February 26, 2024

How Should The Cavs Finish Out This Season?


The Cleveland Cavaliers have been truly terrible this season. At the All-Star Break, they sit at 12-46, good enough for only the 14th-best record in the Eastern Conference. The way the season has panned out thus far is the nightmare possibility that first took root in the minds of Cavs fans on July 1 of last year, a date only rivaling July 8, 2010 in terms of sadness. Those are the two dates on which LeBron James announced his plans to move on from Cleveland via free agency and leave the Cavaliers struggling to figure out what to do next.

After LeBron took his talents to South Beach in 2010, the Cavs were completely unable to fill the hole on the team he left behind. Despite owner Dan Gilbert’s scornful letter promising that the Cavaliers would win an NBA Championship “before the self-titled former ‘King,’” the post-LeBron Cavs perpetually dwelled at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings until the moment James returned in 2014.

When LeBron left again in 2018, some were optimistic that Cleveland had enough talent on the roster to be able to compete for a playoff spot. However, many more fans feared the Cavs would descend into obscurity once more.

Now that they are only bested by the lowly New York Knicks for the title of worst team in the East, a fair question can be asked: What can the Cavs do for the rest of the season to maximize their chances of winning another championship at some point? That should be the ultimate goal in the minds of every serious NBA fan. 

So how do the Cavs give themselves the best chance of tasting that culminating victory like they did in 2016?

Larry Drew & Jordan Clarkson

In the case of most major pro sports teams, a rule of thumb front offices have generally followed in recent years has been the “all or nothing” approach. This is the idea that if a team is not directly competing for a championship and isn’t showing signs of improvement, the front office should blow up the entire thing and start over with a complete rebuild.

Is that what the Cavs are doing?

Well, sort of. They entered the season clamoring from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena that this wasn’t a rebuild, despite the fact that the 6’8” forward out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio who’d been almost single-handedly powering the team to wins was now gone. But then the Cavs lost their first six games, Tyronn Lue was quickly dismissed, and the season was already all-but lost. Kyle Korver was traded around Thanksgiving, George Hill was shipped out as well, and Rodney Hood departed for the Portland Trail Blazers.

These are the kinds of moves a team would make to supplement the main deals they made to begin the process of rebuilding their roster with solid, young players. But they wouldn’t be the only deals. If the Cavs were wholly intent on starting from scratch, they would have moved on from Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith. Granted, Smith is not exactly a desirable piece for other organizations to acquire; nonetheless, a team trying to make noticeable progress for the future would find a way to get Smith off the roster. Even if general manager Koby Altman were unable to find a trade partner to take Smith, cutting him from the roster would create another spot on the depth chart for a fresh-faced shooter or defender to take.

As for the other two, moving them would be a little easier, given their more team-friendly attitudes, year(s) left on their contracts and relative ability to play professional basketball at a high level. For whatever reason though, they remained in wine and gold after the February 7 trade deadline. 

Some members of the Cleveland sports media questioned the moves the Cavs made at the deadline. But what about the moves they didn’t make?

If the best plan moving forward for the Cavaliers is to tank for the rest of the season in an effort to draft highly-touted prospect Zion Williamson out of Duke, why are Love and Thompson still on the team? Their presence will only complicate matters. The goal, as fans generally seem to agree upon, is to lose as many games as possible this year. That’s what people are saying, and there’s a lot of sense behind that argument. The more games the Cavs lose, the more balls they’ll have in the draft lottery, and the better chance they’ll have of nabbing Williamson. 

Conversely, if the Cavs fool around and end up winning over 20 games, which is the absolute ceiling for this season, they’ll only be hurting themselves. The playoffs are already way out of reach. Kevin Love is a nice guy to have around–a great player and role model–but is he really making a substantial difference in attendance? And even if he is, isn’t it worth it to take that hit of low attendance figures now, if it means figures go through the roof in a few years?

These are the questions Cavs fans have had to ask themselves since LeBron left again, even though Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman run the team as if those thoughts haven’t even crossed their minds. Much to the chagrin of many of the Cavalier faithful, they elected to keep Love and Thompson around through the end of the year, favoring a slight short-term upgrade over a long-term solution.

Of course, this is nothing new. Cavalier ownership has never even been good, let alone great. Mismanagement and resentment have cost Cleveland some star players over the years, most notably Number 23. As a team in Northeast Ohio, the Cavs are already at a disadvantage in the eyes of the outside world. They perceive this area as cold, boring, depressing and dangerous. We need excellent ownership to help smooth over those rough patches for prospective free agent signees. But instead, Dan Gilbert has repeatedly shot himself in the foot. And by riding Love and Thompson out through at least the end of the season, it appears the man has done it again.

What does Larry Drew do in this situation? Does he play the best players he has and aim for the highest amount of victories possible, or does he sit anyone with good statistics and roll out a bunch of scrubs? With his future in Cleveland up in the air, it would probably be in Drew’s best interest to follow whatever orders Gilbert gives him. But if he wants to truly help this fanbase overcome a misguided owner, Drew should sit Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., etc.–anyone who could feasibly cause the Cavs to win games. It might cost him his head coaching job, but if he really followed through and stuck it to Dan Gilbert, Larry Drew would become an instant Cleveland sports legend.

So what do the Cavs do from here? The smartest course of action for them would be to tank, to intentionally lose through the last game of the season.

But what will they do? 

They’ll probably mess around and get about 20 wins.

Let’s just hope we get lucky in the lottery again.

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