Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview & Predictions: Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr, and Kevin Love

With the NBA season upon us, it's time to make some predictions and projections about the 2018-2019 Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the summer of 2017, the Cavaliers went through a lot. There were small moves like the signing of Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, and there were huge moves like when Kyrie Irving got traded. There were questions about who actually liked their teammates, who didn't want to get traded in the first place, and whether or not LeBron James could lead the team back to the Finals. There was also Isaiah Thomas's hip.

Things are different now. The Cavaliers made a few moves this past summer, but only one truly mattered. With LeBron James locked up in Los Angeles - and what a circus that will be - the Cavs filled his shoes with Sam Dekker, the return of Channing Frye, and rookie point guard Collin Sexton. The smart money suggests that LeBron was slightly more productive than those three. As for keeping things in-house, the Cavs signed Kevin Love to a massive extension, keeping him a Cavalier for the foreseeable future. They also agreed to a qualifying offer with Rodney Hood.

Beyond that, there haven't been a lot of stories for this year's Cavaliers. So without further ado, let's get to the projecting and predicting. For reference, my predictions were OK last year. Not great, but not bad. I nailed a couple and was extremely wrong on a couple of others. Such is life.

1) The Cavaliers will win between 33 and 38 games

Frighteningly, this might be enough to keep them in the hunt for the 8th playoff spot in the dismal Eastern Conference. After LeBron announced his departure, gambling websites placed the Cavs' over/under win total at a paltry 26.5. However, once it became clear that Cleveland wouldn't be tanking (why? Don't know), the number crept up to its current spot of 30.5. While it's scary to assume that a team which was beyond awful anytime LeBron rested over the past four years would be decent now that he's gone, there's reason to think that a new offensive identity could be helpful. As I mentioned before, Kevin Love as the lead playmaker is going to be different, but not necessarily bad. He won't be 2011-2012 Kevin Love, but he can show off his passing skills and be enough to lead the team to some wins. Furthermore, guys like Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson have a lot to prove, either as trade bait or as justification for a future contract.

2) Somebody's getting traded

The Cavaliers are in a weird spot. They claim they're not going to tank, but if they finish better than the 10th-worst team, they lose their 1st round pick. If they're bad, they keep their pick and have a good shot at a young stud. Alternatively, if they have a decent season, they may be able to trade some guys for future picks, and boy do the Cavs have guys who can provide cap relief to trade partners.

Between JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Jordan Clarkson, the Cavaliers have almost $50 million tied up for the 2019-2020 season. This is without mentioning the bizarre George Hill contract, which only costs $1 million if the team decides to waive him before that season (or something strange like that). If Sexton looks good, Hill is almost certainly getting traded. If a contending team wants a bench spark-plug, JR Smith could be gone. If a team wants an energy guy who is somehow still only 27-years-old, Tristan Thompson could be gone. If the Cavaliers make it to mid-January and are clearly one of the five worst teams in the league, all of these guys could be gone. I would be blown away if the season ends and Hill, Thompson, Clarkson, Smith, and Korver are all still Cavaliers.

3) Cedi Osman will become Cleveland's favorite basketball player (but not their best one)

Cedi Osman has all the characteristics of a guy that basketball fans love. He's a bit limited athletically, he tries harder than anyone else on the court, he gets crazy-excited on the bench, and he occasionally makes great plays. The reality, of course, is that he can't do all of the things that some of the other guys out there can do.

As Fear the Sword's Mike Zavagno points out, the Cavs are running plays for Osman that look an awful lot like plays they've been running for Kyle Korver. The theory is that Cedi will be able to catch and shoot - which he's expected to do well - or head for the rim in a way that Korver has never been able to do. In the clip linked above, he goes for the hoop...and is summarily turned away by, I think, Jayson Tatum. That encapsulates the issue with Cedi Osman: He'll be fun. He'll get hot. He'll make some three-pointers. He'll draw fouls. He'll tumble around the court. He'll pester guys on defense. He'll get steals. He'll make tough shots in traffic. But he'll also get swallowed up by top-tier wing players who are simply more athletic than him. He'll never be able to out-quick Tatum or Paul George and will almost definitely be dominated by Kawhi Leonard on opening night - if Leonard gets the assignment.

