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Mailbag: Who will start for the Cavs on opening night in 2020 and 2021?

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Even 2020 feels unclear right now.

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Question:

Let’s look at 2021 first. It’s so hard to look that far ahead right now. All of the starters Cavs are likely to use this year will have their futures impacted this season. I feel bad punting on this question, but I think it’s really going to be a lot about who earns that spot this year. And for someone like Andre Drummond whose contract is up, it’s too early to see if the Cavs are going to sign him to a new deal or, if they don’t, who would replace him. (Right now, I would wager on this not being a long-term partnership.)

For fun, I’ll project 2021 as to include at least two of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro. If the Cavs get a high pick (creates a summoning circle for Cade Cunningham) that player would seem likely to start too.

For this year, I think there are two starting five options. The first is Sexton, Garland, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and Drummond. For the second one, just swap out Osman for Okoro.

If you had to ask right now, I think the former is more likely. Osman, as last year’s starter and a multi-year pro, has a leg up. He knows more of what J.B. Bickerstaff wants even if he wasn’t in the September in-market workouts by virtue of being on the team last year. Okoro, even if he hits the ground running, doesn’t. In a normal rookie year, he’d have summer league and multiple months to get ready. Now, he has no summer league and less than a month before the season starts. It’s not even clear what the preseason period will look like at the time of this writing. There’s just going to be a lot thrown at Okoro whether he starts or not.

That said, Bickerstaff didn’t rule out Okoro starting when asked about it at Okoro’s introductory press conference.

“I think that’s his attitude,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s who he is naturally. He’s a competitor. He’s a scrapper. So our expectation is that he’ll go out and earn whatever is given to him. So we expect him to compete for those spots.”

So, for now, I think Sexton, Garland, Osman, Kevin Love and Drummond are the current favorites to be in the starting lineup on opening night. But it’s definitely not a lock. And there’s definitely a give and take with either options. If Bickerstaff goes with Osman, he’ll get better passing and three-point shooting from the small forward spot (Osman, if a bit streaky, is a good catch-and-shoot threat), but will lack a wing big enough to defend bigger, stronger scoring options. If Bickerstaff goes with Okoro, the defensive upside is higher, but spacing will get cramped as long as Okoro isn’t treated as a real threat.

It’s also possible that this changes during the season, at least in the backcourt. Love and Drummond are locks to start as long as they are on the roster, but the rest could very well be subject to change. Again, this Cavs team is still very much under construction. I’d suspect that Okoro isn’t the only one who is going to have to earn his spot. Cleveland isn’t in a position where it should stick with something just because that’s what it started with.