What A Possible End To The 2019-20 NBA Season Means For The Cavaliersby Evan Dammarell
There may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for the NBA during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While nothing is entirely set in stone, all signs point to the NBA returning to play towards the end of July at Walt Disney DIS World, per league sources. But, it remains uncertain how many teams will be packing their bags for Florida to take part in resuming league play. Per sources, the NBA hopes to resume regular season play to allow all 30 teams to participate in 5-6 games to serve as a warmup for the playoffs as well as not completely tank the league’s salary cap.
But, they also face the risk of possibly exposing 30 separate sets of players, family members and essential personnel to the disease as well. And although Walt Disney World covers nearly 40 square miles with lodging throughout, both Disney and the NBA could be strained to find enough space to house everyone safely. That’s why the other option on the table is that the NBA begins the playoffs immediately based on current standings, per sources. The NBA is even considering expanding to include the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs as well.
If the NBA elects to go with the latter instead of the former, it means the Cleveland Cavaliers season is officially over. Sitting at 19-46 and fifteenth in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland would begin to shift its focus towards next season. But, there are plenty of ramifications for the Cavaliers if their season were to come to a sudden end, both on and off the court.
The financial impact of losing the remainder of the season
One of the biggest things to impact the Cavaliers organization if the season were to come to a sudden end would be the loss in revenue. Interestingly enough, Cleveland has not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention despite their record and place at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But, the idea of the Cavaliers making the playoffs is fleeting joy as the team is more focused on draft positioning over jockeying for the eighth seed.
So, no matter what, Cleveland was never going to get a cut of playoff ticket revenue. But, what they are losing out on is ticket and television revenue for the remainder of the regular season. The loss in ticket revenue was a given, with it being estimated that the NBA could lose approximately $690 million based on resale value alone. The NBA, along with the MLB and NHL also face the risk of losing approximately $1 billion in television ad revenue as well during all of this.
For teams like Cleveland, who rely on these revenue streams, this will obviously hurt the organization for the foreseeable future. As mentioned before, teams not being able to play a handful of games will already have implications towards the league’s salary cap next year. The same can be said for these possible losses in revenue streams as well. For a team like Cleveland, who has Kevin Love’s $31.3 million and possibly Andre Drummond’s $28.7 million on the books next year, their financial situation becomes a lot more uncomfortable.
Not being able to properly say goodbye to a franchise icon
While the Cavaliers will have some hefty contracts on their payroll like Love’s and Drummond’s, they will also be clearing some salary from their books this offseason. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are both in the last year of their contracts with Cleveland and will be free agents this summer. There’s a chance Dellavedova could return to the Cavaliers on a minimum deal, he is a valuable asset in the development of Cleveland’s youth movement and has shared that he would like to remain with the team.
“I do want to stay in Cleveland. I love it here,” said Dellavedova in an interview in October. “My wife really enjoys it here. The fans and organization have always been awesome to me but, for now, my primary focus remains on this upcoming season.”
Thompson, meanwhile, made it known to the Cavaliers that he would prefer to be moved to a contender leading up to this year’s trade deadline, according to league sources. Cleveland had offers out there for Thompson, but none of them felt equivalent to how valuable the Canadian big man is to the organization. Instead, the Cavaliers prepared for Thompson’s eventual departure by trading for Andre Drummond from the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a future second round pick.
With that in mind, Thompson has played his last game in a Cavaliers uniform if Cleveland’s season does come to a sudden end. Thompson, who Cleveland selected fourth-overall in 2011, is the most tenured Cavalier on the roster and was vital for the team’s four straight trips to the NBA Finals. He’ll exit Cleveland towards the top in all rebounding categories and is arguably one of the top fifteen players in franchise history. One day, his jersey will hang in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse but it’s a shame that Thompson won’t get a proper sendoff from Cleveland fans.
Killing momentum and stunting future growth
Right before league play came to a halt, the Cavaliers made a coaching change. John Beilein, who Cleveland had hired at the beginning of the season, decided to walk away 54 games into his first season as an NBA coach. In Beilein’s wake, the Cavaliers tapped J.B. Bickerstaff to be the team’s twenty-third coach in franchise history. Bickerstaff just wasn’t an interim coach either, Cleveland envisioned him as their long term answer at head coach.
When Bickerstaff took over, the improvements were almost immediate for the Cavaliers. The team looked engaged under Bickerstaff’s guidance, something that Beilein never truly had after the preseason. The Cavaliers played better defense under Bickerstaff, allowing 113.7 points per game, which is improved to their seasonal average of 114.8 points allowed per game. The team also looked sharp offensively as well, with Bickerstaff designing a system that fits much better to Cleveland’s personnel. This improved play on both sides of the ball had the Cavaliers riding high and Bickerstaff commanding a respectable 5-6 record.
But, the biggest improvement Bickerstaff had made in his already short time as head coach was the strides he was making with Cleveland’s young core. Kevin Porter Jr. was averaging 10.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game, all higher than his seasonal averages, when Bickerstaff took over. Collin Sexton, meanwhile, was beginning to unlock his playmaking in Bickerstaff’s offense - averaging 4.2 assists per game under his new coach. Sexton also was on a tear offensively, averaging 25.5 points per game on a crazy efficient 51.9% shooting, as well and was making his case as the best player on Cleveland’s roster.
Clearly, Bickerstaff has proven he is the man for the job in his short time coaching Cleveland. But, with the pandemic shutting things down, all that momentum and growth has likely come to a halt as well. This shutdown could not have come at a more unfortunate time for the Cavaliers as they were showing potential under Bickerstaff but still needed time to properly flourish. Hopefully they can pick up the pieces and continue building if the league allows all 30 teams to return. But, if Cleveland’s season is deemed over, it could have a serious impact on the future growth and development of key players on the roster.