With fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers squarely focused on who exactly the team will select with the fifth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, it sometimes feels a bit weird. Around this time last season, the Cavaliers were preparing to go up against the Golden State Warriors for the fourth consecutive year in the NBA Finals. After the J.R. Smith debacle in Game 1, the Cavaliers completely fell apart and were soundly swept by the Warriors.
After losing to Golden State, Cleveland’s situation was in flux. They were being held hostage by the whim of LeBron James, who was an unrestricted free agent heading into that summer. Many were hoping that the Cavaliers would use the No. 8 pick (which turned out to be Collin Sexton) as a major piece in order to acquire a star to play alongside James and keep him in Cleveland.
Some hypothetical trades bounced around included sending Sexton to the Miami Heat for a package centered Goran Dragic. But, the one that made the most sense for all parties involved at the time would be Cleveland trading Sexton and Jordan Clarkson to the Charlotte Hornets for star point guard Kemba Walker. But, in the end, the hypotheticals remained just that as the Cavaliers felt no desire to trade Sexton and hoped that the rookie point guard, along with Kevin Love, would be enough to keep James in town.
Unfortunately, that ended up not being the case as James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers soon after free agency began. But, fortunately for the Cavaliers, standing firm in not moving Sexton could have perhaps been the best possible move the team made last summer. Now, it seems pretty ludicrous to think that sticking with Sexton over trying to appease James was the better move, especially after the Cavaliers finished the season 19-63. But there are quite a few reasons to make this seem not that crazy.
When looking at Sexton the player, the Cavaliers could not have gotten a better return with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Cavs youngster finished the seasons with averages of 16.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and three assists in 82 games all while working tirelessly to make his three-point shot a regular part of his offensive repertoire.
That last part is key for both Sexton and the Cavaliers. Sexton has lived up to his billing as a gym rat and has worked all season long to hone his craft. With a season of NBA basketball under his belt and a whole summer to learn under new head coach John Beilein, the sky’s the limit for Sexton.
This time last year it seemed improbable that Cleveland could find a replacement for franchise point guard Kyrie Irving, but have ended up getting exactly that in Sexton. Granted, Sexton is still a work in progress heading into his sophomore season — especially in terms of assists — but that will likely come along nicely like his three-point shooting. Irving’s legacy in Cleveland will be forever attached to Sexton in both jersey number and position but what he has shown already is much more valuable compared to what someone like Dragic or Walker could.
Sexton’s financial impact on the team has its advantages compared to any veteran they could have traded him for too. Through the end of the 2021-22 season, Sexton’s contract to the team is cost controlled and allows the Cavaliers to make moves to build around Sexton and their young core. If someone like Walker was on the roster instead of Sexton, it would have serious financial ramifications for the Cavaliers. Walker is set to hit free agency this summer and, were the Cavs to sign him to a long deal, it would have hamstrung the team finically. Sexton’s rookie deal is easier to build around than $141 million for Walker. What the Hornets have been with Walker is a reality the Cavs could ended up in. Instead, they have the chance for something better.
Instead, the Cavaliers were able to bottom out with Sexton at the helm as the team’s point guard and secured the fifth pick in the draft, allowing them the opportunity to add another franchise cornerstone in the draft this summer. Being able to do this, as well as maintain future financial flexibility, is huge for Cleveland and drives home the point that they made the right call on keeping Sexton.