NBA

2019-20 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

By NBA.com Global on Oct 21, 2019 12:16 PM

FILE - CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 25: Jordan Clarkson #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers on February 25, 2019 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

This team will be celebrating its 50th season, by trying to ... hold up, scratch that. “Celebrating” isn’t quite the right word, considering the work ahead for the Cavaliers. They went into free fall last season, losing 31 more games than the season before, as well as the cachet that came from four consecutive trips to The Finals. The national media who routinely spent time in Cleveland were few and far between, and aren’t likely to be returning in numbers for another season or two as the rebuild continues.

ICYMI

Last year, LeBron James left Cleveland (again). This offseason, the biggest name to depart was coach Larry Drew, with whom the team “mutually agreed to part ways.” … In his place, the Cavaliers hired Michigan coach John Beilein, who is driven to test a career’s worth of skills -- and a lifetime’s worth of patience -- at the NBA level. … While the Cavs’ 19-63 finish tied them for the second-worst record in the NBA last season, the new lottery format landed them at No. 5 in the June Draft, where they snagged Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland. Zion who? … Cleveland also netted Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. that night in New York, with all three rookies penciled in for roles this season.

THREE POINTS

1. Two young point guards -- too many? Collin Sexton had a strong rookie season, one the Cavaliers organization touted to enough media voters to land him on the All-Rookie second team. So what do they do at the end of June? Draft another point guard in Garland. Some contend that the two can play together without hampering either player’s development. Others suggest Garland will emerge as the better option at the point and, if Sexton requires the ball in his hands, last year’s rookie might wind up with a new ZIP code.

2. Locker room's revolving doors. Among the many renovations of the-now Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse that would be nice would be a return to swinging, rather than revolving, doors to the locker room. The Cavs used 27 different players in 2018-19, one shy of the NBA record (Memphis, twice) and topped the league with 32 different starting lineups.

3. Time for a teacher, not a closer. Beilein is a respected coach who did marvelous work in his time at Michigan. He also is 66 years old and faces all the challenges that await basketball coaches who step directly from the NCAA to the NBA. That sort of move is toughest on teams with demonstrated stars, but Cleveland’s youth movement suggests Beilein will have the voice and authority his bosses are seeking.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Kevin Love, 31, finds himself in a familiar place as his up-and-down, herky-jerky career faces another challenge. Can the veteran power forward shift gears again after downshifting after the Finals runs and battling injuries last season? He is the only player in NBA history to average at least 10 rebounds while hitting more than 1,000 3-pointers, but all his 2018-19 stats were limited because he only appeared in 22 games. His four-year, $120 million extension is just kicking in and such limited production is a problem. He needs to find his old Minnesota self, at least long enough to entice some trade partners.

STARTING FIVE

Collin Sexton | 16.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.0 apg
Third rookie (Larry Bird, Stephen Curry) at 16.0 ppg on 40% 3FG, 80% FT.

Darius Garland | 16.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.6 apg (Vanderbilt)
Garland’s skills were on view for only five college games (meniscus tear).

Tristan Thompson | 10.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.0 apg
First time averaging double-double; finished fourth in NBA in offensive rebounding.

Kevin Love | 17.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.2 apg
Seventh season averaging double-double in 11-year career.

Cedi Osman | 13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg
Third biggest ppg increase (9.1) among NBA regulars

KEY RESERVES

Jordan Clarkson | 16.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Scored in double figures in 72 games, most by any NBA bench player.

Brandon Knight | 6.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
Still seeking fit at age 27, with fifth franchise in eight NBA seasons.

Larry Nance Jr. | 9.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
Eighteen double-doubles, knack for steals, ready for bigger role.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This looks like a season of modest expectations again for the Cavaliers. The franchise already was taking baby steps with young players, then added more. It didn’t help the atmosphere when owner Dan Gilbert suffered a stroke and the team’s longtime play-by-play man Fred McLeod died suddenly in September. So no, the Cavs’ 50th season won’t be something to celebrate. This is more like something to be grateful for. In the meantime, enjoy the development of the backcourt guys.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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