Updated: Sep 28, 2022
The surprising success of the 2021-2022 Cleveland Cavaliers has made the upcoming offseason an important one for the Wine and Golders. President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman will be on a mission over the summer to improve the roster of his basketball team, so the 2022-2023 Cavs can become the first Cavs team since Owner Dan Gilbert bought the team in 2005 to make the postseason without LeBron James on its roster. Arguably, the biggest decision Altman and the rest of the decision makers for the Cavs have to make is what to do with 2018 first-round selection Collin Sexton.
The former Crimson Tide guard was drafted No. 8 overall in said 2018 draft, approximately 10 days before King James posted on Instagram he was taking his talents to Hollywood. Two weeks prior to the draft, the Wine and Golders completed their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, losing in a sweep to the Kevin Durant and Steph Curry led Warriors. With James no longer on the roster, instead of competing for a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, Sexton was pegged as the potential new face of the franchise.
He took No. 2, the same number Kyrie Irving wore when he hit the biggest shot in the history of Cavs basketball, and arguably, NBA history on June 19, 2016, with 55 seconds remaining on the clock in the final period. Ironically, the pick the Cavs used to draft Sexton was the pick they received from the Brooklyn Nets due to the Irving trade in August 2017. With the way the former Duke Bluedevil left Cleveland, Sexton took it upon himself to make the No. 2 a good number to sport in a Cavs uniform once again.
While Sexton averaged 17 points, three rebounds and three assists per game while playing all 82 games (started 72) during his rookie campaign, the Cavs finished with only 19 wins, tied with the Phoenix Suns for second worst in the league, and the team had to endure a coaching change six games into the season when Tyronn Lue, the coach behind the Cavs 2016 championship victory, was fired and replaced by Larry Drew after an 0-6 start.
With a year under his belt, a new head coach in John Beiline and new running mate Darius Garland from Vanderbilt by his side, Sexton upped his scoring to 21 points a contest during his sophomore campaign. However, Beiline was fired halfway through the season after making controversial comments in a film study and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team only played 65 games during the season, as they were not invited to the NBA Bubble in Orlando, FL, due to them once again being tied for the second worst record in the league with 19 wins. Sexton once again played all 65 contests.
Going into his third season, Sexton thought he could finally have some normalcy to the start of his NBA career, Bickerstaff stayed on as a coach, Garland was developing next to him as a player and a lot of the veteran players from the teams’ Finals runs such as Tristian Thompson were no longer on the squad. Even with limited, or sometimes no fans in attendance still due to the nature of the virus, it was time for Sexton to take another step in his development, and he did, scoring 24 points a game and upping his assists from three to four per contest. However, he only played in 60 of the 72 games due to minor injuries to multiple body parts throughout the season, and the team only won 22 games, tied for the third worst record in the association.
Sure, the 6’1 guard was improving his game each season, but it wasn’t amounting to winning. That was until the beginning of the 2021-2022 season.
With Sexton growing, alongside Garland, 2020 first-round draft pick Isaac Okoro, a young center in Jarrett Allen, a young stretch small forward/power forward in Lauri Markkanen, a 6’11 rookie with guard-like skills in Evan Mobley and veterans in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the Cavs took off, winning seven of their first 11 ballgames. Sexton’s numbers went down, as he only averaged 16 points and two assists per game during the stretch, but the team's success was there.
Then, on Nov. 7 against the Knicks, Sexton tore his meniscus in his left knee, and it was announced he would miss the rest of the season.
For the Cavs, losing the man that started the new era for the Wine and Golders felt like a huge blow, especially with Sexton being a restricted free agent at the end of the campaign. Questions surrounding his worth on the market post injury, and his impact to the team would be answered throughout the course of the season.
Without Sexton, the Cavs continued to stay afloat. They went into the trade deadline in mid February within striking distance of a top seed in the Eastern Conference with a mark of 34-21, surpassing their over/under projection for the season. Garland had taken off into a star level player, evaluating the likes of Allen, Markkanen and Mobley around him. The No. 5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft went from averaging 17 points and six assists per game in 2020-2021, to 22 and nine in 2021-2022. Rumors swirled about the Cavs being willing to give up Sexton at the trade deadline, but Altman decided to keep the “Young Bull” and trade for Caris LeVert from the Indiana Pacers.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, injuries suffered by almost all the major pieces on the team derailed their momentum post All-Star Break. Even after winning 44 games, doubling their win total from the prior season, they sank to the No. 8 seed in a tough Eastern Conference, forcing them into the Play-In Tournament. Back-to-back losses to the Nets and Hawks sent the Cavs on vacation in mid-April.
Going into the offseason, pundits around the league feel the teams’ biggest need is another scorer, somebody who can create his own shot and take pressure off Garland. LeVert was supposed to be that guy, but he didn’t show up when it mattered the most, averaging only 14 points per game, and shooting 36% from the floor during the Play-In Tournament.
Could Sexton be the answer the Cavs are looking for?
Sure. The Cavs have seen Sexton’s ability over the last four campaigns, he’s improved as a basketball player each season, and he is viewed as a locker room leader by not only his teammates, but his coaches and the front office.
The problem with keeping Sexton is his contract. Reports state Sexton is looking for “starter guard money”, which would start at around $20 million per season. Current NBA players making $20 million per season or more include Mikal Bridges, Buddy Hield, Aaron Gordon, Harrison Barnes and Fred VanVleet.
On the surface, it feels $20 million per season is fair for a player like Sexton. One could make an argument the soon-to-be restricted free agent is a better player than the likes of the names mentioned in the last graph.
With that said, the Cavs have to be careful. Garland is going to be a restricted free agent next summer and will warrant a massive payday. The team also has LeVert (for at least one more season) at around $17 million a clip, plus a draft pick and other key players they have to account for.
An ideal number for the Cavs should be around $15-18 million for Sexton, considering he’s coming off an injury. A three year contract seems fair, though a one year, prove-it type deal could be beneficial for both parties as well. It would allow for Sexton to test the waters of unrestricted free agency in 2023 and potentially earn more money, and it would allow the team some more financial wiggle room for 2022.
The team wants to keep Sexton. Sexton wants to stay in the CLE. However, the decision could be completely out of the Cavs’ hands. With reports stating Indiana and Detroit covet the former first-round pick, if they offer north of $20 million per season, the Cavs are going to have to let go of their first building block of the post LeBron James era 2.0
No matter what, in about a month’s time, we should know if Sexton will be sporting the No. 2 in Wine and Gold in 2022.
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