Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers ended the season with a 124-97 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at the newly renamed Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
1. The Cavs (19-63) tied for the fourth-worst finish in franchise history. They wrapped up the season with 10 consecutive losses (although Kevin Love played in only five of those). After watching LeBron James depart for the Lakers in free agency, they matched the record they posted after he took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010.
2. Yet gloom did not seep through post-game interviews. No one sounded relieved it was over, although coach Larry Drew said that will likely set in on Wednesday.
3. Drew said the locker room wasn’t emotional, “just very quiet” as he spoke.
4. “You could hear a pin drop; it was that quiet. Then it got extremely loud when they dumped a bucket of ice water on Channing,” Drew said, referring to the retiring Channing Frye. “They actually got a little bit of me, too. But no, the guys were very attentive and that’s how final game meetings are. The spirits were good, the spirits were very good.”
5. Drew played 10 years in the league and has coached in it for 27 more. He’s headed the rebuilding Hawks and Bucks. He knows how hard it is to stay motivated to finish out a miserable, meaningless season.
6. “So tonight is kind of bittersweet,” Drew said. “As tough as this season has been, I still really enjoyed coming to work every day, as crazy as that may sound, because these guys made it that way. They stayed focused and they stayed the course when I took over. I told them I would make demands on them and I expect them to play hard and for the most part, they did that. But watching Channing (Frye) go out the way he did, that will be more memorable than anything, probably.”
7. The ever-joyous Frye provided the perfect ending. Departing after 13 seasons at age 35, he scored all of his season-high 10 points in the final 4:08, his three field goals coming on the final three of rookie Collin Sexton’s season-high 10 assists.
8. Sexton started the day delivering breakfast to Frye and his family, as shown on the team’s Twitter page, then gave him a great on-court sendoff.
9. “It’s funny, too, because I drew up a play out of a timeout (with 3:02 to go) and I actually had Larry (Nance Jr.) being the passer to Channing on the play, and Collin said, ‘No, let me be the passer, I’m one away, I’m one away,’” Drew said. “And I said, ‘You’re one away from what?’ And he said, ‘I’ve got nine assists,’ and I said, ‘OK, well you guys just flip flop spots.’”
10. When first asked about the 10 assists, Sexton deferred and praised Frye. The second time the question came up, pertinent because some wonder whether Sexton will ever be a true NBA point guard, he admitted “that was big.”
11. “Larry (Nance Jr.) wanted me to get it. I had to challenge myself tonight and go out there and do it,” Sexton said.
12. While the most significant part of the season was the improvement of the young Cavs, especially Sexton, the final takeaway was more about how the Cavs avoided implosion when Love was lost after the fourth game, destined to miss 50 following left foot surgery. He played in only 22 games. Tristan Thompson played in 43 due to a left foot sprain.
13. After veterans spoke off the record early in the season questioning Sexton’s skills, no more such sniping surfaced. There were no post-game comments about players who weren’t doing their part, no one wondering about a teammate’s heart or toughness.
14. It hasn’t been that long ago, Feb. 6, 2018, actually, when then-Cav Dwyane Wade wondered if his teammates had the right stuff. “Right now we don’t have that joy that we need. It’s easy for our soul to get snatched from us when teams start making shots,” Wade said that night in Orlando.
15. Even though Wade was soon traded to the Heat and Altman totally revamped the roster at the deadline, those Cavs went to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
16. An injury-wracked season that forced the Cavs into rebuilding mode and prompted an NBA-high 32 different starting lineups was extremely tough to survive, but the Cavs did so peacefully. No souls were snatched by their failures.
17. “I think all of us really love the game and we did right by the game,” Love said Tuesday. “I know that didn’t necessarily show up in the wins column, but we also really love being around each other. I think that’s rare on a team where when you’re taking losses and you’re learning on the fly and guys sometimes will try to get their number, some guys will have a bad attitude, some guys will want out.
18. “But I think some of our guys, if not all of them really enjoy playing together. And for the young guys, getting the opportunity to play big minutes and failing sometimes but learning and having success with it. I think it’s only for the most part positive in how we felt about playing together. It’s just very rarely did we see a full lineup.”
