#Cavs Now Have a Win To Build On

Winning isn’t the most important thing in professional sports. Winning is the only thing in professional sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been doing much of that lately and the natives have been more than restless. I am sure that uneasiness has filtered all the way to the top of the organization, but management has remained steadfast to stay the course. As written in a recent Wojnarowski article about Blatt,  “‘There is not even a thought of replacing him,’ one high-ranking Cavaliers official told Yahoo Sports”

That is what I would expect of a high class organization that wants to not only win but become a perennial winner. The San Antonio Spurs were not built in a day. It took patience and perseverance and, at times, putting up with a pretty surly coach. Many, including the talking heads of ESPN, are calling for Blatt’s job. They say it can’t work. Well it can work as long as one ingredient is present, a fully engaged and healthy LeBron James. And as long as the key result is obtained, winning. Some say that this combination of factors are impossible to reach because LeBron won’t allow it. Well, just like with Miami, if the organization remains steadfast and makes it clear that it must work, LeBron will jump on board. As Wojnarowski said “Blatt told Yahoo Sports. ‘It really has to come first from the professional side. Man to man, we’re OK. We don’t go out drinking together, but we’re fine man to man. But professionally, LeBron wants to win. And he wants from me, from any coach, a vehicle to help him win.'” As long as they start winning and working together, those things will move forward.

The same can be said for the “fit” of Kevin Love on the Cavaliers. I find it amusing how rabid Cleveland fans were to go out and get Love at any price, including for Andrew Wiggins and much more. Now, I’ll bet even some of those same fans, are calling for us to trade Love at almost any cost. From a strategic point of view, I think to trade FOR Love at his peak of value and then to trade AWAY Love at his lowest value in years makes about as much sense as drinking battery acid (as a colleague from WFNY recently tweeted). So I am not in favor of that brilliant strategy.

Kevin Love will fit when he does whatever it takes to win. If you listen to him carefully, he made it clear that he was embarrassed by his performance against Phoenix. In contrast to others who freaked at the thought of Blatt not playing him again in a fourth quarter, he was determined to prove his metal and his worth to the team against LA. He put on one of the toughest performances of his career while in constant pain highlighted by a defensive play. In that game, he proved something to LeBron, his coach, and his teammates. As LeBron correctly has pointed out on several occasions now, that is the kind of effort that builds a team and a winner.

Kevin Love can play adequate defense. He has never needed to commit to that side of the floor but that is about to change. I think he knows that. I think the light is going on. Plus, better defensive players are about to be placed around him when Marion, Shumpert and LeBron are on the floor. This will all lead to a better brand of defense both with and without Love on the floor. It takes time. He will get that time and so will Blatt. So we had better simply get used to it and look for the bright spots as they come instead of looking for the obvious deficiencies.

My point is that when a team is losing everything looks awful. Coaches and players alike can and should be questioned about their effectiveness. So all of that is understandable. However, the old saying of “You are never as bad as you look when you are losing and never as good as you look when you are winning” probably applies here. The Cavs are not nearly as bad a team as they looked for the past several weeks. But, with the sweep of LA, we can see some glimpses of better times. It seems evident that more good times are ahead. There will be bumps along the way and terrible sickening games, but logic dictates that if LeBron is healthy those games will be few and bumps small.

More change is not an answer to the problems. No matter how much you hate Blatt or how much you despise Love’s defense replacing them will not fix the main problem that faces the Cavs. The Cavs need to dig in and follow the damn commercial. 1-2-3 HARD WORK. 4-5-6 TOGETHER. They can’t expect an easy answer and they damn sure can’t point the finger at their coaches or teammates. They need to look in the mirror and take on the challenge to be great. The fans need to quit crying all over social media about who they want fired or traded. Change in a business is death to that business. When someone needs to be fired, fine. But continuity and consistency is a better formula to success. With the recent signs from Love, LeBron and Irving, some of that individual accountability seems to be taking hold.

The real problem with the Cleveland Cavaliers is inconsistent effort and lack of trust in their coaches and teammates. Instead of pointing fingers they need to be joining hands and doing whatever they can do individually to make it work. Fight through adversity. Fight for each other. Fight to win. Some opponents need to find themselves lying on the court after drives and grabbing their heads and faces after inadvertent active hands strike or scrape.

If each player and coach took responsibility for their own actions and saw that the vision of winning is found in the mirror, there would be no need for scapegoats. The Cavaliers are supremely talented but have been supremely soft. That needed to change. I hope it started in LA.

