Cleveland Cavaliers: 4 Thoughts Entering 2020
New year, new thoughts!
At last check, the Cavs were foundering. I wanted more Larry Nance Jr. -- he’s out with knee soreness. I wanted better perimeter D -- it’s improved, but still in the bottom quarter of the league. I wanted more Jordan Clarkson -- they shipped him to Utah. I wanted them to not play the Mavericks any more -- they have been wildly successful at that. But that’s about all they’ve been good at, as they’ve sunk to the third-worst record in the league after coming up short against the Pistons last night. How can they salvage a potentially lost season?
Solve this Kevin Love problem. A prominent sports personality recently called Love out for 'pulling a Melo' -- signing a big-money contract with a low-aspiration team, and then being upset about losing. I think that’s a bit uncharitable: owners are happy to cut bait on players who no longer perform, so they gotta get that bag while they can. It is clear, however, that this situation is untenable. Love may have owned up to ‘acting like a thirteen-year-old’ but he’s just not in the right place in his career for this team, and if they get the right deal as we approach the deadline, the Cavs should move on from their current best player. By the time the youngsters are good enough to actually make some noise in the league, Love will be unabashedly on the downside of his career; better for him to ply his trade as a star for a winning team -- not waste the last few seasons of his prime scuffling toward the top of the lottery.
Get Kevin Porter Jr. back in one piece. Gosh that was lousy timing. The Cavs specifically make a move in trading Jordan Clarkson to get KPJ more playing time, and he promptly sprains his knee. Admittedly, it looked far worse in the moment, so two weeks isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it still sucks. Porter had his first 20+ point game December 11th against the Rockets, and since then has been a 11.8 point, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assist player in nearly 24 minutes a game. That’s a strong statline for a 19-year old rookie. Those are Michael Porter Jr. in Denver numbers. There were plenty of questions about his maturity and readiness for the league during draft-time, and a lot of folks thought he would be picked closer to the lottery than the last pick of Round 1. But Porter has shown a lot of growth, and really taken to the pro game. Having a coach in John Beilein used to working with this age group and getting the most out of players developmentally has paid huge dividends with Porter.
Keep working on Darius Garland. Since that same Houston game, Garland has picked up his game as well, averaging 13.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, so I can’t very well put Porter on a pedestal and ignore Garland. Now, Garland plays an extra six minutes a game, and was picked 25 spots higher in the draft, so the expectations and standards are different, but Garland has also seen the benefits of the Beilein player development machine. Critics scoffed at Garland’s rep as a three-point marksman when he struggled through the first ten games at a 32% clip, but he’s up to a respectable 37% success rate, and rising all the time. The Cavs certainly weren’t going to give up on the #5 overall pick halfway through a developmental first season, but the three picks separating Garland from Ja Morant looked like the Pacific Ocean early on. That’s shrunk down to the Indian Ocean. Maybe he can get it down to the Mediterranean by the end of the season.
Make more trades! I grew up in Cleveland. I love Cleveland. People from Cleveland love Cleveland. If you’ve never been to Cleveland, and you give it a chance, I bet you’d love Cleveland too. You know who is unlikely to give Cleveland a chance? Most any NBA free agents with another option. So don’t let all these expiring contracts go to waste; the cap space they free up will not be helpful in July by a long shot. Keep prying away draft picks, and young players (looking at you, Dante Exum) and rolling them over into next year’s expiring deals that will do the same. Tristan Thompson could help a good team become great. John Henson could fortify a good team’s front line. Matthew Dellavedova could be a good team’s really irritating ‘grit’ guy off the bench. Brandon Knight could help a team that wants cap space this summer get cap space this summer. Help them fulfill their purpose.
The Cavs have a killer six-game road trip coming up. Use that time to bond, develop, and hopefully not turn a five-game losing streak into an eleven-game losing streak. Whatever small victories and silver linings we pull from this season, losing isn’t fun, and I don’t wish it on anyone. The real goal is having a competitive team for that 2022 All-Star season. Keep your eye on the ball.