CLEVELAND — On Jan. 20, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 147-135 in double-overtime, a win that moved them into the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.
With Collin Sexton scoring a career-high 42 points, it appeared Cleveland had announced itself as, if nothing else, an up-and-coming team full of young and exciting talent. Sexton echoed that exact sentiment in an essay for The Players' Tribune two weeks later.
The only problem? On the same day that Sexton's essay was published on The Players' Tribune, the Cavs were blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 121-99. That defeat kickstarted what is currently an eight-game losing streak that lasted the entirety of Cleveland's five-game West Coast road trip, which concluded on Monday night with a 129-98 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Returning to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday to face the San Antonio Spurs, the playoffs are a distant thought for the Cavs, who now lay claim to a 10-19 record. Rather, Cleveland finds itself focused on the state of its rebuild, which now faces several key questions, including the following:
Who are the Cavs' core players?
While there is still plenty one can pick apart about Sexton's game, he has shown enough upside as a scorer to likely warrant a contract extension this summer. Now in his third season in the league, the 22-year-old Sexton was receiving legitimate All-Star consideration before Cleveland's recent slide and appears to be a piece the Cavs will continue to build with moving forward.
Likewise, Jarrett Allen, who the Cavs acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team trade last month, is due for a contract extension this summer and will in all likelihood receive one. While center may no longer be a coveted position in the NBA, the 22-year-old Allen possesses enough defensive skill and athletic ability to remain a valuable commodity in the modern game.
The No. 5 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Darius Garland has shown drastic improvement from his rookie season and arguably possesses the highest upside of any player currently on Cleveland's roster. His fit with Sexton -- both players are listed at 6-foot-1 -- however, is a fair concern and is something worth monitoring, especially if Sexton receives a long-term extension this summer.
While he isn't as young as the previous players mentioned, Larry Nance Jr. has become a valuable role player who has, unsurprisingly, embraced being a veteran presence for his hometown team. It's also worth noting that the Cavs' recent losing streak has coincided with Nance suffering a broken hand, which will keep him sidelined for at least the next six weeks.
Is that good enough?
Although Cleveland's recent losing streak has largely come at the hands of a murderer's row of opponents, the results speak for themselves. In particular, it's fair to question the long-term viability of a Garland-Sexton starting backcourt, especially with the lack of offensive-minded wings on the Cavs' roster.
The good news: currently laying claim to the fourth-worst record in the NBA, Cleveland appears headed for another high-end lottery pick in a draft thought to be more talent-rich than the previous two. In other words, Cavs fans shouldn't be blamed for beginning to familiarize themselves with the likes of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Johnson.
What about Andre Drummond?
As was made public on Monday, the Cavs plan to sit Drummond as they attempt to trade the two-time All-Star ahead of the March 25 trade deadline. At this point, it's tough to imagine Cleveland getting much back for the four-time rebounding champion, whose $28,751,775 salary could prove to be a significant hurdle in finding a deal.
What about Kevin Love?
More than a year removed from reportedly asking for a trade -- and admittedly acting immature -- Kevin Love has yet to make much of an impact for the Cavs in the post-LeBron James era. This season, Love appeared in just two games and a total of 23 minutes before suffering a calf strain that he has yet to make his return from.
While Cleveland would likely still listen to any trade offers for the 32-year-old Love, his lack of his recent playing time makes his trade market difficult to gauge. After this season, the five-time All-Star still has two years remaining on his current contract with the Cavs.
Where do the Cavs go from here?
Although Love's impending return could provide a boost and more playing time for Allen instead of Drummond could ultimately be a positive, in all likelihood, there are still more losses than wins ahead for the Cavs this season. Unless any of Cleveland's young players -- including rookie Isaac Okoro, who hasn't shown much of an offensive game through the first 24 games of his NBA career -- make a substantive jump, the Cavs' improvement at season's end may ultimately prove minimal.
And while Cleveland's promising start to this season may have raised expectations, the reality remains that the Cavs still need lottery luck more than anything else to jump-start their rebuild. Whether or not they'll get it, we won't know until May. But at their current rate, it appears they'll be giving themselves plenty of ping pong balls to help make that happen.