Cleveland Cavaliers: Steps to Contention

Cleveland Cavaliers' Collin Sexton

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the midst of their second rebuild following a LeBron James departure. To their credit, it’s not easy to remain competitive when you lose arguably the top player in the league. With that being said, there is a decent mix of both young and veteran talent on the roster. They’re a few key moves away from becoming a potential playoff team once again.

How the Cleveland Cavaliers can Improve

Step One: Allow the Young Guards to Grow

It’s unlikely the Cavaliers vault themselves into the playoff conversation as soon as next season. Playing with light expectations should work to their favor, however, as their crop of three young guards can continue to grow.

The list starts with Collin Sexton. He’s already a very talented scorer but grew as a passer and facilitator this season. His stat line of 21 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game is very impressive for a 21-year-old in his sophomore season. He’s growing in efficiency as well, as he shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, and 85 percent from the charity stripe. If he can work his way up to averaging close to 23 points and 5 assists per game next season, he’ll begin to show potential as a possible fringe All-Star.

Cleveland used their fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft on Darius Garland coming out of Vanderbilt. Expectations for year one were low, as Garland barely played in college due to injury, so his first season was a learning one. With that being the case, he still managed to average 12 points and 4 assists per game. Now that he’s becoming healthy and adjusting to NBA speed, Garland can improve his efficiency as a scorer and his facilitating.

Picking up Kevin Porter Jr. at the end of the 2019 NBA Draft’s first round is already proving to be a steal for the Cavaliers. Porter Jr. is a natural scorer, and he has real sixth-man potential. Having him come off the bench for Sexton creates a dynamic shooting guard duo for Cleveland. He needs to improve his shooting, but time is in his favor, Porter Jr. is only 20.

Internal growth for this trio is key to the Cavaliers’ improvement.

Step Two: Explore Kevin Love Trades

Kevin Love is on a different timeline than the Cleveland Cavaliers. He signed a major extension in 2019 and is better suited to play that out for a current contender. Freeing up his contract for future cap space is a wise move.

Love is still a very valuable piece. This season he put up averages of 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. His shooting splits remain strong, and despite the fact that his prime is nearing its end, Love can certainly be a viable third option on a championship contender.

One team that’s always mentioned in rumors about a Love trade is the Portland Trail Blazers. This makes sense for multiple reasons. First of all, Portland has one of the league’s stars in Damian Lillard. Their window remains open as long as he is in his prime, so they have to surround him with talent. Portland has Zach Collins at power forward, but he struggles with injury. Although a solid player, having Love over him for a couple of seasons will bode well for the Trail Blazers. They’re also going to have some space on their roster freed up wth Hassan Whiteside becoming a free agent.

A trade involving Portland sending Trevor Ariza and one of Wenyen Gabriel or Nassir Little for Love is a solid trade for both teams. In this trade, Cleveland receives an expiring contract in Ariza. They can let him stay on the roster as an experienced veteran, or eventually flip him to a contender for more assets. Gabriel or Little will be a piece for the future.

Gabriel is a tough and energetic power forward, while Little is a small-forward who still has untapped potential. More freedom and time in Cleveland would allow one of these forwards to blossom.

Step Three: Bring Obi Toppin to the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers hold the fifth overall pick in the draft once again. With plenty of young guard play available, Cleveland needs to shift its focus to the frontcourt. In addition, if they choose to move Love, then selecting a power forward is the way to go.

Obi Toppin is the best power forward in the draft. The reigning Naismith Award winner looks ready to immediately contribute in the pros.

First of all, Toppin is a major pick-and-roll threat. This makes him a strong fit alongside Cleveland’s guards. He can explosively roll to the basket and is a major lob threat. If not, he can be freed up as he’s a very solid spot-up shooter as well. All in all, he has a very polished game for a young power forward. Many comparisons draw him up to Amar’e Stoudemire, and although that’s a high ceiling, it’s not hard to see why.

He’s also a great shot-blocker and weak-side defender. He’s not going to be an All-Defensive player, but he also won’t disappoint on that end.

The only “issue” surrounding Toppin is his age. He’s already 22-years-old, so some question how much more he can grow. He’s already NBA-ready, however, and becoming a second or at least third option on a team is decent value for the fifth pick.

He also played his college ball at Dayton University in Ohio, so Cleveland fans will welcome a “home-grown” talent.

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