It’s 2019, so it’s time to make New Year’s Resolutions. Here are five for the Cavaliers as they look to come up from the bottom of the NBA.
Find the right coach
Larry Drew was not asked to step into an easy situation after Tyronn Lue was fired. Taking over a team missing Kevin Love — and that would only become more ravaged by injuries — was not going to be easy. And taking over a franchise that has only looked more towards the future isn’t easy either. For being put into a tough situation, Drew likely deserves a Gregg Williams-esque interview for the Cavs’ permanent head coaching job at season’s end.
That said: Drew would be a tough sell for head coach. He is a pragmatic coach, one who players like and one who coaches to what the roster allows. What he offers is probably best suited for a veteran team with a formed identity. If the Cavs convince themselves that they can be decent next year, maybe they feel Drew is the right fit.
But Cleveland also could take cues from other teams rebuilding right now for their next coach. Look at what the Nets did by hiring Kenny Atkinson or what the Hawks did by hiring Lloyd Pierce. Both of those teams hired coaches who were known for their player development work. Both teams also installed ball movement-heavy, three-point oriented offenses that help make up for not having a star to base everything around.
It’s too early for the Cavs to have a narrow list of candidates. But this coaching hiring is paramount. Whoever is hired next will be at the helm of the Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and 2019 first-round pick era. They have to get it right if they want to be competent again.
Don’t rush into trying to win again
The Cavs are not close to being good. Collin Sexton is 19. Cedi Osman is 23. Neither are locks to be actual good NBA players, and neither is whomever they take in the 2019 NBA Draft. And, even if all three players end up being good, it is not likely that they will immediately make Cleveland a playoff team right away. Maybe if Kevin Love is around, stays healthy and ages well it can happen — more on him later — it can happen. And the team does play in the Eastern Conference, where wins are much, much easier to get. It is not hard to imagine the Cavs becoming something like the Pistons or Hornets in a year.
But the Cavs should not try and force winning games, particularly if they aim to be more than a team that just sneaks into the playoffs every year. For one, having a top-10 pick in 2019 and 2020 (remember, that 2020 first-round pick could still go to the Hawks) would give the franchise the best chance possible of amassing good young talent. If they can do that, they give themselves the best chance of building something that isn’t patchwork roster building.
Is this an easy sell? No, and Cleveland would surely like to be in the playoff hunt again sooner rather than later. This is, after all, a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs without LeBron James since the 1990s.
But look at what happened the last time Cleveland tried to make a quick push towards competence. With a young core in place, but a core still growing and figuring itself out, it signed Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark as veteran presences before the 2013-14 season. Andrew Bynum was signed and ultimately suspended. And they traded for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes in an effort to be respectable mid-season when the offseason moves didn’t work. This was, by the way, the year Mike Brown was brought back before being fired again and Chris Grant was fired mid-season.
The end result for the 2013-14 Cavs was 33 wins and no playoff appearance. Clark was traded mid-season and Jack was dealt the following summer. They then lucked into shooting up the lottery to get the No. 1 pick, trading that pick (Andrew Wiggins) for Love and LeBron coming back before making four straight NBA Finals.
This all isn’t to say that the Cavs shouldn’t sign free agents. But they should be smart signings and ones that don’t try to force the young core into something it’s not or not ready for.
Get Collin Sexton shooting three-pointers
Collin Sexton is young. He is not a finished product. And he should not be defined by what he is right now.
But in 2019, Sexton is a mid-range heavy player and does not look totally comfortable taking three-pointers unless he absolutely has to. Per Cleaning The Class, Sexton is in the 100th percentile in mid-range shot frequency; he is in the fourth percentile in non-corner three-pointer frequency. By comparison, Hawks rookie Trae Young is in the 60th percentile in non-corner three-pointer frequency and in the 27th percentile in mid-range frequency, per Cleaning The Glass.
Now, Sexton doesn’t have to flip all the way to Young’s shooting profile to be successful. Some mid-range shots are fine and he’s definitely able to get them off with comfort. But right now, because teams know he won’t look to take three-pointers, defenders dart under screens or run zones that confound him and take him out of games. To thrive, Sexton has to adapt.
Keep David Nwaba
Nwaba’s on-off numbers are ridiculous. He is the only Cavalier wing right now who can capably defend multiple positions and knows how and when to rotate. For now at least, Nwaba is unique to the Cavs’ roster.
Because of his lack of NBA service time, Nwaba will be a restricted free agent next summer — meaning the Cavs will have the inside track to keep him if they want him. His lack of consistent shooting ability is a concern, but he is a smart cutter, rebounds well (in the 85th on rebounding missed field goal attempts among wings, per Cleaning The Glass) and draws fouls at a high rate. He is not a modern, three-and-d wing, but he’s a good one that can help teams.
Cleveland does have a number of wings it has to figure out what to do with next summer, namely Nwaba, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks (if he’s not traded) and Patrick McCaw. Nwaba should be the one they prioritize keeping around.
Decide on how Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson fit into future plans
Of the players left from the 2016 title team, Channing Frye and J.R. Smith’s futures are clear. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson’s roles, however, in the future of the franchise need to be decided.
Thompson is only signed through next season, but would they want to move on from him sooner to clear the way for Larry Nance Jr. as the team’s center? Or do they view Thompson as someone it can build with to lead the younger core at least through next season, if not beyond? Keeping Thompson around to lead, at a reasonable price, isn’t the worst idea in the world.
As for Love, there was speculation from the moment he signed his extension last summer that he would be traded at some point. Maybe a team like the Nuggets or Jazz will feel they need Love to take that next step. Or maybe the Cavs will keep Love around as the face of the franchise as the young guys develop and to give them structure — albeit expensive structure. There’s no doubt that if he was healthy right now, Cleveland’s offense would be less of a disaster.
Clarity as to their respective futures may come more into focus in June after the draft. Taking Zion Williamson would be one thing, taking R.J. Barrett would mean another for the Cavs’ future frontcourt. And this year, the Cavs need to think about how Love and Thompson fit into their future. Neither player should be untradeable, but neither should be traded away for nothing either.