Wine and Gold Winners: the Cavaliers are Champions again

After a seven-year-long drought, the Cavaliers are returning to Cleveland as champions after a lengthy trip to Las Vegas.
champions cavaliers emoni bates
LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 17: Emoni Bates #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates during the 2023 NBA Summer League Championship Game against the Houston Rockets on July 17, 2023, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s over! It’s over! Cleveland is a City of Champions once again! You’re Cavaliers are NBA (Summer League) Champions!

After a dominant 99-78 win on Monday night over the Houston Rockets, the Cavaliers finished their time in Las Vegas undefeated and are returning home as Las Vegas Summer League Champions for the first time. Perhaps it was some of the magic left behind from the championship-winning Las Vegas Aces and Golden Knights. But, the Cavaliers played their brand of basketball from wire to wire in Sin City, emphasizing a team-first approach.

“It was incredible. Amazing group of guys here,” said Summer League coach Mike Gerrity. “We preached to be the most selfless and competitive team on the floor every night. These guys carried it out.

“In Summer League, this is a chance for these guys to showcase their abilities. One of the hardest things to do is to put that in the backseat and think about the team first. This group worried about each other more than themselves and it was evident every time they stepped on the floor. The offensive side of the ball, the defensive side of the ball, they played for each other. When you do that, great things happen.”

How the Cavaliers executed every game in their championship run was emblematic of how J.B. Bickerstaff wants his club to play when the games matter most. Heading into training camp in October, maybe Isaiah Mobley, Emoni Bates, Craig Porter Jr. and others can share with their non-Vegas teammates what it takes to win a championship. Jokes aside, before Cleveland turns the page to the start of the 2023-24 regular season, let’s dive deep into what to take away from the latest Las Vegas Summer League Champions one final time.

Keep Mike Gerrity as Cleveland Charge head coach

Under Gerrity, the Cavaliers are 9-2 in Las Vegas Summer League play, and they were crowned champions in his second rodeo at the helm. After his first run in Las Vegas, Gerrity was named head coach of the Cleveland Charge, the NBA G League affiliate of the Cavaliers, soon after. In his first season coaching the Charge, Gerrity led Cleveland to a 30-20 record overall between their regular season (18-14) and their time leading up to the annual Showcase Cup (12-6) in Las Vegas.

After guiding the Cavaliers to a Summer League title, Gerrity should stick at the helm as head coach of the Charge. Typically, Bickerstaff shuffles his assistants between his coaching staff and the lead job with the Charge. This is to give Bickerstaff’s assistants experience as a head coach with the Charge while teaching the same fundamentals and systems the main club would run. It was first experimented with Dan Geriot, who coached the Charge to a 12-34 record overall. The following season, Geriot returned to coaching big men for the Cavaliers while Gerrity took over as head coach of the Charge.

If Josh Broghamer, the original pick to coach the 2023 Sin City Cavaliers, didn’t join the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant, perhaps he would’ve followed Gerrity as the next head coach of the Charge. But things are always fluid in the NBA, and the Cavaliers organization had to pivot back to Gerrity after Broghamer’s exit. The Cavaliers clearly made the right call with Gerrity since it resulted in a championship. That championship pedigree should be a key reason for keeping Gerrity at the helm for the Charge. More importantly, keeping Gerrity at the helm can give the Charge continuity heading into the 2023-24 season since there will be expectations about certain players on the roster.

That leads things to the next key takeaway…

champions gerrity summer league cavaliers
LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 17: Head Coach Mike Gerrity of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles after winning the 2023 NBA Summer League Championship Game against the Houston Rockets on July 17, 2023 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

The importance of developing rotational talent

Typically, Las Vegas Summer League showcases the NBA’s up-and-coming young stars. The debut matchup between Victory Wembanyama and Brandon Miller, along with the introduction of fellow first-rounders like Scoot Henderson or either Thompson twin didn’t disappoint. But none of those players, other than technically Houston’s Amen Thompson, had a chance to be named a Summer League champion. Maybe first-round pedigree isn’t everything, especially when looking at this year’s Las Vegas champions.

The Cavaliers, curiously enough, didn’t have a single first-round draft selection on their roster. Sure, Emoni Bates was once considered a generational, first-round prospect that would be the next Kevin Durant. Even though the organization doesn’t need him to be the next Durant, Bates has a runway to become a high-end roleplayer for the Cavaliers. The easiest way is continuity with the Charge, where Bates will see the most action during his rookie season. The best way to double down on that continuity is for the Charge to keep Gerrity as head coach, who Bates won a Summer League Championship under.

Mind you, it’s not just Bates that could use familiarity with Gerrity while playing for the Charge. The same goes for Isaiah Mobley and Craig Porter Jr., who, like Bates, are also signed to two-way contracts with the Cavaliers. All three players are champions after their time in Las Vegas and are expected to be rotational talent with the main club after developing with the Charge. All three players will fill specific roles with the main club and it’ll be easier to reach that goal under the same coach they were named champions under.

Sam Merrill is too good for the Charge, not good enough for the Cavaliers

To get an idea of a roleplayer that developed under Gerrity and is now with the Cavaliers, look no further than Sam Merrill. After going first overall in the 2022 NBA G League Draft, Merrill lit the G League on fire for the Charge and eventually earned a permanent contract with the Cavaliers. At the time, it was clear that Merrill fits a need for the main club as a movement shooter that could space out the offensive flow.

But, due to players being ahead of him on the depth chart, recovery from a gnarly ankle injury and minimal familiarity with the coaching staff, Merrill never saw serious minutes with the Cavaliers. But, after a strong Las Vegas Summer League showing, which landed him First Team honors, one thing has become clear:

Merrill is too good to go back to the Charge.

But he’s not good enough to crack the opening night rotation.

This, by no means, is shade being thrown at Merrill or his game. Unfortunately for Merrill, the Cavaliers went and added a surplus of shooting this summer and every new addition, along with the existing talent, will be ahead of him on the depth chart when training camp opens. Merrill is in a weird spot where he’s too good for the G League but not quite good enough to be a player in Cleveland’s rotation. If anything, it should be credited to his growth and development under Gerrity’s coaching and the Charge-Cavaliers ecosystem. But Merrill will be a high-end depth that gets minimal minutes most nights and could only play if the Cavaliers are resting players or dealing with injuries.

Sure, there’s a chance that if he gets hot in those limited stretches, Bickerstaff awards him with more minutes. But there will always be players ahead of Merrill or others that follow a similar path when guys are simply more talented ahead of them. That’s the best way to utilize your player development coaching and the other luxuries that having exclusivity with an NBA G League franchise like the Cavaliers do with the Charge. The goal is always to use those amenities to develop rotational talent to support your star power, especially when you’re as top-heavy as the Cavaliers.

Evan Dammarell is an award-winning sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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