever enough to sign them.
“Those don't grow on trees—those athletic, multifaceted, can guard any position, can get into the lane and get deflections for you, can rim protect. There's a few in the draft that are really interesting to us, free agency, less so...because those guys are usually on long-term contracts,” Altman said. “But we'll keep adding. This is an evolution and it's a process. And by no means are we done upgrading the roster.”
Addressing Kevin Love
Cavs fans are aware of the problems surrounding veteran Kevin Love and the on-court displays of frustration, like in a game against the Raptors this season.
Love struggled with a lingering calf injury all season, which is what has been said led to the outburst. Despite his injuries, Altman expressed confidence that Love can be a leader on a Cavs team full of young, developing players.
“I think he can really help us. I really do. And what was hard for him this year is he was never fully healthy. He missed a significant amount of time with a calf injury, probably came back too soon, even though he missed almost 40 games that sent him back again. And then when he finally came back, he wasn't fully healthy,” Altman said.
Excuses aside, it wasn’t just his lack of presence on the court that was an issue—it was the outbursts and the attitude that is not becoming of a veteran leader, and certainly not helpful for establishing a positive, winning culture within the organization.
To that point, Love was not benched after the on-court incident. But Altman said the incident was addressed in-house and he was “reprimanded internally.” He also said that Love owned up to his actions and his teammates appreciate him for that.
“His teammates want to be around him. And I think when he shows that vulnerability and the next day comes in and gives Sexton a hug and says, ‘I’m sorry, that was F-ed up' —to own that, to say you're sorry, to say that you were wrong is really hard for guys,” Altman said.
The incident doesn’t seem to hold as much weight with Altman as it did some fans, and it seems as though the plan moving forward is to simply move forward.
“I think he has a place here with us because we need that veteran leadership. When we talk to the younger group about that leadership, Kevin does that for us and off the court as well. And so we want him to be here. We signed him to an extension for that reason, to be here when we want to make that next step. And so we're going to hopefully rely on him heavily next year after a significant summer,” Altman said. “I think what he's excited about is the talent of the young crew. If we got it wrong and whiffed on some of these picks, I can see him being even more frustrated, but don't get me wrong, he's frustrated with the losing—that'd be like anybody. But I think he sees the future.”
Dedicated to the core
One of the most important parts of a rebuild is finding a player, or players, to build around—the players who the organization believes to be the future of a successful team for years to come.
“There's just a lot of optimism with where we are as a franchise. And to be honest with you, it's really tied to the young core that we put together,” Altman said.
Altman not only praised the young core of Sexton, Garland, Okoro and Allen, but noted the importance of keeping them in wine and gold as the decision to extend two of the players looms overhead.
“On the Jarrett front. Obviously, we traded a draft asset to get him. So we certainly think highly of him. We want him to be here long-term. Collin, we want him to be here long-term. And they're both very meaningful parts of what we're doing and conversations that I'll have to have with their agents,” Altman said.
Moving forward with the core of Sexton, Allen, Okoro and Garland seems to be Altman’s most definitive plan and one that could be truly successful if Altman is able to put the finishing pieces of the puzzle in place.
Altman, who said he’s been in conversations with owner Dan Gilbert and does not believe his job to be in jeopardy, is looking forward to another year of a rebuild—hoping this is the year things really start coming together.
And while fans wait to see if Altman is able to keep his promises of building a successful Cavaliers team once more, he asks for Cleveland to hang in there through the growing pains for perhaps another year.
“The fans, they want some winning basketball again, I totally get that. And it's not lost on me that we need to push this thing forward and start winning some basketball games. But we are, in terms of year three, we're in a really good position and they need to understand that. And we ask for patience,” Altman said. “But we do know organically we're going to get better next year and there's going to be some really exciting basketball that's going to be played because of that. And it's tough. There's no quick fix. There's no quick fix. I can't snap my fingers and turn this thing around. But I do know that we're set up for sustainable success.”
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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