CLEVELAND, Ohio — Inside the back room of Carbone — a quiet Italian restaurant attached to the Aria Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip — Cleveland Cavaliers, president of basketball operations, Koby Altman, opened the evening of celebration with a powerful and heartfelt toast to All-Star point guard Darius Garland.
“The city embraces you. You have captivated a town. You will soon captivate a nation. Don’t change who you are. We love the Darius that you are,” Altman said. “There are a lot of responsibilities that come with that. You should feel very proud. You should feel very happy. You should celebrate. But with this you get the keys to a franchise and a city. Keep pushing this franchise forward.
Moments later, Garland officially signed the richest contract in franchise history – a five-year, $193 million designated maximum rookie extension that could be worth up to $231 million and does not contain player option.
“Darius has proven to be a terrific basketball player and someone who embodies everything a franchise would want in a young player,” Altman said. “We quickly saw Darius become an NBA star and a vital part of our quest for lasting success. Both on and off the field, Darius has demonstrated a strong commitment to this organization and the community. We look forward to our future and what we can accomplish here in Cleveland.
Friday was a party. A monumental moment for the franchise. Garland deserved it.
At her favorite restaurant, surrounded by an intimate group of coaches, executives, friends and family, Garland beamed as she put pen to paper. His rise to NBA stardom is complete.
But the Cavs think the best is yet to come. The contract represents his importance in the future of the team – the linchpin of this potential revival.
Garland — the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft whose career got off to a terrible start while still recovering from a college meniscus injury — has emerged as one of the league’s leading point guards. Using a summer with Team USA as the catapult for his sophomore jump, Garland averaged a career-high 21.7 points and 8.6 assists while sparking a franchise transformation.
After winning just 60 games in the previous three seasons, Cleveland qualified for the Eastern Conference, compiling 44 wins and advancing to the qualifying tournament, where it lost consecutive games to Brooklyn and Atlanta. It was the first time he had finished with a record above .500 since LeBron James left in 2018. The 22-game improvement was the second-best in team history.
Throughout the turnaround season, the 22-year-old Garland hit a plethora of individual milestones. He was selected to his first All-Star Team and finished third in the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year voting. He entered elite business, joining James as the only two players in Cavaliers history to average more than 20.0 points and 8.0 assists in a season. Garland was just one of five NBA players to achieve such extraordinary ratings last season (Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Luka Dončić and James Harden).
In a loss at Philadelphia on March 4, Garland had a career-high 19 assists that tied for the most assists by any NBA player last season.
A few nights later against the Indiana Pacers, Garland scored a career-high 41 points, becoming one of six players in NBA history 22 or younger to total at least 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and two steals. Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Chris Webber, James and Dončić are the others.
Overall, Garland ranked sixth in the NBA in assists and was tied for fourth in the double-double in assists (29). He also had 42 20-plus-point games and seven 30-point contests — more than his first two campaigns combined. In his first playoff appearance — on the road against the Star Nets — Garland scored a team-high 34 points.
Not only has Garland improved each season, but his growth as a leader is evident.
“He has the ability to raise the level of people around him,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said in April. “People want to play with him and people want to play for him. It’s not something we taught him. It’s something he’s had all his life. Because of his positive attitude and his spirit, he uplifts people to help them perform to their potential.
In three years with the Cavs, Garland averaged 17.4 points on 44.3% shooting and 37.8% from beyond the arc to go with 6.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 interceptions.
But the youngster never cared much about individual awards. It’s always us, not me.
Along with All-Star center Jarrett Allen and Rookie of the Year finalist Evan Mobley, Garland is one of the centerpieces of the team. As Altman said Friday during this meeting with those who made the evening possible, the keys to the franchise are in Garland’s hands.
A four-time high school state champion with a magnetic personality, deep skill set and flair on the court, Garland seeks to lead the Cavs back to basketball utopia.
With this agreement concluded, they are moving in the right direction.
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