The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 23. To get you ready for the year to come, we'll be dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers take the spotlight.
2019-20 season record
19-46, 15th in the Eastern Conference
Isaac Okoro, No. 5 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft
JaVale McGee, Trade
Rayjon Tucker, Trade
Thon Maker, Free Agency
Damyean Dotson, Free Agency
Alfonzo McKinnie, Trade
Tristan Thompson, Free Agency
|PG||Collin Sexton||Dante Exum||Matthew Dellavedova|
|SG||Darius Garland||Kevin Porter Jr.||Damyean Dotson||Dylan Windler|
|SF||Cedi Osman||Isaac Okoro||Rayjon Tucker|
|PF||Kevin Love||Larry Nance Jr.||Dean Wade|
|C||Andre Drummond||JaVale McGee||Thon Maker|
3 Key Storylines
A crowded backcourt
Re-signing Dellavedova, a 30-year-old Aussie and a one-time champion with the Cavaliers in 2016, was likely largely for him to be a veteran locker-room presence more than anything else. Outside of Delly, who has established himself through seven NBA seasons, the Cavaliers have a number of promising young guards on their roster. Maybe a few too many.
Here's a breakdown of the team's guard depth in terms of age, and when they were acquired by the team:
|Collin Sexton||Point Guard||21||No. 8 pick, 2018 Draft|
|Darius Garland||Point Guard||20||No. 5 pick, 2019 Draft|
|Kevin Porter Jr.||Shooting Guard||20||No. 30 pick, 2019 Draft|
|Dante Exum||Point Guard||25||Trade with Jazz in Dec. 2019|
|Damyean Dotson||Shooting Guard||26||2020 Free Agency|
|Dylan Windler||Shooting Guard||24||No. 26 pick, 2019 Draft|
*Age as of Dec. 22, the start of the 2020-21 season.
Purely going by performance, none of these guards have outright earned the starting guard spots on the team, though Sexton has started in 137 of 147 games in his career, including all 65 in the 2019-20 season.
Exum and Dotson are certainly the most experienced of the group with 239 and 165 regular-season games to their resume but does the franchise want to place itself in the hands of a 25 or 26-year-old when it has three guards under 21 that were high picks in recent drafts?
If the team makes the logical decision, it will invest in its young guard trio of Sexton (6'1"), Garland (6'1") and Porter Jr. (6'4") - each of whom could classify as 'small guards' in a league that is transitioning more and more to positionless basketball.
Sexton is the frontrunner for one guard spot given that he's the only one of these six to be named to an All-Rookie team (2018 Second Team). More importantly, he is just 21 and is one of the highest draft picks on the team. Sexton's numbers constantly improved over the course of the 2019-20 season, which he capped off with a great final 12 games, averaging 25.3 points and 4.3 assists on shooting splits of .519/.419/.814 as the team went 6-6.
Fit for rookie Isaac Okoro?
Given their offence-heavy guard line-up, the franchise did well to pick Isaac Okoro with the fifth overall pick. NBA.com's Draft expert Kyle Irving gave the Cavaliers selection of Okoro a grade of B-, saying "Okoro is the best wing defender in this draft class and should help aid that [offensive-minded guards] issue, sliding into the small forward position as a lockdown 3-and-D player."
At 6'6", unless he's playing as a big guard, which would add yet another player in the team's guard depth, he could 6'7" Cedi Osman to the four-spot and subsequently Kevin Love to the five. This could mean Andre Drummond - the team's highest-paid player at $31.3 million for the upcoming - would not be featured in the team's major lineups unless the Cavaliers play Okoro ahead of Osman.
Either way, the 19-year-old stands to take away minutes from one of the team's four-highest paid forwards and centres in Drummond, Osman, Love or Nance. Ideally, you would want to give your highly-drafted rookie a good sum of minutes to make an impression but what about the established veterans?
Need for direction and stability
In six seasons without LeBron James since 2003, only once have the Cavaliers have finished higher than 13th in the East, when they finished 10th in the 2013-14 season. Management may need to make some hard calls to change that this season.
There's no denying the talent, but Cleveland will pay roughly $70 million to the trio of Nance Jr., Love, and Drummond. That's $70 million out of their $123.7 million payroll. Nance Jr. and Drummond are non-shooting big men, which more or less goes against the direction the NBA is transitioning to while Love spaces the floor but, historically has been a liability on defence.
For a franchise that doesn't have a great history of attracting free agents, there are a number of questions to answer in order to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Here are a few:
- Do they let Drummond walk as a free agent in 2021? If they trade him before that, what are the packages available? Are any suitable? Will they have to give up something, too?
- What about the 12-year veteran Love? He's owed roughly $91.5 million over the next three years. With respect to the team's other contracts, the Cavs can certainly afford it but is his veteran leadership worth that amount? Are there any good trade packages out there?
- After Drummond and Love, Larry Nance Jr., who came off the bench in 83 of the 123 games in the past two seasons, is the team's highest-paid player. Is he ready to take the starting role of four-man? If not, what next?
If issues surrounding the crowded backcourt and lack of direction aren't enough. it will be the first full season with head coach J.B Bickerstaff at the helm. In the final 11 games of the 2019-20 season, Bickerstaff managed to lead the team to a 5-6 record. Is that a sign of things to come or too small of a sample size to tell?
An important note to remember is that Bickerstaff is the team's fourth coach since James left, despite that the team having the same general manager in Koby Altman.
So, if the 2020-21 season is to be used or seen as a stepping stone to a better future, the franchise must lay a solid foundation, one that allows them to trend in the right direction - upwards. For that, they must attempt to find stability and direction.
5 games to watch
Jan. 26 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Every team in the league has the matchup against the reigning champs circled out on their calendar. The Cavaliers are no different. In fact, the Lakers' contest would have been written down either way because the roster includes Akron native and superhero, LeBron James.
Jan. 25 @ Boston Celtics
In each of his previous nine seasons in the NBA since being drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, Tristan Thompson was a member of the Cavaliers. Now with the Boston Celtics, the 2020-21 season would be the first where he plays for another franchise.
His first against the former team - whether in Cleveland or Boston - would be one to watch.
Dec. 27 @ Detroit Pistons,
The deal to move former All-Star Drummond from Detroit to Cleveland came out of nowhere during the 2019-20 mid-season trade deadline. Nobody expected the center to be dealt to the Cavaliers of all teams.
Since the trade, he wasn't able to compete against his former team, one that drafted him back in 2012, so watch out for this reunion, although a lot has changed in Detroit. In fact, the players acquired in the Drummond trade - Brandon Knight, John Henson, and 2023 second-round pick - aren't even on the Pistons roster anymore.
Feb. 4 vs. LA Clippers
The Clippers are trying to win championship(s) while the Cavaliers are trying to get out of the bottom of the East. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, so an easy Clippers win can be expected. This would be Tyronn Lue's first game as an opposing 'head coach' against this former team.
Chicago Bulls, TBD
Of the first eight picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, only two of the top eight selections were small forwards or 'wings' - Okoro for the Cavaliers and Patrick Williams (4th overall) for the Chicago Bulls. Although there would be plenty of other stars on the court when these two teams face-off, given that they play the same position to a certain extent, it would fun to see which top-five pick would outduel the other.
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