On top of that, over two minute-restricted games, it took only
11 minutes and 42 seconds combined for Love to find himself back on
the shelf with an injured calf. He has not played since he felt
discomfort in Atlanta. The team was as cautious with the
32-year-old’s original recovery process as it could be. Due to his
progression and a week-long All-Star break, it seemed to be the
right time to reimplement him into the fold. However, with just one
practice under his belt before hitting the floor, we soon found out
he wasn’t past it.
According to a Cavs team source, Love’s calf still "has to get
back to 100%." With the number of games left on the schedule,
Cleveland is committed to ensuring he gets to that point before
sending him out on the court again. As for when that will be, we
don’t have an answer yet.
"It's hard to tell,” the team source said. “There's days when he
feels great, there's workouts when he feels phenomenal, then
there'll be soreness the next day and it's like, it sucks. We've
gotta keep moving forward...He'll get to have some really
meaningful minutes in.
“Obviously, we'd love to have him back and see what it's gonna
look like with him on the floor and spacing. It's gonna be great
for Jarrett Allen, it's gonna be great for our guards (Sexton and
Darius Garland); he’s gonna give some pressure relief. That's
another thing -- those two guards have to create everything for us,
and Kevin is pressure relief. You throw the ball into him, and he
can create a lot of gravity. It's something we want to see happen,
but we realize, let's let this injury take its course...then, we'll
see what that looks like.”
Of course, when it rains, it pours. The day after Love exited
early in the loss against the Hawks, Twitter detectives noticed
that Sexton liked a tweet that said the
veteran big man “stole $120 million” from the Cavs, a reference to
his contract. Setting the platform abuzz, it spread like wildfire.
According to the team source, Sexton doesn’t use social media and
only has his account managers utilize it for sponsorships or
promotions. He didn’t know it happened in the first place, and once
he was informed, Sexton had his social team unlike the tweet and
addressed Love about the situation right away.
“That's just not Collin. It's an absolute non-story, but it did
happen,” the team source said. “He said, 'Look, this is a lesson.
I'm gonna be way more secure with my stuff and my passwords.’
That's actually a good lesson for who has access to your stuff,
who's checking your stuff. A lot of times, it's very innocent --
business associates' friends, who knows? He'll get better in that
space, but it certainly wasn't something that he meant to do or be
But a slip of somebody’s finger and another lengthy losing
streak didn’t stop the Cavs from staying at it. In a four-game
homestand, they went 2-2 with wins over the Boston Celtics and
Toronto Raptors, and suffered defeats at the hands of the San
Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings. (It should be noted that the
Western Conference is the culprit of the majority of the
shortcomings this season; Cleveland is 4-15 against those teams).
To say that there have been ebbs and flows in this campaign would
be selling it short.
Is that not to be expected, though? Take a step back for a
moment: the Cavs are starting four players on rookie-scale
contracts: Sexton, Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen. Each of
those players are 22 years old or younger, and every one of them
are considered a crucial piece of Cleveland’s established core from
this moment on. They’ve played 24 games -- 422 minutes of floor
time -- together to this point. The core four have spent more
moments on the floor in real-time NBA games than they have in
Individually, they have shown their own strides.
Garland is really finding his niche as a primary initiator.
Despite Tuesday’s outlier, the second-year point guard is averaging
17.4 points and 6.3 assists per game over the last month, and
shooting 41.3% from the perimeter in that span. Garland’s success
has been driven by his ability to change speeds off the dribble and
his knack for finding the open man. If a teammate has position in
the paint, he’ll fire a bullet with an underhand shovel pass. If he
draws two with the threat of a floater, he’ll toss it up for
somebody to throw it down.
Sexton is the most consistent player the Cavs have when it comes
to the scoring department. He is one of 15 players in the NBA who
boasts averages of at least 24 points per game on 47% from the
field or better. We know he can put the ball in the bucket; it’s
the secondary playmaking reads he’s making that have stood out
particularly this month. Knowing he commands the attention of
multiple defenders now, he’s been looking to spray out or, like
Garland, get the ball to his bigs for easier looks inside.
Understandably, it’s been taxing on him, and that shows on off
nights where Cleveland struggles.
