The Young Cavs Are Showing Promise While Still Searching for a Winning Record
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been showing signs of promise, but the team is on its way to another losing season. As of Wednesday, they’re 19-34 with fewer than 20 games left on the schedule.
One team with LeBron, one team without
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the last time the Cavs have had a winning record without LeBron James was the 1997-98 season.
"Since then, they've had 12 seasons where they didn't have LeBron, and they're all losing records. So it's like they're really one franchise with LeBron and a pretty dismal franchise without LeBron," Pluto said.
This is the third year without the superstar in the lineup.
"One of the things they say in the NBA is, 'You either have the guy or you don't.' It lifts your franchise up," Pluto said. "So that's part of the problem for the Cavs. They are trying to develop their stars, but they don't have them yet."
Four coaches in less than three years
Pluto says the other problem is a lack of stability.
"You need a general manager and a coach in this together on a tough rebuilding process," Pluto said.
"It's like they're really one franchise with LeBron and a pretty dismal franchise without LeBron."
The Cavs been through four coaches in less than three years: Tyronn Lue, Larry Drew, John Beilein and now the current coach, J.B. Bickerstaff.
In March 2020, the team gave Bickerstaff a contract extension that will take him through the 2023-24 season.
Young players showing promise
The Cavs starting lineup is the second-youngest in the NBA, featuring Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro, who are all under the age of 22.
Pluto says he's been impressed by how 2018 draft pick Sexton has developed despite playing under four coaches in less than 3 years.
"He's continued to improve his game despite the constant changes. He's averaging 24 points a game [and] every year he's gotten better," he said.
Pluto says it's difficult to build a team when most of the new players are signed as teenagers.
"And that's why that's so many of these teams, when you take these 19-year-olds, you have to be patient and wait for them. But for Cavs fans, this has been hard," he said.
Veteran players sidelined, and a suggestion
And Pluto says the veteran players around them have been plagued by injuries. Kevin Love has been out of this season with calf muscle problems. In the past three seasons, Love has played only 86 games and missed 112. Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr. have been sidelined since late March but have resumed limited basketball activities this week.
And Pluto says he has a suggestion for team owner Dan Gilbert.
"Next year I would sit down my general manager and my coach and say, 'We need to win some games. We are also in the entertainment business. Let's see what we can do to get some players in here to stabilize the situation,'" Pluto said.
Cavs vs. Indians
Overall, the Cavs get much less criticism from fans than the Cleveland Indians do when it comes to trading or parting ways with star players or missing the playoffs.
"Two reasons: Dan Gilbert won a title with LeBron. I always thought if the Dolans won that 2016 World Series, it changes the whole dynamic. Number two, the NBA has a salary cap, and Dan Gilbert has been willing to go over it. But it's not like in baseball where the Yankees spend four times as much as the Indians. You don't get that stuff," Pluto said.
Still, Pluto says the Indians are the much more stable franchise.
"If you look at the body of work, the Cavs are good with LeBron, and when they don't have LeBron, they're not good," he said. "Where the Indians have gone through trading Cy Young Award winners and everything else, and they're still competitive and they're probably going to be competitive again this year."
As for the Cavs, Pluto says the key to finding that stability is patience.