Since LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, the team has been in a win-now mode, which hasn’t left much room for young players to develop. First overall picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were traded after James’ return, and many of Cleveland’s draft picks have also been dealt for veterans.
Even when the rare young player has remained on the roster, he hasn’t seen much playing time. While rookie Cedi Osman also fell victim to this philosophy, he made the most of his limited minutes,and will be an important part of the Cavs’ future regardless of LeBron James’ upcoming decision.
When he was only 17 years old, Osman became a professional basketball player when he signed with the Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Super League. Although the competition in Turkey is not the greatest, it is still a testament to Osman’s talent that he was able to go pro at such a young age.
On draft night in 2015, Cleveland selected Duke point guard Tyus Jones with the 24th overall pick and then traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Osman, the 31st pick, and Rakeem Christmas, the 36th selection. One month later, Christmas was traded to the Indiana Pacers for a future first round pick
In two seasons with Indiana, Christmas played sparingly in just 30 games and is now out out of the league. In July 2017, Osman signed with the Cavs and moved to the U.S. from Europe to begin his NBA career.
Jones has been a solid, if unspectacular, backup point guard for the Timberwolves, averaging 5.1 points and 2.8 assists in 17.9 minutes per game last season. Based on their performance so far as well as future potential, it looks like the Cavs won this deal.
Osman didn’t play much in his one season, but he made a big impact. His stats may not reflect it, but Osman’s impact goes beyond what can be shown on paper.
Osman played in 61 games, starting 11. He averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 11 minutes per night. He shot 48% from the field and a respectable 37% from three-point range. Osman’s energy, effort, and hustle was a breath of fresh air for a Cavalier team full of veterans that have played rather lethargically at times over the past few seasons.
One of Osman’s highlights from his rookie season was an ankle-breaking fakeout in a win over the Detroit Pistons:
Osman may never develop into a star, but he has a bright NBA future as a role player. He has solid size at 6’8″ 215 lbs, he possesses a good jumpshot, and he gives great effort on defense. Cedi should excel as a backup guard-forward hybrid, especially with another offseason of NBA development.
In the event that LeBron James re-signs with the Cavaliers or opts in to his current contract, Osman will remain a backup. Perhaps he will see an increased role this season as he gains more experience, although Cavs coach Ty Lue doesn’t seem to be comfortable with playing rookie or second year players. If any of J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, or Rodney Hood is not retained by Cleveland, Osman should see some more playing time, although that could dwindle in the playoffs as it did this past season.
Osman may also be a trade chip if the Cavs attempt to upgrade their roster this season in an attempt to keep James around. He does have value because of his skill, age, and contract. Osman will be a restricted free agent after the 2020-2021 season and is owed less than $10 million during that time.
If James leaves for a different team, Osman could not only find himself with a massively increased role, potentially starting. Since the Atlanta Hawks own the Cavs’ 2019 first round pick if it falls outside of the top 10, it is in their best interests to “tank” if they are not competing for a championship (which they will not be doing without James) and receive a high draft pick.
The best way to do that is to play young and inexperienced players for extended periods of time. Not only does this decrease a team’s chance of winning, but it also helps the young players develop quicker than they would sitting on the bench.
On a Cavs team that isn’t looking to make the playoffs, Collin Sexton, Osman, and Ante Zizic should all be starting, as all three have the potential to develop into significant contributors during a Cleveland rebuild. Getting them playing time should be the highest priority next season, as they are the Cavaliers’ three youngest players.
Cedi Osman has become a fan favorite during his short time in Cleveland, and although his playing time will be highly dependent on James’ pending free agency, he should be a Cavalier for a long time.