Osman will get some national attention, but it will be in the same way as a Marcus Smart: Opposing fans know him because they hate playing against him, even if he's not actually Cleveland's best player. Hopefully, he'll prove me wrong here, and he'll come up with a suite of dazzling finishing moves around the rim, but I'm not convinced yet.

4) Collin Sexton will finish 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting

Sexton got some dark-horse love in the early odds for this award because the Cavs have no reason to keep him on the bench. Rookies who get a lot of playing time tend to win this award, and Sexton appeared poised to get 25+ minutes per game on a team that would be looking to get him experience. It was the right combination. However, recent news states that George Hill will be the starting point guard early in the season, meaning Sexton's chances will take a slight hit, and he'll ride a nice 2nd-half into a 3rd place finish. 

Sexton looks promising. Going from the #8 pick to top-3 in the rookie rankings is a pretty substantial jump. Fingers crossed.

5) The Larry Nance, Jr. signing will look excellent

This week, the Cavaliers signed Nance to an extension worth $45 million over four years. The contract is laid out in descending-value fashion, meaning that his annual salary drops each year. This will make Nance an extremely tradeable asset by the end of his contract, giving the Cavaliers flexibility in years to come. But that's only half the story. It has come up in other places, but Larry Nance, Jr. is one of the most efficient players in the NBA and certainly one of the most efficient on the Cavaliers.

Despite playing on some atrocious teams, Nance's efficiency numbers have shined. There's no other way to put this: Nance's teams outscore their opponents when he's on the floor. By a lot. His net rating is consistently +20 over the past few seasons, and even in last year's playoffs he posted a 130 ORtg and a 105 DRtg. Among players who played more than 50 minutes in the Finals, Nance had the 2nd best ORtg (120, behind LeBron James's 123) and the 2nd best DRtg (123, behind Rodney Hood's 118). 

There will be a deep look at Larry Nance on HTB before too long, so for now, just trust me that this contract will look great. He'll be a 12 points, 8 rebounds kind of guy who rarely turns the ball over; a solid contributor with no major flaws. He also should work well alongside Kevin Love, who can (and does) stretch the floor as well as any big man in the NBA.

6) Fans will be devastated to see some of their favorites getting no minutes

It pains me to say this, but Channing Frye may not see the floor much. The Cavs have made it clear that they're not punting on this season, but they're also going to try developing their younger players in Sexton and Osman - and perhaps Ante Zizic. The Cavaliers will certainly play the following guys: George Hill, Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance, Jr., JR Smith, and probably Sam Dekker. That's 11 players.

There are not a lot of minutes out there for Channing Frye. Furthermore, if JR Smith continues to see his productivity crater - which it has done since the summer of 2016 - it's entirely possible that David Nwaba gets some of his minutes and Smith moves to the end of the bench. It's possible that his output increases in the absence of LeBron James, but the Cavs have been outscored by double digits per 100 possessions when Smith plays over the entirety of the past two seasons.

Around the NBA predictions

  • Everyone outside of Boston will hate how much attention the Celtics will get, but they'll also win 60+ games
  • New Orleans scores 114+ points per game
  • David Fizdale proves to be a very good coach even though the Knicks are still bad
  • Brooklyn sneaks into the 8th seed in the east
  • Kawhi Leonard wins MVP because the other hot candidates don't win enough games
  • Nobody can decide who's better between Simmons and Embiid
  • Cousins doesn't come back until the all-star break
  • Victor Oladipo finishes top-8 in MVP voting
  • Carmelo Anthony in Houston works out much better than in OKC, and Melo gets consideration for Sixth Man of the Year

Division and Playoff Predictions

Atlantic division

Boston Celtics: 61-21

Toronto Raptors: 60-22

Philadelphia 76ers: 55-27

Brooklyn Nets: 38-44

New York Knicks: 33-49

I'm sticking my neck out for the Nets for no good reason. The Celtics and Raptors should both be excellent, and Kawhi's MVP-caliber season will be the top story. Boston's share-the-wealth team philosophy will be extremely successful as well, and it'll be enough to keep Philadelphia at bay, but the Sixers will be terrifying. The Knicks? Less terrifying.

