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Darius Garland, the new king of Cleveland

The 22-year-old guard, who is already an All-Star, spoke about his future to GQ ahead of a summer when he will sign a contract extension for 181 million dollars with the Cavs.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 02: Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts with Collin Sexton #2 late in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on January 2, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Todd KirklandAFP

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season ended with a defeat in the play-in. Hardly a sparkling finale to what had been an excellent campaign in Ohio, one in which the franchise was the revelation during the first half of the season before being hit with a plague of injuries of biblical proportions. Not since the 1997-98 season have the Cavs posted a balance of over 50% wins and a ticket to the playoffs without LeBron James on their books. They finally managed to achieve the former (44-38) but, burdened by injuries, they dropped down to the play-in positions where they were unable to get past the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.

But otherwise, the season can be considered a great success because the Cavs found the formula to rebuild the team. Head coach JB Bickerstaff has imposed an ebullient style of basketball. With three inside players - Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the starting line-up. Mobley has been playing sensationally in his rookie season and Allen earned a place at the All-Star game, which this year was played in Cleveland. Then there is 22-year-old point guard Darius Garland, a superstar in the making - he averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists with 38% in 3s. And that is without taking into account the injuries which he has had to deal with plus a lack of support in the outer positions. First Collin Sexton succumbed to a season-ending injury, then Ricky Rubio suffered a serious knee injury. The Spaniard was traded to Indiana Pacers in the operation which brought Caris LeVert to Cleveland, but the forward didn’t perform to the level expected.

Now the Cavs have decisions to make. Garland is certain to be handed an extension (He was the No.5 pick in the 2019 draft) - in excess of 181 million dollars for five years, making him the new face of the franchise. Sexton and LeVert will be put on the market and there are rumours that Ricky could return to Cleveland as a free agent.

Breakout season

Ricky Rubio played a key role for Cleveland when he was fit and Garland always refers to him as a important figure in his own development. Once again, he lauded the Spanish point guard in an interview with GQ: “Leadership. That’s the one thing we talk about every day. Going into my second year, he literally told me, “You have the keys, this is your team, you just have to drive the car.” That’s the analogy he gave me. I had to learn how to drive this car, with this team, coming in as one of the youngest guys on the team and I had to be the leader and talk the most. Being more vocal, being a leader, putting people where they want to be and try to be the best on the court at all times. Be the first on the court. Be the last one to leave,” he explained. It was difficult. I’m coming in as a 19 year old rookie. I’m trying to tell a 35, 36 year old like Kevin Love to come set this screen. Or, at the time, guys like Tristan Thompson to come set this screen. These guys have won championships here with one of the best players to ever play basketball. This year, Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo have helped me tremendously in my growth. Watching film, seeing where guys like to have the ball at, where they like to score, that’s just a little of what I’ve learned in my three years here”

Darius Garland.
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Darius Garland. Tim NwachukwuAFP

Two veteran guards, Rondo and Ricky, have helped Garland to expand his vision when directing play: “Rondo gave me the mental part of the game. We watch film throughout the entire season. Every game, on the road, on the plane, in the room, at dinner. We watching film no matter what with ‘Do. With Ricky, it was the game inside the game. He would tell me to play a game while we’re playing a game. Put people in pick and roll situations, go at him and see what he does. The next play: put him in the same pick and roll situation and see what happens. He was teaching me how to pick apart a defense. I picked those things up easy from those two”.

Happy in Cleveland

Garland was one of the finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, which ended up going to Ja Morant. He hopes Collin Sexton will continue as his backcourt partner with the Cavs: “I hope Collin stays around. I really like playing with him. He’s super cool off the court and we have a lot of similarities: we both like shoes and clothes and we love the game of basketball. He was like my big brother coming into the league. So, hopefully, Collin sticks around. Hopefully we get more some more years to play with each other and make some playoff appearances. I love the city of Cleveland, I love the people and organization, so it’s cool just being there. It’s a lot of food spots that’s pretty good. The summers here are crazy: get on a boat and go on the lake. It’s just…culture. It’s a big melting pot. Everyone gets along with everyone. A lot of people say it’s gloomy here all the time, but it’s gloomy in New York, too, right now. I don’t think about LeBron and his legacy, I’m focused solely on working, improving and making the team better. LeBron is a legend in Cleveland and the NBA and I have total respect for him, but I am focused on myself and my team”.


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