By Mark Warmuth
The Cleveland Cavaliers have just five games remaining in the regular season, three more on this western swing and then home for games a week from tomorrow and the following Tuesday.
And really, the season couldn’t be ending any better. The better case scenario for the Cavs is to play very competitively and then lose in the end, so their odds in getting the first overall pick do not lessen.
Outside of yesterday’s blowout loss to the Clippers, the wine and gold’s fifth straight loss, three of the other four defeats were close games until late in the fourth quarter, and were to playoff teams, the Clippers, Celtics, and the Spurs.
By the way, Monday’s game at Phoenix is a big game in the reverse standings. A loss would move Cleveland within a game of the second worst record in the league.
Despite the record, the front office and coaching staff should be commended for the effort of the squad despite the terrible record.
Larry Drew has held the team together through a series of changes to the roster and injuries. Kevin Love has missed more than 50 games, and you would have to be devoid of basketball knowledge not to see what a difference he makes to the team.
David Nwaba, another keeper for next season, has missed 30 games, and Larry Nance Jr., who continues to show what an all around talent he is, has been out of the lineup for 15 games.
Drew also deserves some kudos for the development of rookie Collin Sexton, who is going to end the year, averaging over 16 points and shooting over 40% on three pointers for his season, marks no one saw coming in November and December.
The front office deserves a shout out because they’ve assembled a roster without knuckleheads. After JR Smith was asked to stay away, there hasn’t been any complaining about playing time or frustration about losing among this group.
That said, it is doubtful Drew will return next season, and that will be a mutual decision.
The Cavs want someone to guide a young team for the next two to three seasons, and at 60 years old, Drew probably wants to be somewhere winning is ready to happen.
We would want and expect the front office to bring in at least an assistant coach with a defensive mindset because that has been a huge weakness for the team over the past three seasons.
There is no reason to get into a long diatribe about Mike Longabardi, who is supposedly in charge of the defense, but the team’s inability to defend the most basic basketball play, the pick and roll, effectively, has to be addressed at some point.
If we were GM Koby Altman, we would want to find our version of the Nets’ Kenny Atkinson (20-28-39 wins in three seasons) or Orlando’s Steve Clifford (Orlando won 25 games last year, this year they have 38) to guide a young team through a growing period.
Don’t forget, it is very likely the Cavs will add another young, talented player through the draft, even if it isn’t Duke’s Zion Williamson.
There are still players like Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Jarrett Culver from Final Four participant Texas Tech, that look like they should be able to help.
It also says here that having guys like Love, Nance, and even Matthew Dellavedova, veterans who play the right way and have a good attitude will make the new coach’s job easier.
It is true the record isn’t good, but much of that has to do with injuries. If Love were available most of the year, the Cavs could have been just a notch below the 6th to 8th seeds in the East.
So, the future does look bright with the right moves. It’s up to Altman to make those moves.