Central division

Milwaukee Bucks: 52-30

Indiana Pacers: 49-33

Detroit Pistons: 38-44

Cleveland Cavaliers: 35-47

Chicago Bulls: 31-51

No big surprises here. The Bulls are rough, but not rough enough to be true bottom-dwellers. They'll put up a fight and they'll score some points now and then, but they're just a hodge-podge of pieces. The Pistons will miss the playoffs by a tiebreaker and it will be painful. Giannis Antetokounmpo's reign of terror on the NBA will begin, as, after a couple of months of learning under Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks will go wild in the 2nd half of the season.

Southeast division

Washington Wizards: 46-36

Miami Heat: 41-41

Charlotte Hornets: 37-45

Orlando Magic: 30-52

Atlanta Hawks: 20-62

This division is depressing. The Wizards will win it because someone has to, but the Dwight Howard experiment will be anti-fun and John Wall will continue to be polarizing. Miami will win some games - enough to keep Detroit and Charlotte out of the playoffs - but they won't be a real threat to anyone (this prediction goes moot if Jimmy Butler ends up there). The bottom two though? Poor Orlando. Things are just bad down there, and Atlanta's worse. Oof.

Pacific division

Golden State Warriors: 61-21

Los Angeles Lakers: 47-35

Los Angeles Clippers: 36-46

Phoenix Suns: 35-47

Sacramento Kings: 27-55

Apologies to the Suns and Kings. While both have young talent who could be a lot of fun, there are just not many teams out west who they can beat. The Clippers will struggle to find a rhythm and the Lakers will be counting on minutes from Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. I don't know what else you can say about them. As for Golden State? They'll coast a bit, struggle for 6-8 games when Cousins returns, then remind everyone that they're unstoppable.

Southwest division

Houston Rockets: 62-20

New Orleans Pelicans: 49-33

San Antonio Spurs: 48-34

Memphis Grizzlies: 42-40

Dallas Mavericks: 36-46

Houston dominates again while Melo looks decent in his new role. Anthony Davis leads the Pelicans to one of the most prolific offensive seasons in NBA history. The Spurs continue to Spurs, albeit with new pieces and new injuries to deal with. Memphis looks like Memphis again, but they've aged enough since the last time that it's not enough. And Dallas becomes fun, but not actually good.

Northwest division

Utah Jazz: 53-29

Denver Nuggets: 48-34

Oklahoma City Thunder: 46-36

Portland Trail Blazers: 44-38

Minnesota Timberwolves: 42-40

The best division in basketball - by a lot - for the 2nd straight season keeps up all the same drama as last time around. Minnesota has too much chaos to deal with after the Jimmy Butler saga and misses the playoffs. Portland doesn't look quite as sharp, and OKC deals with enough injuries to keep them from topping the group. Denver finally rounds into shape and gets back into the playoffs while Utah controls the division on the shoulders of a big season from their entire cast.

Playoffs

East

Boston (1) over Brooklyn (8), Toronto (2) over Miami (7), Milwaukee (3) over Indiana (6 - a great series), and Philadelphia (5) over Washington (4). Boston over Philadelphia in 7, Milwaukee over Toronto in 6 (Kawhi vs. Giannis is basketball nirvana). Boston over Milwaukee in 5.

West

Houston (1) over Oklahoma City (8), Golden State (2) over Los Angeles Lakers (7), Utah (3) over Denver (6), and New Orleans (4) over San Antonio (5). Houston over New Orleans in 6, Golden State over Utah in 5. Golden State over Houston in 6.

Finals 

Golden State over Boston in 5. The inevitable strikes again.

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