In Art As In Life: Are The #Cavs Reflecting Their Fans Resolve??

No one can deny that this has been a painful stretch for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have been losing with regularity. They have lacked determination and resolve to fight through adversity. Many are speculating that this is, at least partially, because of the failings of their coach and lack of respect for the coach by the players. Some believe it is a master plot by LeBron to undermine his coach and force a change. Others think the front office is to blame for making an ill-fated trade for a star power forward who is a liability on defense. Writers claim inside information that the coaching staff is at odds and Lu is undermining Blatt openly. The list of “reasons” for the lackluster start and double digit losses goes on and on.

It would be presumptuous in my view to believe that anyone, including myself, would be able to sort all of this out and separate fact from fiction. It seems certain that the media who follows the team with the detail of a CSI unit can’t see the forest through the trees. All I keep reading about is a bunch of small trees that are supposed to add up to some sinister story explaining the demise of the Cavs. So far I have learned nothing more than soap box scenarios featuring undermining, power struggles, immaturity, and social media video creations of controversy. There are likely elements of truth in all of these fun and creative stories.  It is equally likely that they don’t amount to a hill of beans in the big picture.

Let’s spend a brief moment putting all of this gibberish in context. It would seem almost self-evident that the coaches might have some differing views about why the Cavs are losing with such regularity. When you have a ton of talent and the talent is losing, there must be some things that are being done from coaching that are ineffective.

So for those who attest after a 19-20 start that coach Blatt is not exactly setting the world on fire with his rotations and schemes, I would respond to them with “Duh”! And if you told me that some of the coaches and players might be questioning whether Blatt is pushing the right buttons, I would respond with an equal “Duh”. That does not mean that Blatt is a bad coach or that there is undermining or scheming to replace him. It means they are losing!

The coach is always going to be questioned when the results are poor. But to give an experienced championship coach, who is new to the NBA, only a half a season to get it figured out is ludicrous beyond belief. Especially considering the injuries and that this is an entirely new team in Cleveland. Except for a few clusters of players that have played together on other teams, this is a group of players with no continuity or chemistry. So for those who bemoan a lack of consistency in player rotations, look at the players available for each game this season and give me your thoughts on how you would have remained consistent.

My point is that when a team is losing everything looks awful and coaches and players alike can and should be questioned about their effectiveness. So all of that is understandable. However, the old saying of “You are never as bad as you look when you are losing and never as good as you look when you are winning” probably applies here. The Cavs are not nearly as bad a team as they look now. And this will turn around at some point. We all hope it is soon.

This brings me to one of the aspects of this dark stretch by the Cavs that is the most disturbing to me. I am not worried about the “investigative” reporting that is generating the soap box. Those things will all work out if the team starts winning again. I AM worried about the resolve of the fans, team management, coaches and players to see this through.

In a brighter day (less than 3 months ago), the Cavs were to set out on a journey that most believed would be a continuous season of coronation. Wins would fall from the sky like raindrops in the spring. The fans would cheer. LeBron would smile. Love would stay. Cleveland would be the center of the sports universe during the NBA season. Nike captured our spirit and our heart in a commercial that, if you were even remotely a Cleveland sports fan, brought tears to your eyes.

Now, half way through this “magical” season, the spirit demonstrated in that commercial has as much credibility as a mirage in the desert. What did we really expect here?? This is Cleveland !!! Not LA. Not NYC. Not Chicago. Thinking it would be easy seems rather foolish now. I guess we really didn’t believe that in Ohio everything is earned, nothing is given. And, in Cleveland professional sports, that is especially true.

So what we have that disturbs me the most is a team and fans that actually do reflect each other, but not in the positive way we all believed 3 months ago. When things have gotten tough, the team and fans have hung their heads and looked at the guy next to them. In the players case it might be the coach or the teammate that isn’t completing his assignment properly. In the fans case it is the coach or a player that they think is “causing the problem”. The response seems to be from both fans and team that “this isn’t working so change it to make it easier”.

Now some changes had to be made. We needed another big who could defend the rim. We needed another wing defender. We needed to replace Dion’s firepower if we used him to get a rim protector. All those things have been accomplished now (even though all the players are not ready to play yet).

More change is not an answer to this problem. No matter how much you hate Blatt or how much you despise Love’s defense replacing them will not fix the main problem that faces the Cavs. The Cavs need to dig in and follow the damn commercial. 1-2-3 HARD WORK. 4-5-6 TOGETHER. They can’t expect an easy answer and they damn sure can’t point the finger at their coaches or teammates. They need to look in the mirror and take on the challenge to be great. The fans need to quit crying all over social media about who they want fired or traded. Change in a business is death to that business. When someone needs to be fired, fine. But continuity and consistency is a better formula to success.

