Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2021-22 NBA season has come to an conclusion, it’s time to look back at the season in a holistic view while also looking toward the future.
Tea Cavs‘ season ended Friday with a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In Tournament. Koby Altman, the Cavs’ president of basketball operations, spoke to the media on Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts to share his thoughts on what the offseason holds. He also explained why balancing a short-term and long-term mindset is crucial to helping the Cavs improve next season, and in the future.
“I’m still a little heartsick, to be honest with you,” Altman said when opening his press conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s hard to process the season ending the way it did and that we’re not still playing, but such a remarkable year for so many reasons. A long runway ahead of exciting basketball. So, we’re excited, really excited for the future obviously, and the work continues.”
Following Altman’s meeting with the media, there were a number of topics particularly noteworthy regarding the Cavs’ offseason. In Part 1 of a two-part discussion, we’ll dive into Collin Sexton‘s future, the trade for Caris LeVert and what to expect from Cleveland in the 2022 NBA Draft. (Part 2 is scheduled to run Thursday.)
Collin Sexton’s future in Cleveland
The Cavs have a few decisions to make during the offseason; one at the top of their list is Sexton’s future in Cleveland. The two parties failed to agree to a contract extension before the start of the 2021-22 NBA season. Now that the season is over, Sexton can be a restricted free agent.
Before undergoing season-ending meniscus surgery in November, Sexton played in just 11 games, averaging 28.8 minutes, and scored 16 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.
After initially doing his rehab in Atlanta, Sexton returned to Cleveland to be around the team as much as possible. When Altman walked through the doors at the Cavs’ practice facility on Tuesday, after the team had wrapped up for the season, he saw Sexton was in the gym getting in reps. To Altman, that embodies who Sexton is as a player.
“He, in a lot of ways, was the start of not only the rebuild, but the culture that we have in place now,” Altman said of Sexton. “We asked him to do a tall task. Four straight Finals, and now, we’re sorta starting anew, and he was the start of that. And we wanted to have a place that thrived from great attitude, great work ethic, and somebody that really wanted to be in Cleveland, Ohio, and help us get back to those heights. He embodied every part of that, and he still does today.
“And so, he in a lot of ways is the reason why we’re here, because he started that culture for us. That (attitude of) every single day, I’m gonna get better. I’m gonna bring my hard hat, I’m gonna work on my skills; I don’t care about the results if I’m incrementally getting better and pushing this franchise forward. He’s enormously important to us, he’s been enormously important to us. To lose him, you can see throughout the year why we missed him or how we missed him. So, we owe Collin a great debt of gratitude for what he’s done, the work he’s put in and he continues to put in. An important part of his team.”
Sexton said over the weekend that he has a desire to stay in Cleveland and wants to be a part of helping the Cavs get to the playoffs next season.
Evaluating the trade for Caris LeVert and his future in Cleveland
Just a few days before the NBA trade deadline, the Cavs made a move to acquire LeVert from the Indiana Pacers. In exchange, Cleveland feels Ricky Rubio, a 2033 first-round pick (lottery-protected), a 2022 second-round pick (via Houston) and a 2027 second-round pick (via Utah). The Cavs also received a 2022 second-round pick (via Miami).
Following the trade to Cleveland, LeVert played in four games before suffering a foot sprain after stepping on a teammate’s foot. He missed eight games coming out of All-Star break, and after returning from injury, LeVert struggled to acclimate to the Cavs’ system down the stretch of the season.
“Caris, he got unfortunately derailed right after All-Star break. I think that’s when we really wanted to reap the benefits of having him,” Altman said. “I’ll say our record wasn’t great after that high-water mark; that has nothing to do with Caris. I also can’t envision how we would’ve been competitive down the stretch without Caris. Everything was put on Darius Garland for a very long time, and he helped alleviate that. We needed ball-dominant play-creators outside of just Darius, and so I can’t imagine playing those games without Caris helping us down the stretch. We wouldn’t have been competitive in some of those games if he’s alongside Darius.
“So, I think it’s hard … midseason trades are hard for everybody. He had a totally different role with Indiana than he’d had here. He was coming to a place that had enormous success already, that had roles, defined roles, guys that are having a lot of success, All-Star seasons. To try to fit in was not easy. It wouldn’t be easy for anybody. But I love what Caris brought to the table — his competitive fire, he defended; he fit right in.”
LeVert started to find his groove and discover ways to be effective on the floor as the season came to a close. There were moments where he showed he could be the scorer the Cavs needed. Yet there wasn’t the necessary level of consistency from LeVert on a nightly basis. LeVert played 19 games with Cleveland (he started 10) and posted averages of 13.6 points per game in 29.8 minutes. He shot 43.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent.
LeVert, with one season left on his contract, is eligible for an extension this summer.
“Yeah, this is where I want to be,” LeVert said. “They know that, the front office knows that, my teammates know that. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with that contract extension, but I know where my heart is. I know where I want to be. So, we’ll see what happens going forward.”
While Darius Garland has proven this season to be the Cavs’ lead point guard, the team has to figure out if there is room for guys like LeVert and Sexton on this roster together. Altman believes there is, because both Sexton and LeVert “want to win.” They value LeVert’s skill set, especially as a scorer, and his ability to be another ballhandler and take pressure off Garland.
“The hardest part of my job is finding really good players and guys that really want to be here,” Altman said. “That’s the hardest task that we have, and they’re hard to find. You can see the place for more talented ball dynamic … losing Collin and Ricky were huge blows to our team, and you could see that we missed that play creation, especially down the stretch of the season. So, yes, there’s a place for that level of talent, especially with the character that they bring and the fact that both really love it here.”
2022 NBA Draft outlook
Since the Cavs missed the playoffs and finished the season as the ninth seed, they’ll get to keep their 2022 first-round draft pick that was a part of the deal for LeVert. The Cavs will have three picks in this draft — one first-round lottery pick and two second-round picks at Nos. 39 and No. 56.
“I think we’ve done an incredible job through the draft, and taking a step back now and looking at the draft, I like the draft. I really do,” Altman said. “I’m not just saying that. Where our pick lands, can we get another … there’s nothing wrong with having another young player that you can develop.”
The Cavs built a lot of their young core group of players through the draft. They drafted Sexton at No. 8 and Darius Garland and isaac okoro each at No. 5 in their respective drafts, and Evan Mobley was the third-overall pick in last year’s draft.
As the Cavs look to address their needs through free agency and the draft, Altman said shooting is of interest to the Cavs. They also will look for size and length, as head coach JB Bickerstaff likes to play with such in his lineups.
While there was a level of disappointment that Cleveland didn’t make the playoffs this season, the Cavs’ scouting department has been prepared for the possibility that they would get a lottery pick back. General manager Mike Gansey and assistant general manager Brandon Weems have led the charge with draft prep and have players they are excited about. Altman also has seen some players he’s fond of.
“A lot of them I’ve seen as well that we’re going to be right in the mix for, so I don’t want to say that — let’s trade it again and get somebody else,” Altman said. “I think there’s a nice niche here for a young prospect to really grow without a ton of expectation and grow into potentially a rotational player who can help down the road. I actually like this draft a lot, and I’m not sure what it looks like. We’re always super active, and we’re canvassing the league and seeing what’s out there.”
(Photo of Koby Altman: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)