CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cavaliers had no choice.
Kevin Porter Jr. – a 6-foot-4 wing who teased fans, teammates, coaches, and executives about a promising rookie season that was littered with mesmerizing flashes of star qualities on the pitch – was not reaching his potential here in Cleveland .
Head coach JB Bickerstaff, who volunteered to oversee Porter’s development at the beginning of the 2019-20 season while Bickerstaff was still John Beilein’s senior assistant, was unable to consistently reach out to Porter – although Bickerstaff is widely known as a great communicator. Guide and culture builder.
General Manager Koby Altman, who began to bond with Porter during his unpredictable season at USC, often texted the worried youngster, and spent a lot of time on campus getting to know him, couldn’t get through to Porter either. At least not enough to pull him back after months of missteps.
“The organization did everything and more for him,” a league source told cleveland.com. “You did everything. They gave him more opportunities than most franchises. “
Now the Houston Rockets will try to save Porter from the ruin of his career – a hopeful start that quickly turned with too much free time during an off-season prolonged by the pandemic, a string of bad off-court decisions, and immaturity that got him first followed Seattle to USC and then college to Cleveland. Always one step forward and a few steps back.
For the Rockets, this is a low risk, high reward move – a worthy gamble for an organization that James Harden recently sold to the Brooklyn Nets and whose assistant coach John Lucas has a history of out-of-court reclamation projects in trouble. If it doesn’t work, the missiles will keep moving and not giving up, considering the heavily protected second round pull-ax the Cavs receive is likely never to be conveyed.
For the Cavs, this is a significant setback in their reconstruction.
Teammates viewed Porter as the most talented of the young core, the player with the most likely road to stardom. Front office members viewed him as inviolable when rival teams contacted him in previous trade talks. Porter should be the one – at the heart of this rebuilding with the ability to change trajectory, the phenomenon they stole at the end of the first round.
Even after an off-season arrest, Porter was still in Cleveland’s long-term vision and decided to take his option for the third year.
What could have been. Flash forward through Thursday. The Cavs agreed to a deal that was basically a paycheck. You had two options: Porter for very little deal, or foregoing him entirely. They opted for the least painful game by giving them a margin below the luxury tax and an open roster seat for a base guard to fill the short-term void Matthew Dellavedova was indefinitely paused because of a concussion.
Make no mistake: nobody looks good here.
Not Porter, who was given multiple chances to show off the organization he’d learned from his mistakes to prove he had the emotional maturity to deal with everything that it takes to be an NBA player. The Cavs set goals for him, and Porter didn’t always work towards them. He felt disrespectful to the organization that had endured him for so long. They hoped he would return the favor or simply react differently and more mature. They also hoped Porter would make better decisions when it came to his surroundings.
The Cavs sympathized with him, realized his chaotic past and the massive burden he carried at such a young age, and moved his family to Cleveland so they could be cared for and safe. Despite the time, effort, resources, and extra care, it didn’t work. How do you help someone who is unwilling to help themselves? How many times are you going to give next time before frustration and exhaustion overwhelm you?
Altman doesn’t look good either. Almost two years ago he struck a gamble, paid $ 5 million, and forfeited four second-round picks for Porter’s drafting rights. The Cavs worked tirelessly to amass these assets. They are not able to throw them away – even if they are only second round players. The Cavs knew all the reasons for Porter’s draft. They did their homework, spoke to countless people, and met Porter in person. Although some other teams had taken him off the board, the Cavs were delighted with his advantage, seeing a Harden-like offensive package and tempting two-way traits.
Your thought process: What if we give them structure they never had, a consistent routine, proper eating habits, a better sleep schedule, workouts, professional coaching, a few veterans to show them the way, and how it will look for this child Bickerstaff as an assignable mentor?
It wasn’t perfect the first year. There were some slip-ups. But its rookie season made it seem like a wise bet.
Porter averaged 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He was one of the bright spots in a sometimes miserable 19-win season that ended abruptly in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He dueled Harden in a riveting showdown last December. Porter sparked a comeback in February against the Miami Heat, hitting a career high of 30 points.
Bickerstaff often referred to Porter as one of the best passers-by on the roster, and there was excitement over the opportunity to use the 20-year-old swingman as a playmaker. Porter developed a close relationship with assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who spoke of her love for the youngster.
Then everything changed during a long off-season. Porter drifted away.
In August 2020 he was accused of beating a woman in the face. In October, Porter posted a black square on his Instagram with the message, “Do you ever want to see the end of your time?” This incident resulted in Cavs officials and teammates reaching out to him, making sure he was okay, and offering to help him. He was involved in a car accident in November – arrested and charged with improper use of a firearm in a motor vehicle, poor control of the vehicle and marijuana possession. All of these charges were dismissed.
Porter’s days with the Cavs reached a breaking point last Friday when he became upset after learning that his locker room had been given to newly acquired striker Taurean Prince. Porter had returned the day before to practice with the Cavs – part of a secret reintegration plan.
That night Altman came in and tried to discuss the problem. But Porter wouldn’t calm down. Food was thrown. Tensions increased. The verbal exchange between Porter and Altman was “uncomfortable for everyone there,” said a source who witnessed it.
Friday was the culmination of too many mistakes, including disregard for teammates and employees.
After this confrontation, Porter was asked to clear his locker and was removed from the building, banned from the team while the front office determined the next steps.
“We all want Kevin to be successful and I still feel that way,” said Bickerstaff on Monday. “Whatever happens to him in the future, I hope nothing but the best for him. And it is part of our responsibility as coaches to give everything to everyone and to try to get the best out of every situation. I can tell we did that. “
Bickerstaff’s message focused on togetherness, collective buy-in, accountability and discipline. The Cavs are trying to build a culture that is not yet firmly established. A surprising 7-7 start puts them in the right direction, currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture a month after this strange season began. You couldn’t risk all of this for a player, no matter how talented. They had played on him enough already.
The Cavs didn’t want that. They stood by Porter’s side after his arrest. They repeatedly referred to him as a good kid at heart. It wasn’t an impulsive decision.
Maybe there were some things that they could have done better. Same goes for porter. Bickerstaff and Altman will certainly think about it. You will do the mirror test. But moving on was the best and only option for everyone involved. Porter was the only one who couldn’t live up to the organizational standard. What would it say about Core Values if he continued to receive preferential treatment and had endless opportunities? This was news. Put words into action.
After Porter disappears, the focus is on the rest of Cleveland’s young core. Collin Sexton ousts Porter as the cornerstone. The low-maintenance six-tone was one of the top players in the Eastern Conference over a staggering six months, dating back to last December. His most recent game helps soften the stabbing blow.
The arrival of Jarrett Allen is a nice boost and gives the Cavs a 22 year old center of the future that will become the defensive hub. Dylan Windler is about to make a comeback and has been a threat to Porter’s playing time. Taurean Prince, the throw-in piece of the Allen deal, is only 26 years old. Isaac Okoro has impressed the Cavs since he was drafted fifth in November. Darius Garland showed exciting growth before he sustained a sprained right shoulder. Don’t forget the unannounced Larry Nance Jr., at least it helps to have them all.
The Cavs chose culture over talent. You deserve recognition. But it doesn’t change the bottom line: Cleveland lost one of its cherished – and most important – building blocks.
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