CLEVELAND, Ohio — As Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Collin Sexton walked out of his abbreviated exit meeting with coach JB Bickerstaff on Saturday afternoon — still trying to process the heartbreak stemming from a season-ending injury, the joy from a remarkable turnaround and the disappointment in the way it ended — Bickerstaff wanted to drive home two key points.
The first was appreciation. Because of a torn meniscus suffered 11 games into the season, Sexton did not get a chance to be part of Cleveland’s playoff push. At least not in the way I have desired.
But the young guard remained engaged throughout — and Bickerstaff wanted to let Sexton know the positive energy and team-first attitude didn’t go unnoticed.
The next was about health. The most important thing now is Sexton continuing this recovery trajectory.
“I’m getting there,” Sexton said Saturday. “Every day is a grind. I feel better every day. As long as I get better 1% each and every day I wake up, then it’s a win-win. I just continue to know that some days are going to be better than others and just continue to know I will be full go and I know I’m going to be 100 percent. I have confidence in myself and I have confidence in the people that’s working with me to get me back to where I was — and even much better. I’m excited because I’m in a really good place and I know I will be back where I was before.”
Sexton said there’s no timeline for when he will be full go. A source close to Sexton told cleveland.com there’s a series of tests coming next week to evaluate his progress on him. Sexton — who went through another pregame workout Friday night and can finally go the gym for those customary late-night, early-morning shooting sessions — vowed to be ready for training camp in September.
“It’s been the toughest year I faced in my basketball career,” he said. “But I know I have a good support staff. I got good coaches here and good trainers. I know everybody here is going to help me get through it and help me get to where I need to be.”
After an injury-wrecked season, Sexton is headed toward an uncertain summer. Not so much because of his surgically repaired knee from him either. His contract situation with him is one of Cleveland’s most pertinent questions.
A restricted free agent, the Cavs need to determine whether he’s still a fit or if Caris LeVert’s midseason arrival changes the calculus. And if the front office wants to re-up Sexton, what’s the right price for a guy coming off a significant injury and possibly headed into a sixth man role? Based on the currently salary cap situation, the price point of a new Sexton deal will determine if the team has access to the full midlevel exception — one route to external improvement.
“I want to be here in Cleveland,” Sexton reaffirmed. “I love the organization, love my teammates and whatever happens I know that Cleveland was really good to me. I know this is the place that helped me get to where I am today, and I know I want to continue to be a part of this winning culture. I feel like me just being able to be at the start of it helped us get to yesterday and where we are right now at the present. I love Cleveland. I want to be here.”
Sexton’s actions backed up those words. When he was rehabbing back home in Atlanta, Sexton still watched shootarounds on Zoom, participated in virtual team meetings and film sessions, and stayed connected via the team’s hilarious, light-hearted group text. Sexton also made a concerted effort to be around the team in Cleveland. He served as a rebounder or passer for teammates in shooting drills. He stood near the bench, cheering and celebrating big plays while shouting instructions — “left, right, pick and roll, weak, strong.” He wanted to be another coach on the bench.
“I’m going to do whatever is needed for my team,” Sexton said. “I was screaming. Know it was loud in there so sometimes you can’t hear. One extra voice is not going to hurt. I wanted to be involved as much as possible, I just physically couldn’t. Kind of tough when you’re not here and seeing everyone having a lot of fun, enjoying themselves and we’re winning and you’re not able to be a part of it. That was tough. I know JB and everyone figured out a way they could keep me involved and I appreciate them for that. Even though we came up short, we still had a phenomenal season.”
There’s always been a chip on Sexton’s shoulder. Following a lost season, he has even more fuel.
“I’m very motivated to be part of this,” Sexton said. “Get us over the hump and be able to bring production and whatever I bring to the game to help us get to that point that given night — whether it’s scoring, whether it’s defense, whether it’s being tough or being the leader, whatever is needed that night to get us to where I want to be. Everyone in this building wants to get back to the playoffs. I feel like we’re at a point where we’re almost there, we’re almost there. I feel like I can be part of that and get us to the playoffs.”
In 11 games, Sexton averaged 16.0 points. At the time of his early-November injury, he was Cleveland’s leading scorer despite getting acclimated to different usage, playing off the ball more frequently. The Cavs were 7-4.
Being out gave him a different perspective. I have homed in on coach-player interactions and watched the in-game adjustments. Sexton believes it will allow him to see — and manipulate — the game better. But watching the team go through the ups and downs and being unable to help avoid a second-half tumble wasn’t easy. Sexton stayed in a good mental place by reading and writing.
“I feel like that’s the toughest part, knowing that I can’t go to war with my team and go to war with my guys,” Sexton said. “Only thing I could do is be the best cheerleader out there. But I couldn’t step between those lines and help. It’s nothing like being out there on the court.”
So how did Sexton process that reality?
“Knowing that I control what I can control,” he said. “As far as my injury, I can’t really control what happened, but I can control what’s moving forward and that’s getting up every day and going to work and just taking that step trying to get back 100 percent.”
Sexton hasn’t gotten any reassurances from Bickerstaff or president of basketball operations Koby Altman about still being viewed as a centerpiece of the team’s future. Those conversations will come soon, between Altman and Klutch Sports — Sexton’s new representatives.
But being out might help the impending negotiation. This past season highlighted Sexton’s value of him and showed how much he was missed. His scoring of him. His energy from him. His shot-making of him. The attention he draws. As Bickerstaff said, not everyone is capable of rolling out of bed and scoring 20 every night. The Cavs ranked 25th in scoring, averaging 107.8 points. They were 20th in offensive efficiency, clustered around a group on non-contenders.
Sexton’s proven doubters wrong throughout his career. Does he feel the need to do it again?
“I’m just going to go out there and play,” he said. “Let my game speak for itself and I’m going to go out here and do what I do and continue to get better. The rest is going to be the rest. You’re going to see results.”
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