Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have completed their brief four-game preseason schedule, the focus shifts to the start of the 2018-19 regular season on Wednesday in Toronto. While they’ve added one of the top rookies in this year’s draft class, they’re trying to somehow fill the gaping hole created by LeBron James leaving in free agency.
Unlike James’ first departure in 2010, the Cavaliers roster still has a number of talented players to keep the team in the mix when talk of the postseason is discussed. While that likely won’t mean a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, the possibility of reaching the playoffs isn’t the pipe dream that it was eight years ago.
Among those on this year’s roster for the Cavaliers are five players who will likely play key roles in determining the course of the campaign. Their importance to the team elevates them to the stratosphere of being the top players for Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue.
5. George Hill
Hill will be starting his first full season with the Cavaliers after coming over from Sacramento last February in a deadline deal. At the time of that trade, he was being added to help a Cavaliers team focused on winning an NBA title and that was in need of a quality point guard. That approach is being dialed back this season, which could mean that he may be on the trading block at midseason.
That’s due in part to the fact that he’s 32 years old and is being paid $19 million this season, an expense that might not be worth it if the Cavs are struggling. He’s also due $18 million for the 2019-20 campaign, though he’s reportedly only guaranteed $1 million of that amount. Whether he finishes the team with the Cavaliers or some other team, Hill has a career averages of 11.6 points, 3.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds, numbers that can help any team.
4. Collin Sexton
As the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, the expectations for Sexton are huge, but the 19-year-old has yet to give any indication that he’s unable to handle the pressure. Besides being groomed to take over for Hill at point guard, Sexton has the requisite skills to help the Cavaliers when it comes to defense.
Inevitably, Sexton will experience growing pains during the season, but at such a young age, could potentially develop into a superstar. He still needs to work on his outside shot, but has shown the work ethic needed to sharpen that particular skill. The hope for Cavs management is that that Sexton’s spot on this list reaches the top within a few years.
3. Cedi Osman
The microscope on the Cavaliers might not be quite as intense with James no longer on the team, but Osman figures to be watched closely this year. That’s because he has the thankless job of replacing the superstar at the small forward spot, an impossible task. Yet Osman gave glimpses last year during his rookie season that he wasn’t overwhelmed by moving from international play to the nightly rigors of the NBA.
The 23-year-old Osman averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 61 games last year, which included 12 starts. He missed time in the latter part of the season because of injury and saw minimal action during the postseason. However, those statistical numbers were on the basis of averaging just 11 minutes per game, a number that will jump this season. With a year of experience under his belt and the confidence of his teammates behind him, Osman can take a giant step forward with his contributions this year.
2. Rodney Hood
Among this quintet, Hood has the best opportunity to have a big payoff next July after accepting the qualifying offer of $3.4 million. That followed months of little interest elsewhere in a player who’s struggled to be consistent throughout his career and also dealt with injury and controversy after being acquired from Utah last February.
Yet despite those perceived flaws, Hood brings a wealth of talent to the court and is likely inspired to finally deliver on that promise. At 6-foot-8, he can play at both small forward and shooting guard, with the latter position his likely destination. Prior to being traded, Hood was averaging 16.8 points per game with the Jazz, numbers that dipped with the Cavs. However, his play in the last two games of the Finals offered hints that he might not only return to that past scoring output, but surpass it.
1. Kevin Love
Throughout Love’s NBA career, he’s been able to deliver a double-double virtually every game. That sort of output makes him invaluable to the Cavs this season, with the expectation being that his scoring numbers will be boosted to the levels of when he played in Minnesota. In the final of those six seasons with the Timberwolves, he averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds, numbers he hopes to either match or surpass.
One constant during the 30-year-old Love’s time with the Cavaliers has been the focus on his status, which has meant being the subject of constant trade rumors. That’s presumably disappeared after he signed a four-year-extension worth $120 million during the offseason. In addition, he’s been unburdened by making the effort to embrace mental health issues, so his comfort level is such that he’s in position to have a big year, which the Cavs desperately need to happen.
The Bottom Line
Depending on just the five players above to help the Cavaliers deal with the end of an era is too much to put on their collective shoulders. Veterans like Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith also need to have comeback seasons, with Lue in charge of finding the right lineup combinations to make that a reality.