Dribbles: Cavaliers want to make sure to keep the tank alive

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 111-98 victory over the visiting Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

1. Kevin Love intends to play every game. Tristan Thompson is on the way. On paper and on the floor, the Cavs should be better. And that may not be good news.

2. Basically, the last thing the Cavs need to do is start winning. Every once in a while, it’s OK. Go ahead and beat the sad-sack Suns at home. Just make sure you don’t do it at their place.

3. Yes, I’m telling the Cavs to stay in the tank. Granted, that isn’t likely to be an issue. Even when the Cavs (13-46) try to win … well, the record speaks for itself. But let’s be honest, there are two, maybe three, captivating prospects in the upcoming draft. I’m talking about Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. From what I hear, Murray State point guard Ja Morant looks a lot like Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard (though I have yet to see Morant play). He may belong in the conversation, too.

4. So it’s pretty important for the Cavs to get a top-three pick. Granted, the odds are basically even among the top four teams under the new lottery rules. Finishing with one of the three-worst records doesn’t really guarantee much. But it sure beats decreasing your odds by winning seven more games.

5. Now, this is a big change for me. In the previous non-LeBron James era, I despised the idea of not putting your best foot forward every game.  Tanking is for losers, I would often say. It can have a terribly negative impact on culture and more often than not, it doesn’t work. Also, some of the league’s best players were drafted after the third pick — Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some other obvious ones.

6. Nonetheless, this year feels different. Why? Well, for one, coach Larry Drew has done a great job of keeping things upbeat in spite of all the losing. Yes, general manager Koby Altman and team owner Dan Gilbert deserve credit, too. There has been no drama, no selfishness and mostly, a group that typically plays hard. When you have one of the the worst records in the league, that’s all difficult to do. But the Cavs have found a way.

7. Secondly, the Cavs need an immediate contributor. They need a reason to feel good next season, win more games, add someone to Love, Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman to get the fans excited again. They can do that through two types of transactions — trades, and the draft. Let’s face it, big-time free agents aren’t coming to Cleveland. Not after a season like this.

8. It’s therefore vital for the Cavs to stay bad, really bad, so they can start to get good.

9. Again, I understand the need to keep Love involved and for Thompson to be a part of things. Thompson in particular has been a great locker-room guy this year, and still as relentless and energetic as ever on the court (when healthy). I also know the Cavs started the season 0-4 with those two on the floor.

10. Still, these Cavs are better than the team that started the year. The younger players have improved and the veterans will always play with pride. Drew has also said he isn’t in this business to lose on purpose. No one is. No one should be. But there are ways to make sure you don’t get too hot and win too much. And you do that by resting some of the best players.

11. It’s true that NBA commissioner Adam Silver despises the idea of tanking — or holding out players to make winning more difficult. It’s not a great look for the league. I get it. But if I’m the Cavs, I’m saying, “Thank you for your opinion, Mr. Commissioner. We’re going to do what we want. We’re going to do what’s best for the future of the franchise.”

12. Altman will be determined to make some trades this summer. He’ll really try to move exiled shooting guard J.R. Smith. He will probably make some calls about Thompson. He’ll listen when opposing teams ask about Love. He may even attempt to package some of those six second-round picks for another first-rounder (or two).

13. Mostly, when the lottery ends on the night of May 14, the Cavs want to say, “We’re No. 1.” At worst, they want to finish second. Third or worse? Well, the pick might suddenly become a trade asset. A lot will depend on the NCAA tournament, pre-draft workouts and several other factors that play a role in determining the rise and fall of the top prospects.

14. Either way, the Cavs just want to take care not to put themselves in position to win too many of these final 23 games. If it means sitting Love, so be it. If it means using the newfound “workload” excuse next to Thompson’s name on the injury report … so be it. For the rest of this year, there should be little winning in the standings. It should be about dreaming of the offseason possibilities, of a team that features the likes of Love, Sexton, Osman, a few others not yet on the roster, and a young man they call Zion.

15. Finally, I wrote more about the Cavs, Love, etc., following Thursday’s game. You can read that story here.

7 Comments on "Dribbles: Cavaliers want to make sure to keep the tank alive"

  1. as noted in the post, many very good players are drafted after top pick. I’m sure Gilbert is paying a lot of cash for a scouting dept. have them do there job because a top pick, Bennett, dissent always work as goped.

  2. NBA reportedly threatened Pelicans with 100,000 a game for sitting Davis. Maybe not true and it wouldn’t be all the rest of the Cavs games, but I would pay the 2.3 million for the draft position if needed. And Pelicans might also.

  3. Tanking, and winning a championship, are two things the pro sports teams aspire for here. You talk about how tanking ruins the team-culture! Think of the spectators that boo a tanking team when they win on home court!!

    FiveThirtyEight places Cavs at second, ‘behind’ the Knicks, at 18-64 (tied with Suns). That seems reasonable. We are now 13-46 and have 5 games remaining against equally shameless tanking teams (3 away, and 2 at home). If we fight hard, we should manage to lose 2 of that 5. Then there will the games against Pistons or Magic that we will win.

    Overall, I feel confident that the Cavs have all the fire-power of a great tanking team. If the Knicks/Suns get Zion – I hope that he proves to be another Derrick Williams or Anthony Bennett (or even Andrew Wiggins).

  4. Philip Rusch | February 22, 2019 at 9:24 am |

    If their winning ends up costing the Cavs significant draft position, they’ll have some explaining to do. Sure you can whiff in the top-3 and there are great players to be after Pick 10 but as you go further down the line, they become harder to spot, that’s the catch.

  5. Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen because:Cchicago Bulls. They are bad, to put it another way, they are the current White Sox. Healthy Kevin, the way new guys are playing together and still haven’t seen Henson.. I don’t think you can count on what you’re saying.

    Speaking of Chicago, about a 100 years ago, members of what became know as the ‘Black Sox’ were thrown out of baseball for cheating-

  6. no edit button. could take out that second ‘know’

  7. Tank on Cavs, let’s show these young draft prospects just how much they don’t want to re-sign in Cleveland when their rookie contract is up in 3-4 years.

    In fact let’s just destroy the franchise. Let’s change the name to the Cleveland Farm Team. Let’s stop faking with the mascot like we’re trying to win games. Let’s call it what it is. We could call them the JVs, since that what all of Ohio seems to want their basketball team to become.

    “Basically the last thing the Cavs need to do is start winning”…

    Ouch, Sam. Ouch.

    Kyrie Irving lottery was won with ping pong balls designated for 9th worst record. If I’m teams 1 thru 8 that year (worst record), and I tanked and lost all those for Kyrie, am I going to tank again this year? I’m sure they feel great about it since they ended up with Derrick Williams and Bismack Byombo instead.

    But why look at the history when blindly wishing for a prize is more fun than the game of basketball. It doesn’t matter that the prize is only temporary, it’s all about winning that prize until it demands out of Cleveland. This is Cavaliers team you want to bring your kids to see. Not a winning culture who refuses to tank like the Spurs. Game the system, kids! Look at how much success it’s brought to the Cavs, the Anthony Bennetts of the world, etc.

    This must be another sad Clevelander thing. Maybe it’s Ohio that has the best fans, but definitely not Cleveland. Ohio should think about trading Cleveland to another state for a better future.

    Lets bring in Chris Grant and he can say “we weren’t winning with Cleveland”…

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