How Cavs’ Darius Garland went from an uneven rookie to a max player

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/NBAE via Getty Images
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/NBAE via Getty Images /
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Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

In a move that was widely expected, the Cleveland Cavaliers locked up their franchise guy for the foreseeable future with a new rookie max contract extension over the weekend. The Cavs and Darius Garland were able to come to a contract extension agreement of five years and $193 million, of which could end up being $231 million, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This isn’t surprising as Garland had a breakout season in which he averaged 21.6 ppg, 8.6 apg, and 1.3 steals, shooting 46.2 percent from the field, and 38.3 percent from three, while being the main catalyst leading the Cavs to a 44-38 record and making his first All-Star appearance. Garland’s breakout year might be a surprise to some, but this is the type of player the Cavs envisioned when they drafted him.

Go back to 2019 the Cavaliers were in a much different situation than they are today. Going into that draft the Cavs were only a year removed from losing LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018 via free agency. Unlike Paul George departing to L.A., Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets, James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, where in most of those cases those teams got a haul in return, the Cavs lost LeBron James for nothing.

After LeBron left the Cavs much like 2010 brought back most of the veterans and tried to be competitive, but after it was clear that wouldn’t be the case the Cavs traded away most of them and started a full-scale rebuild.

Again whenever a team loses a superstar for nothing, you’re starting essentially from scratch and it takes time. With that the Cavaliers bottomed out and had one of the worst seasons in franchise history with a 19-63 record. The Cavs were tied with 2 other teams that year to end up with the number one pick. That year and leading up to the draft lottery the big prize was Zion Williamson, who was viewed as a generational talent, while Ja Morant/RJ Barrett were 2 and 3, respectively. The Cavs had a bad lottery night and fell all the way to five, effectively putting them out of range for those guys.

After the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans made a trade with the Atlanta Hawks (eventually selecting DeAndre Hunter), Darius Garland fell into the Cavs lap . Garland only played in 5 games, because of a torn meniscus, but in those 5 games you saw the elite shooting, the shot creation, shiftiness, craftiness and some of the playmaking. Garland had a ton of upside, but in a lot of ways he was known as an unknown because he only played in 5 games.

The Cavs being in the early stages of a rebuild without a centerpiece decided to go with the upside pick taking Garland, 1 year after taking Collin Sexton. Garland on upside was a top 3 prospect in the draft . Mike Schmitz, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, but at the time with ESPN, thought he was a 4 player draft and compared some of his game to Damian Lillard.

Looking back that first full offseason being in such an early stage of a rebuild is the most important one.