And the fans need to finally realize that if they are always trying to find scapegoats and “reasons” why this team is not winning , they are reflecting the same losing attitude that the team has been expressing the past 2-3 weeks. The fans aren’t willing to stay tough, keep their heads high and support the team during adversity. That is what we want the players to do but we can’t do it ourselves. Maybe the fans can show them the way to fight together through adversity without looking for an easy fix by dumping players or coaches.

The real problem with the Cleveland Cavaliers is inconsistent effort and lack of trust in their coaches and teammates. Instead of pointing fingers they need to be joining hands and doing whatever they can do individually to make it work. Fight through adversity. Fight for each other. Fight to win. Some opponents need to find themselves lying on the court after drives and grabbing their heads and faces after inadvertent active hands strike or scrape.

If each player and coach took responsibility for their own actions and saw that the vision of winning is found in the mirror, there would be no need for scapegoats. The Cavaliers are supremely talented but supremely soft. That simply needs to change.

 

Short Term Pain Will Pay Off For #Cavs In Long Run

This is certainly a painful time for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans. We are losing in bunches and showing no signs of life as far as wins and losses go. The real focus though should be that the Cavs are a very different team today than they were over a week ago.

Dion Waiters is gone. I was a huge supporter of Dion but the final result of the trades make sense for Cleveland. They turned Dion Waiters and one additional first round pick into J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Now I will admit that the one additional first round pick was a very valuable one (the Memphis pick) but it was still worth the price. It is well documented that the Cavs needed a rim protector, wing defender, and would need to try and replace Dion’s potential offensively if they traded him. The players they received, while not of All Star caliber, are solid players that fill those needs.

I am not going to try and sell the concept that these acquisitions make the Cavaliers a complete team or that they are now invincible. The Cavs have little knowledge how to play together, still have a long way to learn what Blatt expects of them, and need to stay healthy. None of those issues are easily conquered, but the Cavs have time to improve on the ones they can control.

The focus needs to be on the skill, talent and flexibility the current roster provides for David Blatt. Cleveland can now play small and big when needed. Matchups will be more effective and defense more consistent. One other thing that might go unnoticed is that the Cavs can now match up with a defensive lineup if needed. Irving, Shumpert, LeBron, Marion, and Mozgov can potentially be a lineup they could go to if defensive stops are needed.

What the team needs now is to get healthy and get LeBron back. The LeBron part looks soon. The Shumpert part a bit further. Once healthy, we just have to hope for a run where the team can play together for awhile. If that doesn’t happen, I am not sure that the Cavs can get the consistency needed to go deep in the playoffs. So this next stretch especially after Shumpert comes back will be critical.

The fact that the team is getting schooled by a sub .500 team tonight so far is evidence that time is needed for them to play together. They look very disjointed and the fact that they don’t know how to run plays or work together is showing up big time. So I really feel that time together will be the Cavs only chance of really progressing even though the pieces fit much better now.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I feel better about the Cavs now than I did at the beginning of the year. I thought expectations were too high, with some predictions of 70 wins or more being ridiculous. I was worried about all of the “secondary nonstories” that would swirl around the team such as Blatt being fired, Love leaving, LeBron leaving, and all the other stuff that was predictable before the season even started. I also was cautious about the comparisons between the 14-15 Cavs and the Miami Heat 4 years ago. I knew they would never look good.

What I would like to compare for those who have the stomach for it, is the Miami Heat in 14-15 with the Cavs of 14-15. Miami has one main loss from last year when they won the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is not there. They added Deng, McRoberts, and Napier. The Heat is 16-21 right now. The Cavs added LeBron James (and a whole lot of other stuff) and are sitting likely at .500, 19-19. Also, James has been out for more games than ever in his career during the regular season. So, essentially, the Heat lost James and added Deng and they went from being the best team in the Eastern Conference to now looking at 16-21. The Cavs, without any continuity of teammates, multiple injuries, and no James for awhile are limping around at 19-19.

Which team is actually in the worse shape?? The Heat still have the “Big Two”?? But without James are, at best, ordinary. Last year they won the East and went to the wire in the finals. So it does seem that LeBron James makes a huge difference on teams. In addition, James has been hurt most of the year and not playing quite as efficiently as he usually does.

