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Why the Cavs brass can’t rest on the successes of a 19-win season

The Cavs were one of the NBA’s worst teams, and it’s probably worth remembering that

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The mood of Cavs fans seems to be resoundingly positive. I’m not here to try and disabuse anyone of optimism, and in fact find myself in the same boat. Collin Sexton had a horrific 2018, but had a much better 2019, despite idiots like this writer saying there wouldn’t be any real improvement until the summer when he could get stronger and clear his head. He didn’t need it. And it’s to his credit. I’m excited about him.

Cedi Osman is in a similar spot. He was taking the right shots all season, but found himself overexposed and missing too many of them. It’s hard to see him as an above average starter, or maybe even as an average starter, but his 2019 affirmed his status as a legitimate rotation player, and someone you could credibly fill in as a starter for stretches of play.

Kevin Love missed most of the season. But hey, when he came back he was a mix of star player and dutiful tanking passenger. He was relaxed, and smiled more in a two-week February stretch than he had in four seasons of going to the Finals every year. In December, his contract extension looked like an albatross. Now he looks like a viable building block, or at the very least, bridge between eras of successful Cavs basketball.

And on and on down the list. It’s great. The team even won the coin flip with the Phoenix Suns, and will now have a top six-pick in the NBA draft. After Zion Williamson, it seems as though there’s a general consensus (the word ‘general’ doing a lot of work here) that Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett are the next best prospects, followed by some order of Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver, Coby White and DeAndre Hunter.

It’s doubtful that all of those guys will be really good NBA players, but Koby Altman will have a solid set of options regardless of how the ping pong balls fall. They’ll pick again in the first round. It’s been a few years, but get your Cavs draft parties set.

So anyway, we’re all forgiven for being relatively happy with where the team is. Now’s the time to let your imagination run wild with visions of Sexton and Osman continuing to develop alongside a top draft choice, with Love and Larry Nance, Jr. staying healthy and encouraging the youngling’s growth.

Except Dan Gilbert and Altman can’t let that happen. They can’t take that comfort. Altman knows Osman as well as anyone considering he was often the one traveling to Turkey to check up on him, and is invested in his success. Sexton was the first big step of the post-LeBron James world, and, along with Ante Zizic, what’s left of Kyrie Irving’s bounty. Both took steps forward, but both anchored the team with the NBA’s worst net rating. That wouldn’t have happened in Love stayed healthy, but Love is often not healthy!

Would it happen again next year? Do we know Sexton and Osman will take steps forward again? We don’t. Two first-round draft picks are exciting, and good, but also will keep the team young, and generally young teams are not very good. That’s fine too, because the Cavs don’t have to be good next year. They probably shouldn’t be good next year, though their first round pick’s protections complicate matters.

Perhaps Jordan Clarkson played himself into some trade value. Altman and Gilbert can’t talk themselves into the idea that he’s a long-term solution, unless he really is integral in terms of the Cavs locker room makeup and we just don’t know it. They can’t let Sexton’s emergence keep them from taking the best player available in the draft. They can’t let Osman’s joy or a long term relationship with the player lead them into an extra-rich extension.

The Cavs won 19 games. On a per possession basis they were the league’s worst team. Everyone’s happy. No one is content. Fans can have rose-colored glasses. Executives cannot.