After failing to defend their throne in the 2016-17 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced a huge dilemma in the summer of 2017 when their second-best player, Kyrie Irving, wanted off the team. A month after he demanded a trade, the Cavaliers sent Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for a trade package including Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and draft picks. At first glance, it looked like the Celtics won in the Irving trade, but once it became official, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said that they were the ones who benefited the most from the blockbuster deal.
Saying that they “killed it” (the deal) might be an overstatement, but Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer believes that Gilbert and the Cavaliers’ front office made the right decision to trade Irving in the 2017 NBA offseason. The departure of Irving had undeniably affected the Cavaliers’ chances of winning their second NBA championship title, but it allowed them to acquire players who could become significant parts of the title-contending team that they are building in the post-LeBron James era.
In his recent article, Pluto specifically mentioned the acquisitions of Collin Sexton and Larry Nance Jr. as one of the major reasons why the Cavaliers won the Irving trade in the summer of 2017. Sexton was selected using the Brooklyn Nets’ 2017 first-round pick that the Cavaliers received from the Celtics, while Nance Jr. was acquired by the Cavaliers from the Los Angeles Lakers by using Thomas as a trade chip. Sexton and Nance Jr. are still far from reaching the level of Irving, but with the improvements in their game, there’s no doubt that the future is bright for the Cavaliers.
Despite his inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, Sexton still managed to impress in his second year in the NBA. This season, the 21-year-old point guard is averaging 20.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.0 steal while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. New Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is aware of the issues in Sexton’s game, but he believes that the young point guard has huge potential.
“He’s aggressive by nature,” Bickerstaff said. “No matter if it’s a shooting game, 1-on-1, whatever… he goes at it hard and to win.”
Meanwhile, Nance Jr. continues to prove that the Cavaliers made the right decision to give him a four-year, $45 million contract extension last summer. Aside from displaying his ability to play three positions, Nance Jr. is also showing a major improvement with his perimeter shooting this season.
“(Nance) is ball-skilled enough where he can play on the perimeter,” Bickerstaff said. “He shoots it well enough where he can play on the perimeter. He defends well enough where he can be on the perimeter. ”
As of now, the Cavaliers still have a long way to go before returning to the NBA Finals, but if Sexton, Nance Jr., and their other young players grow together and build good chemistry, Cleveland will definitely move closer to being a relevant team in the Eastern Conference once again.