After LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in 2018, things didn’t look great. They lost a ton, and in even-bad-for-Cleveland fashion. Guard Darius Garland, drafted in 2019, seemed like a bright spot, but the team still looked awful his first two years.

And then something crazy happened: Garland turned into a star, and brought hope back to Cleveland way ahead of schedule.

This year Garland’s game was sizzling—enough so to drag Cleveland out of the cellar of the NBA and lift them into a contender. In the process, Garland earned his first All-Star appearance, and, with rookie Evan Mobley and center Jarrett Allen, made it clear that Cleveland’s time in the basement was over: the team made it into the NBA’s play-in tournament, and came within a game of reaching this playoffs, despite nobody expecting them to.

Garland sat down with GQ after the Cavs’ exit from the play-in to talk about his quick ascent in the NBA, his desire to keep playing with teammate Collin Sexton, and why everyone should invest in Cavs stock  before it’s too late.

GQ: You were a finalist for the Most Improved Player Award this year. What was the major difference between this year and last for you?

Darius Garland: My confidence. My confidence has increased over the last couple of years. I’ve been feeling out and learning the game, watching a lot of film. It was a lot of little stuff, for me. Everything started last summer: being with the USA Select Team and playing with the Olympic team for a couple of games gave me some confidence going into the season. And it just took over.

How does confidence translate to the court? Everything looked different for you this season, so how does confidence become something more concrete?

It’s your mindset. Saying you are gonna do it. That this is my goal, my plan, and I was gonna stick to it. My goal was to be a finalist for the Most Improved award, to be an All Star and to be in the play-in or playoffs. Those were my three main goals from last summer and I achieved them all. But I’m striving for more. I’ve got more in me.

What goals are you formulating this offseason?

Getting into the playoffs, for sure. I want to make it to the first or second round. That’s my number one goal. Having that play-in game experience and not getting into the playoffs, I was kind of hurt about it. But, next year, we’ll be back better and a lot healthier.

What hurt so much about going to the play-in but not making it to the playoffs?

It was getting that experience and I didn’t want the season to end. Being there, feeling the playoff experience, that atmosphere with the whole city behind you, you could barely hear in the arena. It was lit the whole time, in Brooklyn [and in] the second game against Atlanta at home. That was probably the most intense basketball I’ve ever had in my life. So it was cool having that experience, but I definitely want to get into the playoffs.



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