CLEVELAND — As Larry Drew addressed the Cavaliers on Tuesday night for what could have been the final time as their coach, he challenged them to use the next five months to improve.
That may not seem unusual for a team that finished 19-63, tied for the second-worst record in the league and tied for the fourth-worst finish in franchise history.
But even as the Cavs praised the development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton, forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman and center Ante Zizic, Drew knew a talent void remains. For the Cavs to speed up their return to relevance as they rebuild, they need a productive summer from their young core.
That’s why Drew called on the words he once heard from a former coach for his send-off.
“He challenged every player in the room to come back a different player,” Drew said. “Just be true to yourself and look in the mirror and truly say that you’re going to be better in this area when you come back the following season. Some guys, they can’t do it. They won’t do it.
“But being a young player, I think it’s important that you really do a true self-evaluation of your game and try to get better. There is no better time to improve than over the summer, to really work on your weaknesses.”
According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, Drew gave Sexton’s father, Darnell, a quick tutorial on how to teach his 20-year-old son to run the pick-and-roll in the hallway of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Nance, 26, said he will concentrate on ball-handling and improving his 3-point shot.
Osman, 24, will continue to work on his long-range shooting. Although his 3-point percentage slipped from .368 in limited minutes as a rookie to .348 this season, he connected on .388 after the All-Star break.
Zizic, 22, is expected to emphasize conditioning. It’s possible an uptick in aggressiveness will come as he gains confidence and muscle.
Osman will benefit from international play with the Turkish team in the FIBA World Cup Aug. 31-Sept. 15 in China. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson said they will consider participating with Team USA and Team Canada, respectively, but both must consider the physical risks. Love played in only 22 games, missing 50 following left foot surgery. Thompson was plagued by a left foot sprain and played in just 43 games.
“This is the first time in my time here I’ve had an extra two months off,” Love said after the Cavs reached the past four NBA Finals. “I might be playing some extra basketball for Team USA, so we’ll see if I get that extra two months or not. I’m on the list, so I don’t know what will happen.”
Thompson has not made a decision yet.
“It’s still long until August, I’ll see how my body feels. If I feel great and everything lines up how I want it to ...” Thompson said.
Drew will be pleased that some left the arena with a clear idea of what they must work on.
Nance came into this season trying to become more of a facilitator and finished second on the Cavs in assists with a 3.2 average, trailing only Matthew Dellavedova. Now Nance has another goal.
“I was pushing, dribbling, making passes without even being able to dribble. You should see me in the dribbling drills, it’s atrocious,” Nance said. “So I’m excited to actually work on that this summer and really get my handle tight and obviously work on my 3-point shots.”
Sexton showed he was one of the hardest workers on the team as he made the biggest strides, but will need time off after being the only Cav to play in 82 games.
“I’ve got to take a little rest just because I played all 82 and I want to be fresh for next season,” he said of getting back in the gym. “I’m not sure the time limit, but I will talk to the trainers and they’ll let me know.”
Thompson called this Cavs’ season “growing pains,” but didn’t doubt the effort his teammates will expend in the coming months.
“Our guys are hungry and want to be better and want to play in the playoffs,” Thompson said. “As long as they take the offseason serious and work on their body and work on their game, next year with whoever we have running the show for us ... Of course, we want to be better.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.