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Two days after the Regular Season wrapped up and one day after mutually agreeing to part company with Larry Drew, Cavs General Manger Koby Altman met with the media to recap what just went down and look ahead at an offseason of big decisions.
It was a transitional campaign for the reigning Eastern Conference Champs, who began the process of recalibrating their future this past season and, after what promises to be a seminal summer, will begin building their way back to contention next year.
Over the past four years, this Friday would be spent preparing for the Cavaliers’ First Round foe. Instead, it was a day that the Wine & Gold’s top decision maker discussed an offseason that’ll include a high Lottery pick as one of two first rounders in this year’s Draft – as well as a search for the man who will coach them.
The 2018-19 Season began with Tyronn Lue coaching Kyle Korver, Billy Preston and JR Smith. It ended with Larry Drew coaching Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight and Nik Stauskas – with stopovers along the way by Alec Burks, Cameron Payne and Patrick McCaw.
Matthew Dellavedova made his triumphant return in early December but spent the final 17 games on the shelf under the NBA’s concussion protocol. Fellow veterans Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love were very effective when healthy, but injuries limited the frontliners to just 65 combined appearances.
Larry Nance Jr. emerged as one of the team’s versatile young leaders and Jordan Clarkson established himself as one of the league’s premier sixth men.
Collin Sexton – the eighth overall pick in last June’s Draft – posted a second-half to his rookie season that ranked him among some of the top first-year players in franchise history as well as names like Larry Bird and Steph Curry.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the things Altman had to say and how it applies to the Wine & Gold’s past, present and future …
The Cavaliers’ hopes of competing for a fifth straight postseason appearance were quickly decimated by the injury bug, which took a bite out of the squad early – sidelining Kevin Love, who’d just signed an offseason extension the previous summer for the next 50 games, with a toe injury.
With Love down, Cleveland dropped its first six games – relieving Coach Tyronn Lue and naming Larry Drew head coach for the remainder of the season. The Cavs crushed Atlanta in their next game, but things didn’t get much better until they won a weekend back-to-back against Philly and Houston in late November.
Along the way, the team dealt Kyle Korver, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and George Hill, sent JR Smith home and flipped both of their two-way players. Matthew Dellavedova returned in a trade with Milwaukee to give the squad a lift, but at almost the same time Tristan Thompson – who’d previously set the franchise mark with 337 straight appearances – was sidelined with a foot injury that would linger for almost the entire rest of the season. John Henson, also acquired in the deal with Milwaukee, didn’t don the Wine & Gold all season long.
Injuries were a major factor for the Cavaliers all season as well.
Collin Sexton became the first rookie since Andre Miller to play in all 82 games. Jordan Clarkson suited up for 81 contests and Cedi Osman logged 76. But overall, the Cavs lost a combined 275 player games to injury, going with 32 different starting lineups – most in the NBA this season. This year, 27 different players suited up for the Wine & Gold.
But the injuries and losses took their toll down the stretch. The NBA schedule-makers didn’t do Cleveland any favors – sending them West for nine days in the final two weeks of the season – and the Wine & Gold limped the finish line, dropping their final 10 games.
At the end of it, the Cavaliers and Larry Drew chose to travel different paths.
"(Larry)’s time with us, it wasn't just this year, this is five years he's been with us -- four years of a Championship run," said Altman. "This was a great relationship that I personally had with LD and I'm very thankful to him for what he did this year, taking over a very difficult situation and turning into a largely positive situation.
"Yesterday, we had a good, healthy positive conversation. I think he understood our standpoint in terms of of us starting a search. And we understood his position, in terms of being a veteran coach and not wanting to be a part of that."
The final two contests doubled as a celebration of Channing Frye’s career as the respected veteran called it quits after 13 NBA seasons – finishing as the second-best three-point shooting big man in league history (behind only Dirk Nowitzki).
The Cavs head into the summer with Marquese Chriss and Nik Stauskas – as well as the team’s two-way guys, Deng Adel and Jaron Blossomgame – as unrestricted free agents. David Nwaba is a restricted free agent.
The Cavaliers were a veteran-heavy squad when the season started, but the youth movement began taking root after the first month.
The crown jewel of Cleveland’s turnaround was Collin Sexton – who jumped into the starting lineup on November 7 against Oklahoma City and never looked back.
