Additions: Collin Sexton, Sam Dekker, Billy Preston
Subtractions: LeBron James, Jeff Green
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Collin Sexton
SG: JR Smith
SF: Cedi Osman
PF: Kevin Love
C: Tristan Thompson
Key Bench Players: Larry Nance Jr, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver
And just like that the second era of LeBron James is over for Cleveland. After four seasons with the Cavs and four straight Finals appearance, including bringing The Land their first title in history in 2016, the GOAT has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in an attempt to bring the franchise back to relevancy in the Western Conference. This puts GM Koby Altman and head coach Tyronn Lue in quite the conundrum. Without LBJ, can the Cavs remain a competitor in the East? Or is it time to blow the whole thing up and start a rebuild behind 2018 8th overall pick Collin Sexton?
It looks more like the former for Cleveland. After inking All Star power forward Kevin Love to a 4 year/$120.4M extension in July, the Cavs are looking to go all in next season. But is this the right move for a franchise with no discernible future? Kevin Love is already 30 years old and has not proven to be a consistent number one option since his days in Minnesota when he was about 30 pounds heavier. How is giving over $30M per year for an aging power forward the right move for a team with one of the oldest rosters in the NBA?
When the Cavs first lost LeBron to the Heat in 2010, they drafted point guard Kyrie Irving in the 2011 Draft as the new face of the franchise. Could new point guard Collin Sexton take over the helm of franchise player? The rookie out of Alabama is everything a team needs out of their point guard: tough, aggressive, athletic, relentless. Sexton is not nearly the same type of player as Irving was coming out of Duke. Sexton is not the same shooter or crafty ballhandler as Kyrie, but he has that dearly sought after “Mamba Mentality”. Last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year averaged over 19 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while converting 49.5% of his shots within the arc on an Alabama team with little talent outside of himself. This is the same kid who almost won a college basketball game against Minnesota when the team only had 3 players after the whole bench was ejected, another player fouled out, and another teammate sprained his ankle. Sexton dropped 40 points that game and outscored the Gophers 30-22 in that 3-on-5 scenario in a 89-84 loss. The rookie is just a baller. He’s a winner. He is the type of player who wants the ball in his hands in those clutch moments. Remember his game-winning shot against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament? I believe the Cavs picked the right player in the post-LeBron era. He has the swagger, the competitiveness, and the ability to lead Cleveland in this transition period.
Outside of Love and Sexton, who exactly do the Cavs have? They still have the streaky JR Smith who somehow forgot the score in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. There’s Cedi Osman, the young and unproven wing that LeBron called his favorite celebration partner (I see a trade to the Lakers in his future). Or Tristan Thompson, the rebounding specialist dating and cheating on Khloe Kardashian. They have 37 year old sharpshooter Kyle Korver and 32 year old journeyman George Hill. Jordan Clarkson is a decent backup guard but struggles with consistency, and Larry Nance Jr was either Tyronn Lue’s most used big man or rode the bench the entire game. Then there’s Rodney Hood who is extremely talented but fell out of a terrible Cavs rotation in the playoffs last year. Luckily for the Cavs, Larry Nance Jr still has some potential to unleash in his fourth season and Rodney Hood has the track record of being a reliable 3-and-D wing from his years in Utah. There is some talent on this team but is it truly enough to make the playoffs?
Can we finally cut LeBron some slack for getting swept in the Finals last season with this atrocious team? It’s not his fault the rest of his team was simply terrible. In my humble opinion, the Cavs should not have extended Kevin Love. They should have traded him to a playoff team in need of an All Star caliber power forward. They should trade the remainder of Tristan Thompson’s 2 year/$36M albatross of a contract and should have given Kyle Korver to the Philadelphia 76ers when they said they were interested. I hate to say it but the Cavs need to rebuild if they want to get back to the top of the East. A franchise cornerstone like Collin Sexton helps, as do young role players in Nance, Clarkson, and Hood, but Sexton needs another young star to grow with, not Kevin Love who will be 35 by the time his contract expires. Trade any player on the roster for a decent first round pick or just young talent. You had a great run Cleveland, but without The King, you simply do not stand a chance with the Celtics, 76ers, and the Raptors running the East.
*P.S.: Watch out for former 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All American Billy Preston, who was sidelined at Kansas following an automobile accident investigation and decided to play professionally in Bosnia. The undrafted big man is currently on a two-way contract between the Cavs and their G-League affiliate, Canton Charge. Who knows? Maybe he could be the diamond in the rough for a Cleveland team lacking young talent.
Picture Courtesy of Peach Tree Hoops (Collin Sexton)
*For yesterday’s article on the Chicago Bulls, click here.
Up next tomorrow: Dallas Mavericks
University of South Carolina ’21