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Will the Cleveland Cavaliers stink next season?
I’m not so sure. I don’t think so. If the roster stays as is (it likely will, or at least something close), the Cavs have lots of experience — Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill, and yes, Channing Frye.
Many of these guys have played together, and won. Love, Thompson and Smith have been in Cleveland for each of the last four runs to the Finals.
Yes, LeBron James was on the team for all four, and yes, Kyrie Irving was there for three. Or about two-and-a-half in the case of Kyrie, anyway.
But playing winning basketball in big games will count for something. That much I know after about 200 years of covering the NBA. Honest. I don’t know much, but I know that experience tends to overtake youth in this league.
Anyway, the Cavs also have some intriguing youth — Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic and everyone’s new favorite, rookie point guard Collin Sexton. The Cavs very well could start Sexton and Hill in the backcourt. In fact, I have a feeling they’re leaning that way after watching Sexton in summer league.
Along with that winning experience and intriguing youth, the Cavs return the same coach in Tyronn Lue and some players who are dying to prove themselves in Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson — and quite likely, restricted free agent Rodney Hood.
Now, there were some glaring issues with the Cavs even WITH LeBron.
They didn’t defend well. They didn’t move the ball consistently enough. They stood around and settled for too many 3-pointers. And oh, those third quarters.
Interestingly, they think a lot of that can change. That’s not an insult toward James, the game’s greatest player. But sometimes, when you have the game’s greatest player as a teammate, you can afford to take possessions off and let him do all the work.
That happened plenty. LeBron knew it, the rest of the Cavs knew it, Lue knew it. Everybody was just fine with it, too.
So there was plenty of “Get the Ball to LeBron and Get Out of the Way” going on.
Obviously, the Cavs have no choice now but for that to change. Lue has already said it will. He has said the Cavs will play through Love, and mostly, institute more of a team-oriented philosophy. Everything now will be based on moving the ball, finding the open man and knocking down shots.
Ideally, a system featuring two point guards, surrounded by shooters (Love, Korver, Hood, Smith) will work and maybe even win.
Overall, I think there are worse teams/situations in the league, and most definitely in the East.
TANK YOU VERY MUCH
This isn’t to say the Cavs are winning 50 games and getting to the Finals again.
But they could win 50, but playing a scrappy and smart brand of basketball. They could make some noise in the postseason. They could keep the winning culture going.
Or they could gut the roster and start rebuilding. I think they’re strongly considering both options.
The good news about tanking is this: You can do it anytime. It’s easy to be terrible. You can start tomorrow … or in February. You can ship off players, compile draft picks, and lose 20-something in a row. Honestly, that takes very little effort.
That may be the best-case scenario here, I can’t say for sure.
But I do know I watched the Cavs do this last time LeBron left and it was awful. They lost business. Merchandise sales plummeted. Nobody wanted to play in Cleveland. And the lottery picks that the Cavs planned to build around, well, they would only stay for the money, not because they wanted to contend.
Nobody wants to play for a team or fan base that’s satisfied with losing. Whether it makes sense or not, pro athletes generally want to get away from losing cultures.
Now, sometimes it works. Though they haven’t won a thing, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers could be on their way.
And the Boston Celtics sure look good with the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as stars on the rise.
But you don’t always need to draft in the top five. The San Antonio Spurs were another smaller-market team that put its best foot forward year after year and made the most of its picks.
Or how about the historically ignored Golden State Warriors, who selected Steph Curry with the seventh selection, Klay Thompson at No. 11 and Draymond Green in the second round (35th overall)?
No one is ignoring the Warriors today.
You don’t need to tank. And even if you decide to do it, you don’t need to decide to it right away.
Why not see what you have, see what you can do, and see how far you can go? I bet if general manager Koby Altman and the Cavs decide to go that route, at least initially, they won’t stink.
Sometimes, that actually does beat the alternative.