After struggling to get past the “rookie wall” over the holidays, the light switch clicked on just before the All-Star Break – and the Young Bull went on to have a prolific first season, finishing in the Top 5 in his class in field goal, three-point and free throw percentage, games played as well as minutes, assists and points per game.
The former Alabama standout became just the third rookie – along with Larry Bird and Steph Curry – to average at least 16.0 points while shooting 40 percent from deep and 80 percent from the stripe, led all rookies this year with 73 double-figure scoring games and drilled 119 three-pointers this year, most ever by a Cavs rookie.
If the 20-year-old from Mableton, Georgia is somehow not named First Team All-Rookie, it would be a shamockery of the highest order.
Cleveland’s flashy freshman was outstanding this year, but the team’s sophomores weren’t bad either.
Cedi Osman upped his scoring average by over nine points this year (3.9 ppg – 13.0) – the third-highest increase in the NBA this year behind Pascal Siakam and Derrick Rose. Osman – the Wine & Gold’s lone representative at this year’s All-Star Weekend – posted four 20-point games after the All-Star Break and finished the season with four straight double-figure efforts.
Ante Zizic reached double-figures in four of his last five outings, getting 25 starts in his second season with Cleveland – doubling-up in five of those contests.
In terms of productive young big men, no one on the squad progressed more than Larry Nance Jr., who became one of the true leaders in both word and deed – finishing the season with seven straight double-digit rebounding games – averaging a double-double over that span – and doubling-up in each of his last four outings.
But what might be most impressive about Nance is his versatility. He might be the squad’s best pure passer and ran the “point forward” for Larry Drew on many occasions over the year. He led the team in rebounding 27 times, in assists 24 times, 37 times in steals and in blocks on 25 occasions.
Nance arrived in Cleveland two Trade Deadlines ago with Jordan Clarkson – who had a stellar season off the bench this year – eclipsing Campy Russell for most points by a Cavaliers reserve in a single season, averaging a career-best 16.8 ppg and tallying 72 games in double-figures - tops in the league.
Altman insisted that player development – continuing the growth of Cleveland’s young gun – will be a major factor in the head coaching search.
"Us setting that stage for the guys is a huge deal to me putting this together,” continued Altman. “But that's going to be a big part of who we bring in. It's going to be a big part of what they do. That's how we're going to grow this thing."
Kevin Love was limited to just 22 games, but he was his outstanding self when he was able to go – averaging a double-double for the seventh time in his 11-year career, finishing with 12 double-doubles.
Tristan Thompson – limited to just 43 games this year – averaged a double-double for the first time in his career (10.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg) while leading the team with 19 double-doubles, including a pair of 20-10 performances.
"The players deserve a lot of credit for this year; I'm very proud of their professionalism, even through a difficult year," said Altman. "(The atmosphere) wasn't wasn't heavy. lt was positive. There was a work ethic and we showed up to try to compete and win games. And I'm proud of that. So part of the rebuild is to make sure you have the right people on board for that. That's a big part of it."
The Cavaliers head into this offseason focused on the future.
They’ll have their Lottery pick – to be decided on Tuesday, May 14 – and Houston’s first rounder this year. The Cavs don’t have a second round pick this season, but will have plenty of those to play with in the near future.
Conditions will obviously apply, but from here the Wine & Gold have their own first rounder next year, theirs and Milwaukee’s in 2021 and their own first round pick through 2024.
In 2020, they’ll have Utah’s second rounder, theirs and Portland’s in 2021, theirs, Houston’s and Washington’s in 2022, theirs and Portland’s in 2023 and theirs and Miami’s in 2024.
Players who will be unrestricted free agents after next season include Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith. Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. are locked up through 2023.
Of course, one of the biggest pieces of the franchise’s future is who will become the 21st head coach in Cavaliers history.
The Cavaliers are a young, developing team and, over the years, have placed many assistants throughout the league. Koby Altman and his team could look to one of those young guns, turn towards the college ranks or possibly a former head man who’s currently unemployed.
"In terms of moving forward, I think it's important that we find a leader who’s in it for the long haul, who really wants to be a part of Cleveland, our city, and this team and can help us grow every day," explained Altman. "I think we have to be obsessed with the process of getting better and be not so much results-driven. And so that's the person I need to find."
The process begins today – beginning to build a brighter future as the offseason unfolds.