19. Thompson wasn’t surprised the season didn’t fall apart despite losing streaks of 12 and 10 games.
20. “We actually like being around each other,” Thompson said. “I’ve been on teams before when you’re not winning, guys kind of have their own cliques and groups. For the most part this team, we all like hanging out with each other. We’re on the plane laughing and joking. Obviously our record is not what we wanted, but guys actually enjoy coming to work with each other and I think that’s what made it so much easier this season. We actually had a good time with each other. We actually enjoyed playing with each other and hanging out with each other off the court. It’s always nice to be able to come to work with guys you like.”
21. Thompson said that was one of the reasons the Cavs never stopped competing, even when they knew they were going to finish with one of the three worst records in the league. They tied for second-worst with the Suns.
22. “A lot of teams that are at the bottom of the league the last 20 games they stop competing and get blown out by 30 every night,” Thompson said. “With this group we’ve got a lot of pride and we had appreciation for the game, we competed every night. As an older guy it’s good to see these guys have pride and care about being on the floor and have respect for the game.
23. “I think we’ve had a tough group since day one. (GM) Koby (Altman) and (owner) Dan (Gilbert) have done a good job of getting character people who want to compete every night.”
24. Larry Nance Jr. admitted he wasn’t sure the Cavs had the mental toughness to make it through such a difficult challenge.
25. “I was uncertain. We were young. Nothing against different guys, but we had a lot of young guys,” Nance said. “This takes a toll on anybody, but coming into the league and being thrust into this situation is not easy, let alone we lost two of our leaders for a majority of the year in Kevin and Tristan. It would have been very easy to fold. ‘Woe is me, let’s just fold it in and scrap the rest of the season because we are not going to show up.’
26. “I certainly don’t think we did that. Collin did an outstanding job. He played 82 games and that’s awesome. Haven’t done that once in my career, so hats off to him. Cedi (Osman) grew throughout the year. Big Z (Ante Zizic) was awesome. Obviously Kevin when he played, Tristan, different guys stepped up at different times. I think you can look at everybody’s games and see where they grew and I think that’s big time.”
27. Sexton became the eighth Cavs rookie to appear in all 82 games and the first since Andre Miller in 1999-2000. He was the only Cav to achieve that feat this season.
28. “Coming in that was the goal to play all 82 games,” he said. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I had to make sure I take care of my body each and every game just because bumps and bruises, you get fouled a lot.”
29. Even though the Cavs defeated playoff-bound teams Orlando, Toronto, Milwaukee and Detroit in March, the 10-game losing streak to finish the season could have been a downer. But Drew saw the bright side.
30. “It should make us even that much more hungrier,” Drew said. “When you go through rough stretches, it should leave a bitter taste in your mouth. I mean, we’ve gone through a tough year, but prior we were in the NBA Finals four straight years and now we’re on the other side. We should have a taste in our mouth to come back and to be different. There’s a lot of work that has to take place over the summer from a personnel standpoint, but it’s all part of the rebuilding process. There’s things that have to take place and things that have to be improved to move forward.”
31. Sexton agreed it would be extra motivation.
32. “Oh, yeah, absolutely, coming into next season I want to make the playoffs,” Sexton said. “I feel like we can, for sure. We have a good group of guys and we’ll see (about) the coaching staff.”
33. Love didn’t think the streak soured what had been accomplished.
34. “Obviously we’d like to get a couple wins under our belt, especially to end the season. But no, I think it’s very positive,” Love said. “We want to look at it as positive going into the off-season that we know we’re together and we have a full group of guys, and we’re playing the right way and we’ll give ourselves a shot. I keep talking about moving forward. It’s not going to slow up any momentum going into the off-season. Give guys time to reassess where they’re at with their bodies and their games and get better.”
35. Drew, who took over when Tyronn Lue was fired after an 0-6 start, may not be back. His contract has a team option; he will meet with Altman soon to discuss his future.
36. For what could be his final address to the Cavs, Drew said he borrowed from one of his former coaches.
37. “He challenged every player in the room to come back a different player. 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,” Drew said. “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 and try to improve. There is no better time to improve than over the summer, to really work on your weaknesses.
38. “And then more than anything just thanking them for staying professional. Again, I understand how difficult the season was with everything that took place. But they stayed professional and they kept working hard, and I just wanted to let them know how much I appreciated it.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.