So I am willing to wait for the Cavs to get James back and get Shumpert integrated before I just lose all hope that this team can rise up and challenge for the East title even this year. I know that seems very unlikely now but the roster is much more balanced and time has not run out. As solid veteran NBA writer Sam Amick wrote recently, the Cavs may be down but they are not out.

#Cavs On Court Failed, Front Office Came Out Swinging

Today was not a great day for the Cleveland Cavaliers on the court. They were beaten again at home handily and by a team that was clearly superior. The Dallas Mavericks are completely healthy now so you might expect that one of the elite teams in the NBA could beat down the depleted Cavs. That is what certainly happened today at Quicken Loans Arena.

In the game the Cavs lost another of their stars and he will miss tomorrow at least with a sore and stiff back. Sound familiar ?? All of the Cavs stars have injured backs now. Fairly typical of Cleveland’s luck in professional sports. But none of these injuries should be serious and we should see Kyrie return fairly quickly with good treatment. Certainly Kevin Love has played well after recently leaving a game with back spasms.

Dion Waiters laid a humongous egg until he had a nice spurt near the end of his playing time. Shawn Marion stepped up a bit. Love was excellent. Miller did essentially nothing. Kyrie had a super tough game before he had to leave with the back pain. The effort was not awful but not exceptional. So this game did not exactly move the needle in the positive way based on the key areas I wrote about this morning.

As it turned out though, the real news of the day came from the front office. It seemed based on his media appearance that David Griffin was not exactly happy with the way the media had portrayed LeBron’s comments about Coach Blatt and that Coach’s status with the team.

When you look at the video it is pretty darn clear that Griffin was aggravated at the narrative and wanted to put it to rest permanently. Unfortunately, even a forceful GM rebuke won’t stop the speculation or the stories. Regardless of the outcome with the press, it was still an important step to come out against the baseless speculation that has surfaced over the past few weeks.

It is clearer now than it has ever been that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a fair amount of growing to do before they have a chance to reach the heights predicted for them by many before the season started. As I stated a few days ago, no matter where the regular season record ends up or the amount of times they have games like today, the Cavs will be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference if they end the regular season healthy. Their seeding in the tournament will mean little. It also seems clear to me that the amount of growth needed to reach an NBA championship this year is not likely to occur.

As Griffin said today the organization, the players, and their coaches need to be in this for the long haul. It will not be easy and it will not be quick. The fans need to understand this and support the team making prudent and logical decisions instead of panic or desperation moves. The Cavs do have the assets to get the pieces they need moving forward but it might not be this year that they can get the player mix they need. Dumping Dion and every other asset they have to get one player this year is not likely the wise move.

I know that having patience when the expectations were so high for this season is not an easy thing for Cleveland fans to stomach. I wish the team had been ready to dominate this year myself. But it should be fairly clear that this is not likely in 14-15. They could still be ready for a deep run in the playoffs if healthy. And you never know stranger things have happened. But an NBA championship in 14-15 might be a stretch for this new and developing team.

As far as the coach, David Blatt was arguably one of the most accomplished, if not the most accomplished coach in Europe over the past 10 years. As Kobe Bryant made clear in an article recently, European basketball teaches young kids to play the game the right way. It is a discipline that many American players would be wise to learn. If the Cavs can weather the storm of reduced expectations, they will find his wisdom and understanding of the game invaluable. He needs a little time to develop as an NBA head coach but there should be no doubting his basketball IQ and ability to adapt to the NBA game. Again, that darn word patience comes out.

Let’s give Coach Blatt and the Cavs a chance. They deserve that much and there will still be magical basketball  going forward with this team and much of it will be this year. Enjoy the ride. It might just grow on you.

#Cavs Face A True Test – We Will Learn With Them

With LeBron out for an extended time, it is well documented that other players need to step up and show what they can do with this more limited lineup. However, it might not be the individual players stepping up for scoring that really is the key here. Obviously many fans will be looking for how many points are added from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. There might be more compelling things to look at than just which star scores more.

In listening to the reporters question Blatt right after the known loss of LeBron, they continuously tried to question him about the concept of Love becoming “more integrated in the offense” and how do you make up for all that LeBron does. While I understand that line of thinking, is that really the key here over the next two weeks? I would challenge that by saying “No”.

If Love was not integrated in the offense with LeBron present, will it really matter how integrated he is while LeBron is out? If he is highly integrated when LeBron is absent, it might even be a negative when LeBron returns if that does not continue. Did anyone wonder how Love might feel if he is integral with LeBron out and an afterthought with LeBron in? I have and I don’t like to answer that question.