Okoro is easily one of the top perimeter defenders that the team
has. He’s been tasked with guarding the opposition’s best players,
often All-Star caliber talents, and they’ve introduced him to what
life is like in the best basketball league in the world. In spite
of the ups and downs offensively, he’s shown a more aggressive side
as of late, unafraid to put it on the floor and making his presence
felt as an outlet in transition. Keep in mind that he hit the
ground running from the moment he was drafted -- no summer league,
a fast-tracked preseason and games coming quickly in a condensed
Allen is the newest cornerstone and injection of talent that the
Cavs were able to pry away from the Brooklyn Nets. He is a modern
big that surprisingly fell into their lap who is able to see things
before they happen on both ends of the floor. He’s a lob threat, a
relentless rebounder, solid screen-setter and a defensive deterrent
at the rim. He knows what he does well and sticks to it, although
he has teased his jump shot from time to time. Even being the
“oldest” of the core four, Allen is younger than New York Knicks
rookie Obi Toppin, and is in his fourth year in the
“We're asking a lot of them, but we're also trying to put them
in those adverse situations so they can grow because eventually,
they have to learn how to win games,” the team source said.
“Certainly that last stretch before the All-Star break, those young
guys were winning. They weren't propped up by any vets -- Larry
wasn't there, Kevin wasn't there, JaVale McGee helped a little bit
-- but it was like, them. Those are the situations we're
trying to put them in. You're gonna get a lot of roller-coaster
games, and weeks, that way."
(Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers)
Evaluating these four players, and the team as a whole, is not
an easy job when there’s been so many moving pieces and parts -- be
it through injuries or transactions. You can look at the positives
of the moment: those four establishing a relationship, Nance being
the glue guy that he is, Dean Wade, Dylan Windler and Lamar Stevens
making legitimate cases to be nightly rotational pieces.
The negatives are apparent. Cedi Osman has been struggling
mightily and is reportedly available. Taurean Prince hasn't been
able to stay on the floor. Damyean Dotson's minutes have been
inconsistent. There’s only a day left to find a trade partner (or
two) for Andre Drummond. Love’s injuries seem to be lingering.
The 16-27 record itself isn’t pleasing to the naked eye, neither
are the offensive ruts, and a lot of that has to do with the
defensive adjustments opponents are making.
“People are starting to guard us a little different,” the team
source said. “Collin's getting all sorts of different respect, from
even back at the Indiana game with the box-and-one. They're jumping
the ball and putting two on the ball, so we're trying to figure out
how to play that way. I think a lot of the teams are trying to take
him out and say, 'Beat me with other guys.' So it's a great
challenge, that means they respect him, but we've gotta figure out
different ways to score."
We’d be remiss to ignore that Cleveland won just 19 games a
season ago; they’re three away from that mark with plenty of games
left to go. According to the team source, the franchise is pleased
with how Coach Bickerstaff has developed the young pieces and
handled the bad breaks that the Cavs have dealt with.
This team is still in the process of building a team culture and
environment. Cleveland’s front office is always assessing its
players and coaches as the organization, and the organization will
continue to assemble parts to add to the foundation in place.
Sexton, Garland and Okoro were picked in the last three drafts.
They were selected eighth, fifth and fifth, respectively. By now,
general manager Koby Altman probably gets the memo that he and the
franchise can’t bank on lottery luck to turn things around at the
drop of a hat.
To this point, with where they’ve picked and the players they’ve
picked, the grade is incomplete. You can easily argue that Sexton
has outperformed where he was taken, and Garland is finding his
stride. Okoro has 38 professional games under his belt. We won’t
know what it truly looks like with this small of a sample size,
especially considering the fact they’re all going to represent the
Cavs -- now and in the future.
Cleveland will keep adding, always looking for more size and
athleticism. This upcoming 2021 NBA Draft class is stacked with
talent, from G League Ignite standouts such as Jalen Green and
Jonathan Kuminga, to college phenoms like Cade Cunningham and Jalen
Suggs. It’s wishful thinking that the Cavs could land one of these
prospects or another young talent to bolster their ever-growing
roster, but you can’t depend on ping pong balls. Just look at the
last three years as an example.
So as the games keep coming -- 29 in 53 days -- the goal is the
same as it was when the season started: positive momentum and
taking a step forward. And no, it’s not always going to be sunshine
“We're gonna have some unbelievable runs, and then we're also
gonna have some low moments where it's like, we're still very young
and figuring it out,” the team source said. “There'll be peaks and
valleys where it's like, 'Wait a second guys, you might not wanna
win too much more' vs. 'Damn, they look terrible there in those
four games.' It's a delicate balance, but we’re pretty happy with
where we are in terms of our young talent.”
When LeBron James left for Los Angeles, the cupboard was empty.
Assets were non-existent, contracts were heavy and youth was at a
premium. The one prize Cleveland had was the Nets pick, and that
turned into Sexton. From that moment on, over the last
two-and-a-half years, the Cavs have refilled that cupboard with
young players and draft picks, and they’ve still got a ways to go.
It’s been a methodical, prolonged approach, but the team source
says the organization is happy with where it is and the direction
it is heading in.
“All we can keep doing is keep moving forward at our pace,” the
team source said. “There’s no shortcuts.”