Opening a New Chapter

Opening a New Chapter

Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman Discusses the Upcoming Season

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
9/26/18 | Cavs.com

Nobody said an NBA General Manager job is supposed to be easy, but for the Wine & Gold’s decision-maker, Koby Altman, it’s been almost a steady calendar year of challenges.

After assuming the job last summer, Altman has had to work around two high-level player departures and position his franchise for the future. Only four players – Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Channing Frye – remain from the 2016 Championship team. (Although Frye was dealt to the Lakers late last year before re-signing this offseason.) But Altman and Co. contend that the Cavaliers will remain competitive this season – adding young blood to the team’s core, including the 8th overall pick this past June.

In his first summer on the job, Altman was tasked with trading Kyrie Irving – dealing him to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 first rounder. Two pieces of that deal – Thomas and Crowder – never found their way in Cleveland and were dealt at the Deadline. The 21-year-old Zizic, however, looks to be a solid rotational big man and that Brooklyn pick turned out to be Collin Sexton – who’ll push George Hill for the starter’s spot over the next couple weeks.

Last year’s Deadline deal produced potential starters Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. and the league’s second-highest bench scorer, Jordan Clarkson. Of those five players – Sexton, Nance, Clarkson, Hood, and Zizic – Clarkson is the oldest at age 26.

This summer, the Cavaliers saw LeBron James leave via free agency for the second time in his career. Unlike his earlier exodus, the Wine & Gold were prepared for the possibility, and while his presence will certainly be missed, the franchise is still on solid footing. And Cleveland’s brass re-affirmed that position this summer – inking five-time All-Star Kevin Love to a contract extension that’ll keep him in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.

A native of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the 36-year-old Altman’s earliest basketball memory was hearing his mom go nuts when the Knicks won the NBA’s first-ever Draft lottery. It’s been a hoops life for Altman ever since – from his days as a point guard in Bensonhurst to a prestigious scholarship to Middlebury College to positions with Team USA’s Gold-medal winning U-19 squad and Columbia University (with a three-year stint in Manhattan real estate sales in-between).

On Monday afternoon in Independence, Altman worked the floor of Cleveland Clinic Courts – ready to tip off a Training Camp with a squad mixed with eager young guns and accomplished veterans.

It’s been a busy 14 months for the Wine & Gold’s GM, but Cavs.com managed to slow him down for a minute to talk about what we can expect from a team about to enter its next chapter …

Kobe Altman and Larry Nance Jr. before a postseason contest last spring.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Aside from Kevin Love, every position is an open competition heading into Training Camp. Is that a good thing?

Koby Altman: I think that's really healthy for this organization. I think Coach Lue is going to put everybody in a position to compete for those spots.

We're younger, we're athletic, we're talented. And I think we're deep.

So, to have healthy competition at practice is going to be really good, and it's going to get us in shape to play well right out the gate. We want to play fast and we want to play up-tempo.

It’s been a while since the Cavs have had a high first rounder. How impressed have you been with Collin Sexton? And could undrafted Billy Preston be a hidden gem?

Altman: Well, what's great is that we got to see them both a little bit in Summer League. And you saw the attitude, the work ethic.

Collin has a "meanness" to him, he wants to compete. He's the sweetest kid off the floor! But on the floor, that kid wants to compete! And so we're excited to be able to grow with him. And I think the city is excited to grow with him as he evolves and learns how to play.

And then Billy, he has a chance to grow with us as well. He's super talented, a 6-10 kid. Athletic.

I think when two-ways (two-way contracts with the NBA & G-League) were adopted, it was built for guys like Billy to go over (to Canton) and learn and develop.

"We've had a lot of success here and I wanted to build off of that. And those veterans will help us as we start this new chapter."

Cavs GM Koby Altman

With Kevin Love signing an extension this summer, what are your expectations for him moving forward?

Altman: I think we'll get the best version of Kevin we've ever seen.

Obviously, the talent-level that came with him from Minnesota and that level of production. But the last four years, he's learned how to win and he's been around the best leader in the world. He's also had to make the biggest sacrifice during those years.

And now he's the number one option.

So, add all of that to the mix, as well as the fact that he's had an amazing offseason with his body and his work ethic and add the fact that he's been in a winning culture for four years and won a Championship and I think you’re going to see the best version of Kevin that we've seen.

What’s the challenge this year in trying to balance winning games while still developing young talent?

Altman: I actually think what's great about our situation: that we have veterans that help us compete now and we have youth that we want to develop through meaningful games. It works together.

You know -- what will it be like for Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman to try to close out a fourth quarter together? That's big for their development. Not just off-the-floor stuff, in terms of shooting and working on their game. We're talking about in-game development and playing meaningful games.

We're ready to put them out there in that atmosphere with the crowd going nuts -- trying to win. And to us, that's going to be huge for their development.

What are your expectations from the veterans who’ve been here through the past four runs to the Finals?

Altman: I think everyone has a level of enthusiasm and excitement. It's amazing and you can feel that in the building.

And for us, I didn't want to just throw away the last four years, in terms of the culture that we've built, the winning culture that we have. So it was important for us to keep those guys around so they can keep that culture with us in terms of winning.

We've had a lot of success here and I wanted to build off of that. And those veterans will help us as we start this new chapter.

So about the starting small forward spot …

Altman: (Laughs) Yeah, there’s some opportunity there!

No, I really think that Cedi Osman has had a monster summer. Playing overseas. Working on his body. He's playing with a level of confidence – and there's a void at that position right now that we need to fill. We like dynamic wings that can play both sides of the ball, have enthusiasm, excitement and play hard. And Cedi fits the bill on all those things.

So we're excited to see him step up and have a lot more minutes this year and contribute to winning.

How critical is an up-tempo style this season?

Altman: Coach Lue is going to instill this right away, this week.

We're gonna fly that thing up the floor. We're going to have guys at every position that can rebound and push. And with Kevin, who's one of the best outlet passers in the game, everyone is going to be able to rebound and push that thing. We want to get easy transition buckets and get out and play fast.

We want to play up-tempo, we want to play fast.

And then in the half-court we still want good movement -- bodies and the ball. And we still want to take a lot of three-balls.

But we want to be up-tempo, exciting, athletic and dynamic. And I think we're in for a fun year.