On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers — whose rebuild suffered through a stilted season — are up.
The Cleveland Cavaliers decided on a bold change of direction last spring when they hired highly-successful college coach John Beilein for his first NBA coaching job at the age of 66.
But Beilein almost immediately clashed with many of his veteran players who complained about his “college-style” coaching that included lengthy practice and film sessions. Later, Beilein was alleged to have used the term “thugs” in a speech to the team, which he attempted to explain away as meaning to have said “slugs” in regard to the players' effort and energy level.
From that point on, it was only a matter of time before Beilein would have to be replaced as head coach since most of the players had completely tuned him out. Beilein resigned on Feb. 19, walking away from the four-plus years remaining on his contract. The Cavaliers tapped assistant J.B. Bickerstaff to replace Beilein, eventually signing him to a multi-year extension. The Cavs had a 19-46 record at the time the NBA schedule was suspended, worst in the Eastern Conference.
Beilein was hired to develop the talent for one of the league’s youngest teams that included three first round picks from the 2019 draft: Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler.
But from the start of the season, it was clear that pairing Garland with 2018 lottery pick Collin Sexton wasn’t a good idea. Both young point guards needed the ball in their hands to be successful, and Garland struggled as the de facto shooting guard, averaging 12.3 points a game on 40.1% shooting from the field (though he did shoot a respectable 35.5% from 3 point range). Sexton wound up leading the Cavs in scoring at 20.8 points per game while shooting 47.3% from the field and 38% from long distance. But the second year guard never developed as a facilitator in the offense, averaging just three assists over 33 minutes per game. His ball-dominant style appeared to frustrate many of his teammates.
Porter showed potential as a slashing wing, averaging 10 points in 23.2 minutes per game, while Windler missed all of his rookie season because of injury. Cedi Osman, 24 years old, failed to take hold of the starting small forward job, averaging 11 points per game, while the team gave up on combo guard Jordan Clarkson, trading him to Utah just before Christmas for underwhelming former lottery pick Dante Exum. Clarkson immediately thrived as a high-scoring sixth man with the Jazz, while Exum struggled to find a role in Cleveland, averaging 5.6 points and 1.4 assists in 24 games.
It seems like the Cavs have been trying to trade Kevin Love ever since he agreed to a multi-year contract after LeBron James left in the summer of 2018. Love was rumored to be available before this year’s trade deadline, but few teams were interested in taking on the three years and $90 million remaining on the contract of a 31-year-old power forward with a lengthy injury history.
The Cavs will also most likely have veteran center Andre Drummond back next season. Drummond holds a $28.7 million player option for 2020-21, and its hard to imagine another team offering a max-level multi year contract for a low post center whose skills don’t really translate to the modern NBA game.
Depending on how the lottery shakes out, the Cavs could have a top three pick in this year’s draft, and they could go in a variety of directions. Dayton star Obi Toppin and Israeli forward Deni Avdija present possibilities to bolster their frontcourt. Cleveland could also go for the top shooting guard available, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards.
After the Beilein experiment failed so quickly, general manager Koby Altman will be under enormous pressure to get the rebuild back on track this offseason. It won’t be easy to find a trade partner for either Drummond or Love, and it appears the Cavs won’t be able to move forward starting a pair of undersized point guards in Sexton and Garland. Plus, Exum has one year left on his contract at $9.6 million.
Bickerstaff is anxious to put his stamp on the team after replacing Beilein following the All-Star break. It’s the third time in Bickerstaff’s coaching career he’s taken over an NBA team during the season, and he’s hoping to be given some time to get through the painful early stages of a complete rebuild. Unfortunately for the Cavs, there isn’t a superstar player like Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and LeBron isn’t walking back through that door for a third stint in Northeast Ohio.
Better keep that 2016 NBA championship trophy nice and shiny while asking the fans to be patient once again.
Check back in Monday for a breakdown of the Minnesota Timberwolves.