What didn’t kill the Cavs made them stronger.
In what Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman described as a development and evaluation year, he said there is a lot of optimism in the front office with where they are as a franchise. He said the amount of young talent and “incredible” moments the roster has shown this year showed how close they were to becoming a playoff contender.
Third-year guard Sexton shocked the NBA world when he scored 42 points in a Jan. 20th game against the Brooklyn Nets. He poured 20 straight points in 2OT to lift the Cavs over the Nets 147-135.
“We learned a lot this year,” Altman said. “Now, knowing that we know what some of these guys are capable of, we want to push them.”
Cleveland featured the second-youngest starting lineup in the NBA after trading for Jarrett Allen, with four of their five starters being 23 or younger. Forward Kevin Love, a 13-year veteran who spent seven years with the Cavaliers, was the only player over the age of 23.
Altman addressed what has been seen as a frustrating season for Love, who played just 25 games after being sidelined with several injuries. He said he had talked to Love about his body, his training regiment, and how to deal with the frustration he had felt throughout the season.
“(Love) knew he wasn’t 100%,” Altman said. “I think the frustration was a part of that: He wasn’t his old self physically. He knows this offseason is going to be more basketball, training, and getting in the gym and working on his craft.
“I think a lot of the time since he’s been in the league, he has been resting and recovering. He’s going to have to get back in the gym and work on his craft. That’s going to be the key for him.”
Altman said he had seen plenty of growth from the young core the Cavaliers have built since staple players like LeBron James left the organization. He noted the performances of players like second-year guard Darius Garland, who averaged 26 points per game two months ago. Sexton, who averaged 6.3 assists per game this month, had one of the best facilitating seasons of his career.
For Altman, there is still work to be done if Cleveland’s young roster is going to take the next step and become playoff contenders.
“You see the young teams in the playoffs right now have established veterans that are really helping those talented young pieces,” Altman said. “That has to be our next step. I think there’s a lot of that in-house, we just haven’t been healthy.”
The Cavaliers will enter next season with eight of their 16 listed roster players on contract, including four of their five starters, according to Spotrac. The team has the luxury of being able to work with a full mid-level exception, which translates to $9,258,000, according to hooprumors.com. With a full exception, the supplemental veterans Altman said the team desperately needs could be within reach as soon as this offseason.
The Cavs had addressed some of their issues on defense and on the boards with the addition of forward Isaac Okoro and trading for Jarrett Allen, but are still in desperate need of shoring up their interior defense, crashing the boards, and being more of a threat from the perimeter with taller, stronger 3-and-D forwards. Last year, the Cavs ranked 25th in the NBA in defensive rating (113.5), 28th in defensive rebounding (32.3), 28th in offensive rating (105.8), and 30th in 3-point percentage (33%), according to the NBA.
In my opinion, the Cavs could use their mid-level exception to sign players like Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker, players who could provide plenty of veteran experience while addressing Cleveland’s biggest needs.
An assortment of critical Cleveland pieces had difficulties staying on the floor due to injury concerns and roster adjustments. Not a single Cavalier managed to play in every game. Rookie forward Isaac Okoro led the team in games played with 67, missing just five of the possible 72 games during the season.
Altman said the team’s injury concerns should not go back to the team’s training staff, a team that he said was one of the hardest working units in the NBA.
“Our training staff did a remarkable job this season,” Altman said. “We missed the least amount of games due to COVID. It was an impossible situation, and I don’t want that to go unnoticed.”
“Playing 31 games in 63 days is not normal. I think we’ll be able to navigate [the Cavaliers’ injury concerns] much more next season because we have plenty of players with us that can help us out.”
Altman’s optimism continues despite the string of bad luck the team faced this season. The Cavaliers have the fifth highest odds (11.5%) of getting the No. 1 pick and a 45.1% chance of landing a top-4 pick in the NBA draft after the Oklahoma City Thunder won a tiebreaking coin flip over one week ago.
“We know this young, talented core has a really bright future ahead of them, and we’ll be adding another talented young man soon,” Altman said. “The future’s really bright.”
“We’re ready to take that next step. I don’t know quite what that looks like between free agency and the draft, but we’ll get better, and there are going to be some exciting basketball at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse next year.”
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