With the Denver Nuggets rolling out an all big lineup and the Orlando Magic actually trying on Wednesday afternoon, the NBA is finally back after being away for over five months! Unfortunately, the Cavs were not invited to play under the Disney bubble due to the team having the second worst record in the league. Even though the Cavs were still not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention when the season went on hiatus. Ah! Well, nevertheless.
But, there are several former Cavs players, coaches, and executives who are now members of Western Conference teams participating in the league’s resumption in play. Some of them probably don’t need to be there, like Cameron Payne and the Phoenix Suns, but safety during a global pandemic be damned! But, there are plenty of other former Cavs that are playing for Western Conference contenders, pretenders, and teams that are just happy to be here. Today, we’ll be breaking down the four teams that are awaiting the honor of being crushed by the Lakers and Clippers in the playoffs and the former Cavs they’ve brought with them to Orlando.
The Utah Jazz were the sexy pick heading into the 2019-20 season to make noise in the Western Conference come playoff time. Well, after Rudy Gobert shut down the entire league for five months when he tested positive for coronavirus, it created a divide within the team’s locker room between Gobert and fellow co-star Donovan Mitchell. That divide, despite whatever positive PR spin the Jazz put out, along with Mike Conley never properly fitting with the team and Bojan Bogdanovic having wrist surgery, have spiraled the Jazz from a possible contender to a team wanting to get this season over with.
The Jazz do have one of the more fun former Clevelanders on their roster in Jordan Clarkson though! Clarkson, who was traded to Utah this season for Dante Exum and two second round picks, has been averaging 15.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists since arriving in Salt Lake City. During his time with the Jazz with the team scored 117.5 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, an offensive rating that ranked in the 96th percentile league-wide. Prior to Clarkson’s arrival, Utah’s bench scored 27.1 points per game, a mark that ranked 29th. After his Jazz debut, Utah’s bench scored 35.9 points per game, which ranked 20th.
Utah also has former Canton Charge head coach Alex Jensen on their staff as well. Jensen, a former NBA D-League Coach of the Year, was a candidate for Cleveland’s head coaching vacancy last summer but the team elected to go with John Beilein and eventually J.B. Bickerstaff. Jensen has been vital in the development of Gobert becoming a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate while with the Jazz and has shown a knack for player development. He’ll eventually land a head coaching job with this league but for now, he’ll be able to work on his short game and get a tan while the Jazz are in Orlando.
Speaking of former Cavs coaches, Grizzlies assistant Vitaly Potapenko and Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley are also part of the Disney experience. Potapenko, who also was a first round pick in 1996 for Cleveland, is currently assisting in developing Memphis’s big men — the same role he had with the Cavs. Mosley, meanwhile, is in his sixth season with the Mavericks after spending four seasons coaching in Cleveland. Mosley was part of Cleveland’s player development staff and has taken on a similar role with Dallas. He also is the architect of the Mavericks’ defense, which was tied for ninth when league play stopped.
But, Mosley isn’t the lone former Cavalier on Mark Cuban’s payroll. Joining him is former Cavs guard Seth Curry, who was coached by Mosley and played for the Cavaliers in 2014. In his one game played with the Cavs, Curry scored 3 points on 33.3% shooting to go with 1 rebound and 2 steals in just 9 minutes played. Curry then bounced around the league for a while until he found his footing with the Mavericks. This season, Curry has been a spark plug off the bench for Dallas, averaging 12.6 points on 50.0% shooting to go along with 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Obviously, Seth isn’t the player his brother Steph or his father (and former Cavalier) Dell is. But it’s good to see he’s been able to prove he belongs in the NBA with Dallas.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, are the disappointment of this group of teams. Sure, their story has been one of the most compelling this season but they don’t have a single former Cavalier on their roster! But, the New Orleans Pelicans have the crown jewel in former Clevelanders in David Griffin, the architect of the 2016 NBA Championship squad and the team that won four consecutive Eastern Conference titles. The Pelicans also have former Cavs swingman Sindarius Thornwell, who didn’t survive past preseason this year - even after he led the team in both defensive rating and player efficiency rating!
Even though none of these teams will be able to make a legitimate run at a title this year, they’re all building the right way except for the Thunder. Just remember, the last American Eastern Conference team to win an NBA Championship were the Cavaliers in 2016. Being able to harness that energy by having former Cavs working with you is huge. If you’re a contender, a pretender, or you’re just happy to be here — having a former Cavalier in tow makes a difference.