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Sexton is next step in Cavaliers' new era of player development

By JOE VARDON • Jun 25, 2018 at 10:00 AM

INDEPENDENCE — The last player the Cavaliers drafted and developed into an All-Star was Kyrie Irving.

Collin Sexton is going to wear No. 2 for the Cavs, previously worn in Cleveland by Irving. And that's where the parallels begin.

"Coming in, I'm going to set goals for myself and then as well there's going to be team goals set, but I feel like I'm not going to have to live up to anybody's shoes," said Sexton, the Cavs' 2018 first round pick, during his introductory news conference Friday at team headquarters in Independence. "I'm going to come in and learn and be the best player I can be on the court as well as off the court."

Sexton was drafted to replace Irving as Cleveland's point guard, though they share few similarities other than a basic strength of putting the ball in the hole.

Rather, the addition of Sexton is the latest step of the Cavs toward a different era not seen since the days when Irving was drafted first overall in 2011, up until LeBron James returned in 2014.

As general manager Koby Altman said Friday, for the first time in a long time, the Cavs are "going to be in the player development business."

The question now is, what does Cleveland's apparent re-commitment to player development mean for James, who is considering whether to leave the franchise and declared he wants to remain in championship mode?

"First and foremost we want to compete at the highest level," Altman explained. "Winning championships is still our goal and will always be our goal. But through that process we wanted to focus on long-term success, sustainability. Going through this year we were able to get younger and talented and athletic and have some real momentum going into the future. We knew this pick was going to be a big part of that plan. And now it's not a pick any more, it is Collin Sexton.

"We're going to invest a lot of time into him and he's a part of this culture now of winning, of hard work, attitude, the stuff we talk about," Altman continued. "His talent level is extremely high and so we're excited about him and our momentum as a franchise.

"He's going to play meaningful games from day one."

Sexton is 19. He doesn't turn 20 until January. Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic were rookies last season. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. played their first playoff games last season. Rodney Hood, who will likely be a restricted free agent, made his first playoff start.

Ostensibly, this is what Altman and coach Tyronn Lue, who was at Sexton's presser and spoke to this idea, mean about turning toward player development. The Cavs' roster is younger than its been at any time since James came back and they started going to the Finals.

Cleveland's player development staff has undergone significant change already this offseason. Phil Handy, who previously oversaw player development, was dismissed and Vitaly Potapenko left to be an assistant coach in Memphis.

Dan Geriot was promoted to be the Cavs' chief player development coach.

Lue plans to spend the summer working with Sexton and Clarkson in Las Vegas. In Clarkson's case, after a solid regular season in which he was second in the NBA in bench scoring (13.9 ppg), he struggled mightily in the playoffs.

Sexton averaged 19.2 points as a freshman at Alabama and is an explosive runner, jumper, and defender. But he has everything to learn about being an NBA point guard. He was a .336 shooter from 3-point range in college, and said he watched "a whole lot of film and watching how I was missing and which way the ball was rotating when it was coming off my fingers and stuff like that."

Sexton represents the kinds of opportunities this coaching staff and front office haven't had to get a player and help him grow.

"When we did the Kevin Love deal (in 2014), the trades, we didn't have a chance to have draft picks," Lue said. "Now having him (Sexton) and having Clarkson and Hood and Cedi, Big Z, and now we have guys we can develop and help and try to mature as they go along. I'm very excited for that challenge.

"You always want to take young players and mold them to be who you want them to be and take on your personality, and I think he fits it perfect."

When Lue took over the Cavs in January, 2016, he lectured Irving and Love about giving up their brands to commit to winning. James had already won two titles and gone to six Finals. It wasn't until this season, when Altman traded away six veterans in return for Nance, Clarkson, Hood, and George Hill on Feb. 8, that Lue had so many young players to work with on his team.

But Lue was suffering from personal health issues that knocked him out for two weeks, and the season was too far along anyway for any real player development. James carried the team to the Finals, and they lost in four games to the Warriors.

In between Games 3 and 4, James said it takes not only talent to beat a super team like Golden State, but also the right basketball "minds." He said the Cavs "have a lot of talent as well," and then alluded to the mistakes which cost his team chances to win Games 1 and 3.

The Cavs had sent strong signals ahead of the draft they wanted to upgrade the roster with veterans, and they still can with some trade chips and their salary cap exception (which Altman said Friday he intends to use).

But a newfound devotion to "player development" is, at minimum, a phrase seldom used on any LeBron James team during his current run of eight consecutive Finals. Both the Heat and then the Cavs were loaded with veterans.

"I'm not going to stop in free agency in terms of getting better," Altman said. "We're never done trying to improve the roster. But we're excited about what we have right now and moving forward and giving this coaching staff a chance to have some real continuity here at the start of training camp."

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