Cavs look to future as season ends with 124-97 loss to Hornets

Fate of rebuild lies with NBA Draft Lottery in May

Daryl Ruiter
April 09, 2019 - 9:25 pm

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – A painful Cavaliers season was put to rest Tuesday night.

With a 124-97 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Cavs tied their third-worst campaign in franchise history – 19-63 – a mark also achieved in 2010-11, also following the departure of LeBron James.

Their worst marks came in 1970-71 and 1981-82 when the team went 15-67 and a 17-65 finish in 2002-03.

Injuries forced the Cavs to use 27 players this season, one shy of tying the modern NBA record. Kevin Love missed 50 consecutive games following toe surgery. Tristan Thompson missed significant time due to foot and ankle injuries as well.

Tyronn Lue was fired as head coach six games into the season because he wouldn’t get on board with the rebuilding direction of the franchise and Larry Drew held out for a pay raise before agreeing to take over as coach for the remainder of the year.

“Tonight is bittersweet,” Drew said. “As tough as this season has been, I really enjoyed coming to work every day.”

It is expected that Drew has coached his final game in charge of the Cavs which means that it would be the seventh coaching change owner Dan Gilbert will have made since buying the team in 2005.

“I really don't want to get into that part of it right now,” Drew said.

The hopes of the franchise now rest in May at the NBA Draft Lottery where they share the same 14 percent odds of nabbing the top overall pick as the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns by finishing with one of the three worst records in the league.

“I think that everybody will be anxious now that we know where we are,” Love said. “There are obviously a number of great players in this draft, especially at the very top, but it’ll be interesting to see where we end up because we have, what, a top three chance now, so obviously we hope we get the best player.”

Securing a top-three pick is critical to pushing this rebuild forward significantly.

Cleveland hopes to win the lottery for the fifth time since 2003 for the right to select Duke’s Zion Williamson but Murray State’s Ja Morant and Williamson’s teammate R.J. Barrett are also attractive consolation prizes.  

On the bright side, Collin Sexton, picked eighth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, played all 82 games and showed marked improvement, especially after the All-Star break.

Sexton was asked what changed from his first game to No. 82 Tuesday night.

"Everything," Sexton said. "It's a whole change. Coming into the league people said I couldn't shoot and stuff like that, but I just kept working on it through the season and it got better and better."

Sexton is just the eighth rookie in team history to not miss a regular season game and is the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 16.0 points per game, while shooting .400 or better from beyond the arc and .800 or better from the free throw line joining Larry Bird in 1979-80 and Steph Curry in 2009-10.

He was the only rookie to score in double figures 73 times this season and he hit the most threes in a single season by a Cavs rookie with 119 hits from downtown.

“He has the ability to do this and be consistent at it,” Drew said. “It’s just a matter of putting forth what he has to do.”

Cedi Osman, who raised his scoring average this season by 9.1 points per game, and Larry Nance Jr., who averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals, also showed improvement under Drew despite wins not validating the progress.

“LD was outstanding,” Nance said. “It’s not an easy job. That was not an easy position he got put into, you know, six games into the season, here are the reigns, figure it out. That’s exactly what he did. He got us on the right path, and it would’ve been easy for him to mail it in too.

“A year like this, this isn’t fun. Losing isn’t fun. Being able to keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward at the rate that we did I think was a lot in part to Larry Drew and I’m a big fan.”

The Cavs lost 11 of their first 12 games to begin the campaign and they finished the season with a 10-game losing streak.

“It should make us hungrier,” Drew said. “When you go through tough stretches, it should leave a bitter taste in our mouth. We went to the NBA Finals for four straight years, now we’re on the other side of it.”