2021 Midseason report: Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA.com takes stock of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the first half of the 2020-21 season.
First half summary: Judged by record alone, the Cavaliers’ 14-22 first half might not seem so bad. In the jammed-up Eastern Conference that had them just 4.5 games out of fifth place, it represented a vast improvement over the 14-40 record they dragged into last year’s All-Star break. But there were eight teams bunched between Cleveland and fifth place this time. And for all their young talent, the Cavs have earned their bumpy season, mostly with the 10-game losing streak that chewed up the first three weeks of February.
The schedule was brutal, and injuries left coach J.B. Bickerstaff scrambling for lineups some nights. But his team pulled out of the 10-game skid by winning four in a row by an average of 7.8 points. Collin Sexton has been putting up scoring numbers not seen in Cleveland since LeBron James left. The third-year guard strung together a 10-game stretch heading into the break of 20 points or more, averaging 27.1 ppg while getting to the foul line 7.3 times night. The kiddie corps of Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Jarrett Allen, Dylan Windler and Lamar Stevens, by necessity more than by design, has been getting reps. Along with hard lessons.
Biggest question going into the second half: What happens with Andre Drummond? The talented big man has been rendered somewhat obsolete in today’s NBA, with his work down low out of whack in this 3-point world. The Cavs have shut him down, hoping to preserve him physically for a trade.
Is there a market for a dinosaur center who can still dominate the paint and get you extra possessions, with what’s left of his $28.7 million salary and an appetite for stats to earn his next payday? Maybe, if teams such as Brooklyn, Toronto, Charlotte, or either of the two L.A. teams get desperate. From the Cavs’ point of view, though, Drummond probably has played his last game for them, exiting either by trade or, after March 25, buyout.
Playoffs or lottery?: Lottery, which might not have as much appeal to a team already heavy with youth. But let’s be frank, Cleveland headed into the break ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 22nd defensively. They are taking baby steps in a variety of tangibles — like getting outscored by more than 10 points per game on 3-pointers, since they shoot the fewest in the NBA — and intangibles that young players need time and experience to learn.
Kevin Love is almost in the Drummond boat, unloadable if there is a market. But the Cavs’ future rests in the backcourt pieces in place, in Okoro as an anchor defensively and in time some help on the wings.
— Steve Aschburner