If Kyrie does a great job running the offense with the ball in his hands with LeBron out, will it really matter when LeBron returns? Did anyone wonder how Kyrie might feel if he is highly effective with the ball in his hands with James out and has that taken from him when LeBron returns? I don’t like to answer that question either. So what I recommend Cavs fans look for is a series of things unrelated to Love’s integration with the offense or Kyrie’s ability to handle point guard duties.

One of the reasons I recommend looking beyond those obvious issues is that I think it is a given that Kyrie can run the offense effectively with the ball in his hands. He proved that over the summer and, as I pointed out previously about Kyrie, he is the key to the Cavalier’s ultimate success this year as the point guard of this team. Kevin Love will almost certainly be more integrated in the offense because of both LeBron and Andy being out. Those two spent a ton of time in pick and roll situations and that can’t happen anymore. With or without LeBron, Love will naturally become more of a focal point if the Cavs move the ball on offense as has been emphasized by Blatt and the players.

Some of the things I will be looking for in the next series of games without LeBron are as follows:

  1. Will the team play with consistent effort and intensity? Too many games have been littered with inconsistent effort this year. Without LeBron there is no excuse for a lack of effort. The first games without James have not been great examples of what they need to do. I hope that the future games will demonstrate that consistent effort.
  2. Will critical role players begin to step up during this time? Shawn Marion, James Jones, Mike Miller, and even Brendon Haywood need to show why they were brought here to the Cavs. If the Cavs have any chance in the playoffs, those players will need to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the year.
  3. Will Matthew Dellavedova be able to contribute more than just effort and knock down some wide open 3 balls? He also needs to be more confident off the dribble and create some offense. Right now he is tentative and not appropriately aggressive. He needs to pick his spots of course, but some creation is needed for a backup point guard.
  4. Does Dion Waiters continue his rapid ascent as an efficient scorer, facilitator, and lock down defender? Anyone who has been watching can see that Dion’s effort and intensity has grown as his confidence in his role increases. This actually follows a pattern that my staff recently pointed out to me of Dion starting slow at the beginning of seasons. He has followed this pattern again and is on a rapid rise right now.
  5. Can Tristan Thompson begin to contribute “rim protection” as he did against Charlotte? He seems to be rather annoyed by the constant media insistence that the Cavs have no rim protection. That has become clear in recent interviews. I wouldn’t put ANYTHING past TT if he puts his mind to it. He has shown, beyond any player on the Cavs, an ability to raise his game as needed for the team. TT is an ultimate “glue guy” that every team needs to win championships. I will be watching his blocked shot totals during this stretch without LeBron.
  6. Can Brendon Haywood contribute significant minutes off the bench? If he is able to play 10-15 minutes per game effectively, he will be a huge asset going forward beyond his contract oddity that can be used for a trade chip this off-season. Everything I have seen says that the answer to that question is “Yes”. If both he and Tristan can provide some rim protection as I suspect, the Cavs can negotiate any possible deal from a position of strength and not desperation.
  7. Can Kyrie control his temptation to dribble through 4 guys to get to the rim and actually trust his team to run the Blatt motion offense? Although I have stated that this is a given, his desire to “make up for LeBron” might sway him away from trusting his teammates and the offense. What I am hoping is that he will try to “take over” when he sees the team is in a scoring drought but not the majority of the time.
  8. Will the Cavs management keep a calm hand on the rudder of the franchise when the inevitable losses add up a bit in LeBron’s absence? I think this is a key going forward especially while LeBron is out. There is no need to make a panic move or a move just to make one. They can afford to be measured and careful striking when the time is right and the deal is fair.
  9. Finally, and most importantly,  will LeBron be watching and adjust his return based on what he sees on the court. If Kyrie effectively runs the point and controls the team with the ball in his hands, will LeBron take notice and allow more of that when he returns? If Kevin Love is effective with the pick and roll or pick and pop, will LeBron run more with Love? If the role players step up and knock down shots, will he continue to trust them? If effort and intensity are consistently at a high level, will he join them or still be in “chill mode”? (I kind of know the answer to that one but I had to throw it out there.)

These are some of the things I will be looking for during this two week stretch. The Cavs might not win as many games as we would like but they still can advance as a team while LeBron is out. Let’s hope that happens and then the glass will be truly half full as Kevin Love professes. Go Cavs !!!

 

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