The Cavaliers’ 2019-20 season is likely done. A lot happened — John Beilein came and went, Andre Drummond came in, Collin Sexton improved in year two, etc. — but it ultimately will end before it could be properly finished.
Were the Cavs going anywhere? No. This was a lottery team and one of the worst three teams in the league. Still, players on the team — including Sexton and Larry Nance Jr. —wanted to come back. And when the season was cut short, Cleveland had played just eight games under new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. There was more there to develop this year that just can’t happen now.
Still, the Cavs probably gain some things too. Here’s a look at those things, as well as a deeper dive into what has been lost.
Lost: More time to integrate Andre Drummond
Per league sources, the expectation has been that Andre Drummond will pick up his player option for next season and not hit free agency. That expectation hasn’t changed in the pandemic affected league, but that could change when the 2020-21 cap comes more into focus. Some believe that players like Drummond will opt against taking the one year at a bigger number in pursuit of more money over three or four years.
For Drummond, unless it is coming to back to the Cavs, it’s hard to see him opting out in pursuit of that deal due to the sheer lack of money available this summer. Among the teams with cap space, only the Hornets would theoretically need a center. Even then, it’s not an obvious fit in Charlotte. (It’d be fair to also question much the Cavs should pay him, and how much centers are worth paying, but that’s a whole other discussion to have later on.)
For now, let’s assume Drummond is back in Cleveland for 2020-21. The player he was in the eight games he played for the Cavs was not the guy the Cavs need him to be if he’s going to be as useful as possible. More games this year – particularly under Bickerstaff, who players openly have said had a better rapport with them than Beilein – would mean more time to get him properly acclimated. Now, that work has to restart next season. Whenever that is.
Gained: An early focus on the draft
The 2020 NBA Draft was always going to matter for the Cavs as soon as it was clear that the pick would not convey to the Pelicans. (Remember: It is top-10 protected from the Kyle Korver trade. When the Cavs don’t fall out of the top-10, it turns into two second-round picks.)
With the season done, though, the Cavs can turn their entire focus to that. Bickerstaff, GM Koby Altman and the rest of the Cavs’ brain trust now can figure out what players they think can fit with what they have now or are too talented to pass up. We still don’t know when the draft lottery will take place, but per multiple reports, the draft is likely to occur in September.
The 2020 draft gets comped to the 2013 draft, which is scary considering that’s the year the Cavs drafted Anthony Bennett. Perhaps more time can help them not make another galaxy brain decision.
Or maybe they will anyway and take Obi Toppin at No. 1.
Lost: Proper farewell(s)
Let this sink in: Tristan Thompson has almost assuredly played his last game with the Cavs. Maybe Drummond leaves and he comes back, but the opposite feels more likely.
Thompson is an all-time Cav. He was part of the turnaround, won a title and has been with the team for his entire career. The last two years, Thompson has been one of the — if not the — team leader. He’s top-10 in games played and would have passed Austin Carr had the season not been halted. (Thompson is currently 619; Carr finished with 635. The Cavs had 17 games to play.) He’s also top-10 in minutes played, second all-time in offensive rebounds, fourth in defensive rebounds and top-10 in a slew of other categories. Thompson has a secure legacy if he has in fact played his last game with the Cavs.
After looking cooked in 2018 before the playoffs, he’s played excellent the last two years when healthy. If/when he ends up on a contender next year, he’s going to make them better. Here’s hoping the Cavs blow it out with tribute videos and the like whenever Thompson’s first game back in Cleveland is. No. 13 should be in the rafters someday too.
Another potential goodbye: Matthew Dellavedova. He is more likely to come back for a few reasons — namely price and team need — but it’s also possible that he exits too. His exit would also leave Kevin Love as the last member of the 2016 title member still around. Funny how that might work out.
A small thing, but this matters. No more games means that Kevin Love can’t get hurt, which is good considering the various injuries he’s had. It also means Kevin Porter Jr. can’t get hurt after he took a few knocks this season and that, frankly, no one else can suffer a serious injury that impacts the 2020-21 season. That’s not nothing. If the Cavs want to level up at all, or at least better understand their young players, health is key.
Lost: Darius Garland’s return
Garland missed the last five games of the season due to injury, ending his hard to understand rookie season. There were some encouraging moments throughout the year, notably with his passing being better than expected and his overall range. In his last five games, his numbers were better across the board than his season averages. Most notably, he was racking up more assists while not turning the ball over nearly as much.
All that said: no one can really say what Garland is or what he’s going to be. His rookie year is sort of a rehab year after he played five games in college due to his meniscus injury and then didn’t return to the court until the start of the season. More time on the court is only going to help him – or at least help the Cavs figure out what he is – and now he might not play a real game again until much later in 2020. In a non-pandemic world, he would have come back, played a few more games and perhaps played some summer league games.
What he looks like and plays like at the start of next season is going to be fascinating and probably one of the three most interesting/important/unknowable storylines when the Cavs do return. That was already the case. Now, it’s even more so.