It appears that the Cleveland Cavaliers have learned their lesson in regards to being able to compete. The first time that the Cavaliers lost the services of small forward LeBron James in free agency came in 2010. And in the four years that James was with the Miami Heat, Cleveland sank into the abyss of the Eastern Conference which resulted in four consecutive years without a trip to the playoffs. The Cavs lucked out when James returned to Cleveland in 2014 which resulted in four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and one title.
Earlier this month James would once again leave Cleveland in free agency as this time around he decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers. But unlike it was eight years ago when James went to South Beach, the Cavaliers this time around appear to have a plan in place.
In last month’s NBA Draft, the Cavaliers only had one selection, and they made the most of it by taking point guard Collin Sexton. Initially the property of the Brooklyn Nets, the Cavaliers received this pick from the Boston Celtics last summer when they traded point guard Kyrie Irving, and now they might have themselves a new floor general. In one year at the University of Alabama, Sexton averaged 19.2 points per game en route to helping the school reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, while he was also named as the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year. Sexton was schooled by former NBA point guard Avery Johnson who was his head coach at Alabama, and although that he was selected eighth overall, he could be one of the steals of this draft.
In the Vegas Summer League earlier this month, Sexton averaged 19.6 points per contest, while he showed absolutely no fear in regards to banging with the big men in the lane in order to score as he has an innate ability to get to the basket.
Sexton is a prospect that will one day be the future of the Cavaliers franchise, but an even bigger move came yesterday when it was announced that power forward Kevin Love would be staying in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers acquired Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014, and although that he had to sacrifice his game in order to play alongside of James, he has still been a valuable member of this organization over the last four seasons. Love came to Cleveland as primarily a “back-to-the-basket” player who could score and clean up on the boards. However playing alongside James meant that Love was going to have to become more of a perimeter player, and he was able to wear the hat in order to win. But now with James in Los Angeles and Irving in Boston, Love will become the focal point of a team for the first since he left Minnesota.
The Cavaliers and Love agreed on a four-year extension for $120 million which caught me by surprise. Once James left Cleveland, I expected the Cavs to start over from scratch which would have meant trading Love in order to get more draft picks, but instead they are showing that they still want to compete in the Eastern Conference.
Love’s numbers for the upcoming NBA season should resemble his production during his final years with the Timberwolves when he was consistently at 25-point, 12-rebound contributor on a nightly basis. In 2011, Love led the NBA in rebounds per game with 15.2 as that, along with his championship experience will be vital for the Cavs in the upcoming season.
The Cavaliers ability to draft Sexton and maintain the services of Love falls into the lap of team general manager Koby Altman. Ever since Altman was promoted to the post of general manager for the Cavaliers last summer, he has shown that he is shrewd when it comes to making deals. The Cavs were able to trade an unhappy camper last summer in Irving which resulted in the draft pick which led to Sexton. This past season when things appeared to be getting away from the Cavaliers, Altman pulled off a string of trades that saw the team part with malcontents such as point guard Isaiah Thomas and small forward Jae Crowder, while they received an infusion of players who could compliment James’ skill set which included guards Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson as well as forward Larry Nance Jr. as they became vital role players in Cleveland making it back to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year. And now when most people expected the upcoming season to be a wash, Altman is showing that the Cavs will still be able to contend for a playoff spot.
With James out in Hollywood, nobody expects the Cavs to still be title contenders, but they have a tandem in Love and Sexton that can allow them to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference. And after four more successful years with James leading the way, the last thing that the Cavs could afford to do is to become irrelevant once again which doesn’t appear to be on the radar for them.