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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Cleveland Cavaliers

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Let's get to it!

Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46, 15th place Eastern Conference)

Good Things

  1. One year closer to salary-cap freedom

The Cavs have the 11th highest payroll in the league. They have the 15th best record in their conference. This is less than ideal. The contracts of Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova (combined $29 mill) expire this summer. Andre Drummond will probably opt into the last year of his contract ($28.7 mill) but he and Dante Exum ($9.6 mill) go into the season as expiring contracts. Kevin Love will almost certainly be dealt this summer as well. So at least they won’t be bad and expensive. Baby steps.

     2. THE SEX MAN

In season two, Collin Sexton improved his 2P FG%, showed his shot from 3P is legit, got to the FT line more, turned the ball over less and went from godawful to slightly less godawful (513/514th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, 430/503rd in DRPM this season). The fact that his defensive effort increased along with his offensive input is encouraging. If his offense keeps improving, he just needs to show he can be passable defensively and he’s on his way. He also gets the benefit of the doubt for enduring shitshows in each of his first two seasons (being called out by veterans last season, whatever the hell happened with Beilein this season). He may not ever develop into a primary creator on offense, but there’s something there.

     3. The cupboard is….less bare

Sexton is 21. Darius Garland had an up-and-down rookie season but he’s 20 and had the first NBA coach he ever had, call him a "slug". Kevin Porter Jr showed flashes and Dylan Windler looks to be healthy next season. Drummond is no great shakes but he’s worth the gamble for the price they paid for him. He’s 26 and they get a free look at him to see if he can be extended at a decent number. Larry Nance Jr has developed into a versatile defender that can hit a three, and Cedi Osman is a rotation wing player, at worse. 

Between 2022 and 2024, they will receive a first-round pick from Milwaukee and they own their own pick every other season. This year, they had the second-best draft odds and a 52.1% chance of adding a top-four pick.

Bad Things

  1. What a shit year of a rebuild

Garland did have an up-and-down season as aforementioned, but it was a lot more downs than ups. He finished 195/199th in PER and dead last (503/503rd) in Real Plus-Minus. Windler didn’t play a single minute due to injury. The John Beilein experiment was a roaring failure. And they’re projected to have a top pick in a draft low on potential superstar talent

     2. Sat too long on assets

They did well to get a couple of second-round picks for Jordan Clarkson. While they may be able to work a sign-and-trade for Tristan Thompson, he has the right to walk unrestricted after a career offensive year. The K. Love situation was an embarrassment all year for both sides. Last summer, it seemed like the Grizzlies sat too long on Mike Conley before they flipped him to Utah but they got a nice haul for him (Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, and two first-round picks). The Cavs may still make out decently for Love, but they could have picked up a couple of future assets by moving Thompson and Loving much sooner.

3. Zero identity

Cleveland finished 25th in Offensive Rating and 29th in Defensive Rating. They were 20th in pace and turned the ball over more than any team in the league. No one shot 40% from 3P on this team and not a single person averaged four assists per game. In an era of positionless basketball, they still managed to fuck it up by mostly playing two "point" guards and upwards of three "bigs" when other teams go with one. Nothing wrong with being different if it works. It didn't work.

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

  1. Kevin Love has to go

Lost in the mess of a season he and the team had, was the fact that Kevin Love had a pretty good season (18/10/3 on 45/37/85 shooting). There’s still a valuable player there despite the massive contract (3 years, $90 mill remaining), openly quitting on plays and yelling at management. The contract is steep but we see bad contracts get traded every single year. Cleveland won’t get a haul for Love, but they should have some interest when trade season kicks back up. My suggestions? I’m glad you asked:

 -Charlotte- The Hornets couldn’t get someone like Love to sign with them so they’d be happy to trade for him. Batum (last year of his deal), Malik Monk (17 ppg off the bench in Feb. before suspension) and pick #32 (Conveniently enough, Cleveland’s own pick originally) for Kevin Love. The Hornets (29th in ORTG, t-21st in team 3P%) get a boost to both, while the Hornets get to waive Batum, take a flier on Monk and get the first pick of the second round. Even steven.

-Miami- Love would slide into the minutes currently occupied by Meyers Leonard/Kelly Olynyk. Cleveland would receive Olynyk/#23 pick in the draft this year in exchange for sending Love to Miami. Love could slide into the cap space created by the expiring contracts of Leonard/Dragic/Crowder/Hill. The Heat may hesitate here because this would tie up their longterm cap space, but if Giannis commits to staying in Milwaukee, they may not be as cautious.

Portland- Love back to Oregon, where he played his HS ball, has been long rumored. With Hasaan Whiteside’s contract expiring, Love could slide right into that spot in Portland’s salary cap on a draft-night trade. With Melo a free agent, Love walks right into those minutes at PF. Portland sends back Trevor Ariza/Rodney Hood and either Nassir Little or the 14th pick in this year's draft.

     2. Let JB Bickerstaff cook

In 2018-19, Bickerstaff led a terrible Grizzlies team to the 9th best defense in the league with half a season of Marc Gasol and a rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. This season, the Cavs went 5-6 after he took over (with wins over the Heat, 76ers, and Nugget. Bickerstaff has only taken over for fired coaches (Houston-Mchale, Memphis-Fizdale, Cleveland-Beilein) so I’m hoping the Cavs give him an honest shot. The team is 25th in ORTG/29th in DRTG on the season but were 18th in ORTG/17th in DRTG since Bickerstaff took over. Competitively bad is the best you can ask for in an all-out tank.

     3. Draft for talent over need

The Cavs don't have enough talent to justify drafting for need over talent at this point. They're projected to have the #2 pick in the draft, and if they deem Lamelo Ball the best pick, they should take him. The fact that they will have used the last three first-rounders on ballhandlers is irrelevant. If you think he projects to be the best player, you take him and figure out what to do with Sexton and Garland later. Similarly, if they deem James Wiseman to be the best prospect, they should take him without regard to Drummond's contract status. They don't have the luxury of being picky yet.

Protected Players

1. Collin Sexton

2. Darius Garland

3. Kevin Porter Jr

4. Dylan Windler

5. Larry Nance Jr

6. Andre Drummond

7. Cedi Osman

8. Alfonzo McKinnie

Thoughts: The first four are their last two draft classes. Nance/Osman/McKinnie have been extended on reasonable contracts. they just traded for Drummond, so no reason to give up him yet.

Unprotected Players

1. Kevin Love

2. Dante Exum

Thoughts: The beauty of the expansion draft, is that teams can work out agreements with other teams to draft certain players for future compensation. The Cavs could leave Love unprotected and make an agreement to send a first-rounder to the expansion team for their troubles. They hope someone takes a chance on Exum.

Ineligible Players

1. Tristan Thompson

2. Ante Zizic

3. Matthew Dellavedova

Thoughts: Each is an unrestricted FA, and thus ineligible to be drafted.