After Nine Months Off the Court, The Cavs Are Back. Can They Get Your Attention?
After nine months away from the court, the Cleveland Cavaliers return Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets. The team has been sidelined since the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to shut down in March. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the team needs to find some stability after years of turnover.
A long wait
Cleveland fans haven't seen the Cavs in action since early March. They were 19-46 when the season was halted due to the pandemic, so they weren't invited to the NBA's restart dubbed the Orlando Bubble.
"It's like the virus came and it wiped out the NBA here because the Cavs disappeared," Pluto said.
For Pluto — and likely many fans — the team has been an afterthought. NBA free agency came quietly two months ago and the draft, in which the Cavs had the fifth overall pick, was a downsized event due to the pandemic. They selected Auburn's Isaac Okoro, who Pluto says will likely get lots of playing time this season.
The coaching carousel
After nine months away, Pluto said he needed a refresher course on the roster and the coach.
"It took me a minute to remember J.B. Bickerstaff, given the fact they've had four coaches in the past two years," Pluto said.
A year ago, John Beilein was the head coach of the Cavaliers. He resigned at the All-Star break. "He quit, realizing he was a bad fit in the NBA," Pluto said.
Bickerstaff was promoted and the team played 11 games before the March shutdown. Prior to that, Tyronn Lue was fired a few games into the 2018-2019 campaign and replaced by Larry Drew on an interim basis.
"Come February or March, they have a chance to get people's attention if they're playing reasonably well."
Of the returning and incoming cast, there are quite a few players to like and keep an eye on, Pluto said.
"I like Collin Sexton a lot, he averaged 20 points per game last year. Kevin Love is back, but is dealing with a calf injury and over the last four years, has missed almost one-third of the games with a variety of injuries," Pluto said.
Pluto also likes Larry Nance Jr., the Akron native who the team acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers at the 2018 trade deadline, the 2020 No. 5 overall pick small forward Isaac Okoro, and last year's trade deadline acquisition, center Andre Drummond.
"But they don't have a point guard. They took a young guy named Darius Garland [in the 2019 draft] who has really struggled."
A need for stability to re-engage fans
Pluto says what the Cavs need most is some stability.
"You can't keep changing things, and that actually has kind of been the pattern except for when LeBron [James] was there," Pluto said.
Pluto says the team will likely get off to a slow start, and he's interested to see how fans will respond in the TV ratings. They'll also be competing for attention against the 10-4 Cleveland Browns, who are making a playoff push for the first time since 2002.
"The Cavs, meanwhile, are stuck over in the corner starting to play some basketball. Come February or March, they have a chance to get people's attention if they're playing reasonably well. Can they be entertaining? I hope so," he said.
There won't be any fans in the stands at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, at least for now. Pandemic state guidelines limit arenas to 300 fans, or 15% capacity. The Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse have applied for a variance to allow for more fans but say discussions with the state are ongoing.
In the meantime, Pluto has less of a sense of what the 2020-2021 Cavs are going to do.
"If I just thought they were going to be flat-out awful, weren't going to win any games, I would say that. So, I don't believe that, but after that, I don't know what to think."
Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic
The Cavs are set to play a 72-game season, but there are a lot of unknowns with the coronavirus pandemic.
"In football you have so many players, so if many of your players have the virus, you can still play. But in the NBA, you have basically 15 guys and 12 active. If three or four of your guys get the virus and are shut down for two weeks, I don't know what that does to your team. So that will be something they'll have to figure out," Pluto said.