The Cleveland Cavaliers had a choice to make this summer when LeBron James left them for a second time.
Blow things up by trading Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and others for draft picks and young talent and begin the rebuild, or double down and try to remain a playoff team in a perennially watered-down Eastern Conference.
Thus far, they've chosen the latter.
Cleveland has yet to trade away any of its veterans, instead signing 35-year-old Channing Frye after dealing him to the Los Angeles Lakers just five months earlier. While Love would have been their most sought-after trade piece, the Cavs opted not only to keep their five-time All-Star but to also give him a four-year, $120 million contract extension.
The Cavaliers' rebuild-on-the-fly approach is extremely difficult to pull off, even if the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz did so last season despite losing their own best players. Most teams that try end up getting stuck in the middle—not good enough to win a playoff series and not bad enough to score a top pick in the draft.
To see if Cleveland is taking the right approach, Bleacher Report spoke to an Eastern Conference scout.
Rebuild vs. Playoffs
Hypothetically, the Cavs could make the playoffs this year despite losing James.
The Pacers were projected by many to miss the postseason in 2017-18 after trading Paul George, but they ended up going 48-34 and grabbing the fifth seed in the East. The Jazz also won 48 games even in a much tougher Western Conference after Gordon Hayward left for the Boston Celtics in free agency.
The Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers will likely once again grace the top of the East, while Indiana, the Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks should secure their positions as well. This leaves just one spot, likely a fight between the Cavs, Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons.
Still, is fighting for an eighth seed really the best move over rebuilding?
"I don't like what they're doing. I would have done the full rebuild. Indiana got lucky. Cleveland needs to build through the draft for the next two to three years, bite the bullet and go from there. Even with the roster that they have now, they'll probably still get a top-10 pick, maybe a top-five. I don't see Cleveland being very good. I would have gutted.
"There's about seven guaranteed playoff teams already. Are they going to be better than Brooklyn and Atlanta? Yeah. Probably New York. Are they going to be better than Charlotte and Orlando? I don't know. I don't see [Cleveland] in the top eight. The only way they can get better is gut it and start over again. It's not an attractive place for a free agent."
The Kevin Love Extension
Love's extension, combined with the final remaining deal of his current contract, means the Cavs will owe him roughly $145 million over the next five seasons.
While Love is coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons and should be in the prime of his career at age 29, he's never led a team to the playoffs without having James as a teammate. Despite putting up big numbers during his first six years in the league with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love missed the postseason all six times.
Health has to be a concern as well. He's missed a total of 45 games due to injury over the past two years. If he's healthy and productive, $30 million a year would be good value in today's NBA. But if his injuries continue to pile up, that contract could quickly become one of the league's worst.
"Oh, God, I didn't like it. $30 million for Kevin Love? I like Kevin, but he doesn't have LeBron anymore, and he's going to have to carry the load. He'll be back like [he was in] Minnesota, getting big numbers on a bad team. He might get 20 rebounds a game because they'll miss a lot. He'll definitely be one of the leading rebounders this season.
"I'd trade him with that contract and try to get assets. Five years at $30 million a year? I wouldn't want him at that. If he were making $21 million, $22 million or even $23 million, sure, but not $30 million. That's a max player. He's not a max player. He's not a franchise player; he's probably the third guy on a really good playoff team. I doubt he would have gotten that contract from anyone else. He's a really good player, but I don't like it for $30 million."
Collin Sexton's Impact
The Cavs have been in love with Sexton for a while—so much so that they could have had Luka Doncic and Kent Bazemore instead of him and passed.
There's plenty to like about the 19-year-old point guard. He put up 19.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists during Summer League, displaying both incredible speed and defensive intensity.
He'll likely have to experience a Donovan Mitchell-esque rookie season for the Cavaliers to make the postseason, which seems extremely unlikely, even for him.
"Sexton is their point guard of the future. He's a piece. They've at least got the 1 and 4 positions locked down.
"With him just being a freshman coming out of Alabama, it's going to take him a few years. I like him a lot, though. He's going to be thrown into the fire early. I think he'll come along quicker than the typical draft pick because I see him playing a lot of minutes.
"I like him, but Sexton's not ready [to lead a postseason team like Mitchell], and he won't do that. I see him more like a De'Aaron Fox. Fox struggled, but you saw brilliance there at times. It's going to be the same with [Sexton]."
Rodney Hood's Free Agency and Play with Cavs
Hood is a restricted free agent who's currently under a $3.4 million qualifying offer. He's yet to sign an offer sheet with another team.
Both the Cavaliers and Hood need each other, as Cleveland has a lot of points to be filled following the loss of James. Hood can take advantage of that opportunity after largely struggling with the Cavs following a trade from the Utah Jazz that undoubtedly hurt his free-agency value.
"Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point. I don't think anyone else wants him, which is surprising because I really liked him in Utah. Utah just let him fly. I was impressed with how he came back in the Finals as an 'I'll show you' game.
"I always liked him. He'll be good in Cleveland because Cleveland's going to be bad, and they'll need his scoring. Who else are they going to go to? He'll get quality minutes on that roster. How could he not? I'm not sure how tough he is, though. He can put up big scoring numbers on a bad team."
Even if the Cavs sneak into the playoffs, what then? Cleveland loses its first-round pick in 2019 to the Atlanta Hawks from a 2017 Kyle Korver trade if it falls outside the top 10. There appears to be little to gain by getting beat up in the first round and losing out on a valuable draft pick.
With the Cavs unlikely to grab any high-profile free agents, the draft seems like the obvious choice to improve this team long-term.
With a team full of veterans and head coach Tyronn Lue eager to prove he can coach without a superstar, buying into losing doesn't appear likely.
"[Potentially losing the 2019 first-round pick] scares me right there. Ty Lue is going to try and win as much as he can, and Kevin Love's certainly not going to try to lose. If Collin Sexton is really good, I can see them losing that draft pick. When you're a bad team and you draft a bust, or [you act] like the Cavs here and possibly lose your pick, that sets you back two or three years.
"There's always the element of luck. Indiana got lucky, let's face it. They didn't know that [Victor] Oladipo and [Domantas] Sabonis would be that good. Cleveland's going to have to get lucky or they'll be fighting an uphill battle the next 10 years. They're good fans, and I think they'll stay with the team. I think [general manager] Koby [Altman] will do a good job for them."
Greg Swartz covers the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA for Bleacher Report.