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Cavs Notes

The Cavs could be bad this year— but they've definitely been worse

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    Cleveland Cavaliers' Antawn Jamison, left, and J.J. Hickson, right, battle for a rebound against New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire in the fourth quarter in an NBA basketball game Feb. 25, 2011, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 115-109.



Remember Luke Harangody? How about Samardo Samuels, Semih Erden, Joey Graham, Christian Eyenga, Ryan Hollins, Alonzo Gee and Manny Harris? Or even Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions?

The latter three were the Cavaliers’ top scorers in 2010-11, the season after LeBron James bolted for Miami, and we all know how that one ended: Cleveland finished 19-63, lost 26 games in a row and, at one point, dropped 36 out of 37.

Now, with three-time champion and nine-time NBA Finals participant James playing with the Lakers in Los Angeles, the Cavs begin their second go-round without the four-time league MVP.

It won’t always be pretty in 2018-19, but it won’t be nearly as ugly as it got eight seasons ago. The Cavs might win just 25 games, they might win 35 or, in a rose-colored-glasses outlook, they might even win 45 (but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen).

What they will do is compete and try to win, which will be in stark contrast to the total-rebuild, dump-salary, secure-the-top-pick-in-the-draft mode they quickly adopted the first time James left.

Owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman made that clear when they signed power forward Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million contract extension in the offseason.

Coach Tyronn Lue and his players made that clear throughout training camp (though Tristan Thompson’s needless blubbering about Boston and Philadelphia having yet to prove anything against the Cavs was way over the top).

It all starts tonight when the Cavs play their season opener in Toronto. What transpires from then until the 82nd regular-season game, at home against Charlotte on April 9, will determine how many games this team wins and whether it makes the postseason for the fifth straight year.

The possibilities are far-reaching, but here’s a look at the three most prominent:

Best-case scenario: Love, who was bothered by a sore foot in training camp, gets and stays healthy, plays 75 to 80 games and averages 23 points, 13 rebounds and three-plus assists.

Nineteen-year-old Collin Sexton quickly moves into the starting point guard spot and averages 15 points, four rebounds and four assists while playing tenacious defense, pushing the pace and earning mention as an NBA Rookie of the Year candidate.

Shooting guard Rodney Hood, motivated by his impending free agency and the $3.4 million qualifying offer he had to accept from the Cavs because no one else really wanted him, goes back to being the player he was in Utah. The 6-foot-8 left-hander thrives in Cleveland’s up-tempo offense, which will feature, at least in theory, a lot of player and ball movement. Hood feels loved, returns to being a very good perimeter shooter and averages 15 or 16 points.

Second-year man Cedi Osman, at 23 not nearly as young as some fans believe, blossoms as James’ successor at small forward. Osman does well defending the opposing team’s best wing scorer, runs Cleveland’s offense at times and stuffs the stat sheet to the tune of 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Thompson returns to being a relentless offensive rebounder and versatile defender, Jordan Clarkson provides double-figure scoring off the bench, Larry Nance Jr., David Nwaba, Sam Dekker and Kyle Korver have their moments, Ante Zizic finally gets a chance and plays so well he stays in the rotation and J.R. Smith doesn’t create any — OK, very many — issues on or off the floor.

Lue convinces his team to play defense, pushes all the right buttons and makes the necessary in-game and game-to-game adjustments.

If all this happens — and those are a lot of ifs — the Cavs’ win total could creep into the low 40s.

Worst-case scenario: Love has another season where he plays 50 to 60 games (or less), still can’t consistently score in the post when defended straight up and opponents become so confident they even take to guarding him with long shooting guards or small forwards in order to take away his 3-point shot.

Sexton not only shoots less than 40 percent, he takes a lot of bad shots and doesn’t develop as a point guard who makes his teammates better. Those struggles affect his defense, his confidence slips and Cavs fans are forced to watch way too much of 32-year-old journeyman George Hill.

Hood remains timid, moody and unconfident. He has some great games when he makes his first three shots, but has many others where he seems lost, which leads to even more time for Clarkson, who’s great at creating his own shot but refuses to see the floor or pass the ball.

Osman can’t shoot well enough from the perimeter to open up driving lanes, struggles trying to defend quick and explosive wing players and doesn’t become the point-small forward the Cavs need him to be at times.

Thompson still doesn’t rebound a lick at the defensive end, Nance struggles against big centers, Nwaba tries hard but can’t make a shot, Dekker is too slow to play small forward and too small to play power forward, the 37-year-old Korver begins to slow down, Zizic continues to pick up splinters and ol’ J.R. starts mouthing off about his lack of playing time.

Lue’s team too often doesn’t get back on defense, loses confidence and begins to play at a slower pace, which leads to a lot of bad shots with the 24-second clock ticking down. All the coaching issues fans pointed out with James and Kyrie Irving in town — substitutions, in-game adjustments, timeout usage — rear their ugly head.

If too many of these issues crop up, the Cavs’ win total will be in the mid-20s.

Most likely scenario: Love no longer has to worry about staying on James’ good side and returns to being the confident player he was in Minnesota. He still has some struggles finishing in the post, but does enough there to be a legitimate option. He misses 12 to 15 games, but avoids the type of injury that keeps him out for 20 or 25 straight games.

Hood has more solid to great nights than average to horrible nights, Sexton shows plenty of promise, Osman plays like a young, seasoned veteran in more games than not, the role players make solid contributions at various points and Lue blossoms as a coach now that he has players who actually do what he tells them.

In this scenario, the Cavs should win somewhere between 29 and 39 games, with a total somewhere in the low to mid-30s most likely.

Regardless, fans will be spared Harangody, Samuels, Erden and Co.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

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