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#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.

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#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 !!!

 

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media Day

LeBron Injury Rest – Worse Record, Much Better Results

Well, as if the Cavaliers have not had enough tough news lately, the latest news is possibly as concerning as any. LeBron James will actually miss the most extensive time and number of games in his entire career. On the surface the news seems like a devastating blow to a team already on it’s heels moving backwards.

It isn’t entirely clear that this isn’t the case. The Cavs have been struggling and have lost 3 in a row. They now stand only 4 games over .500 with a team many feel is the most talented in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers are entering one of the most challenging stretches in their schedule and will need to face this without their best player.

It is true that most observers might look on this as a huge negative in an already checkered year for the “new look” Cavs. There is another perspective to consider with this news and one that might generate a huge positive for Cleveland. Based on my medical training in similar cases, there is an excellent chance that these injuries are not severe and reasonable recovery is possible. That is what has been reported from Cavalier “sources” to certain national reporters who are not always positive about the Cavs. It also has been reported that MRIs have been done to confirm injuries. No surprises there.

When you add all this up, it appears that LeBron James was trying to play through persistent back and knee problems that would worsen, improve, and worsen again. The Cavs medical staff and management I am sure jointly decided that it was best to give James time to recover to a much higher level then had happened thus far. James may have been informed that this rest and accompanying  physical therapy was needed to give him a chance to really recover more fully. If he did not do this, the injuries would almost certainly linger all year. Even with this rest it is possible, but not as likely. It is not surprising that James agreed to this approach.

This might be a completely positive development if it weren’t for a few additional sobering facts. First, is the obvious, Andy is not coming back. So one starter is done for the year. Second, Kyrie Irving is far from 100% and his knee is still bothering him. He is playing through it and I expect him to continue to do so, but it must have at least a little effect on his ability to play aggressively. Third, Kevin Love has not yet been cleared to play after suffering back spasms. One doesn’t need to be a doctor to know that those can hang around and back problems can be a nagging problem. So, with one starter gone, James out, and two All Stars less than 100%; it will be difficult to maintain a high quality of play. Add to that a very difficult schedule and you have all the makings of some consistent losing.

As everyone has seen, when some consistent losing occurs with the Cavs, the negative stories come out and they suddenly have every player planning to leave at the end of the year. It is doubtful that this will stop over this next sequence of tough games. So expect to see more Love to LA and LeBron to Miami/LA/New York/ anywhere but Cleveland. Blatt to be fired, etc. I consider all of this media focus to be understandable but not highly credible.  I think any of this talk should be viewed with some skepticism and not influence the way anyone views the Cavs.

To the degree that the Cavs remaining All Stars are healthy, it will be an excellent opportunity for them to become the focal points of the team for a stretch. It will also give a large number of veteran role players a chance to step up and show what they can do for the team. Finally, it might give Joe Harris some more opportunities. All of these things are positives going forward.

I hope people are observing the contribution that is possible from Brendon Haywood. He looks quite good on the court and his minutes have been slowly increased over the past week or so. He hasn’t played every day based on matchups but he should play most games. With all the cries for a rim protector, I think he deserves a chance to show what he has left in the tank. If the Cavs can get 10-15 minutes per game from him, the pressure to make a knee-jerk move to get another big will be reduced. The Cavs need to negotiate from a position of strength if they make a move instead of a position of desperation. Very important that Haywood makes an impact.

I think it is an understatement to say that Mike Miller and, to a lesser extent, James Jones have not given the Cavs the quality minutes that were expected. Primarily because of their inability to shoot consistently, especially in the case of Miller. If someone had told me to expect Miller to shoot 38% from the floor, take no free throws, and score 3 PPG in 17 minutes per game for the Cavs, I would have laughed at them and called them Cavs haters. But that is exactly what has happened. To make matters worse, many of his 3 point attempts have been completely uncontested. James Jones is more efficient with 4 PPG in 10 minutes but is also only shooting 38% from the field (better from 3).

My point in all of this is that the team will have a chance to see what they can do without LeBron and it might give Love a chance to step up into a more integral part of the offense. Cavs observers should recognize, however, that the reason Love has looked so inept lately is simply because he is in a shooting slump. That will happen with great shooters and it usually evens out over time. Lets hope it ends soon because the team will need his offense.

While I welcome all of these “opportunities” for the Cavs to advance as a team without LeBron, I am not silly enough to think this will translate to wins in the short term. As Jason Lloyd pointed out today, look for the Cavaliers record to be near or at .500 when LeBron returns. That will be enough to generate a ton of negative press so Cavalier fans should expect this as pointed out earlier.

But here is the major positive in all of this ………… The Cleveland Cavaliers play in the NBA Eastern Conference. No matter what trials and tribulations the team faces during the regular season, the Cavs are one of the only teams in history, if healthy, who could still win the East even if they start as the 8th seed (which I think is unlikely). Home court is not a critical factor for this Cavs team. Being HEALTHY is a critical factor. I think the team has shown recognition of this simple fact by making the decision to shut James down for 2 weeks. If this move gives James a chance to get reasonably healthy and come back strong, it will be a tremendous positive for Cleveland.

All of the overhyped whaling that will come from the regular season record will seem like a distant memory if they can get to the playoffs healthy. I have confidence in David Blatt. I have confidence in the Cleveland All Stars. I have confidence that the role players will improve and fit in. And I believe that Dion Waiters is developing into a dynamic weapon that is getting better game by game with this new team. Despite all the negative chatter, I still feel the Cavs are a team to be reckoned with in the NBA East. The loss of LeBron James for 2 weeks does not change that in the least.

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Kyrie Irving Holds the Key to Cavalier Improvement

LeBron James is, without question, the most talented player on the floor for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has the highest BBall IQ and more ways to impact the game than any other player. However, based on my observations of the team including things I witnessed on the court last night, it seems that Kyrie Irving holds the keys to Cavalier success in 2014-15.

It has very little to do with his 35 points scored last night, although that was certainly fun to watch. It has everything to do with him being the true reflection of his coach on the floor, as he was for Coach K on the USA team this summer. That role is almost always reserved for the point guard of any basketball team. Despite attempts, understandably, by James to roust that role from Kyrie, it is clearly Kyrie’s role to play if the Cavaliers want to extend to the next level of success.

Kyrie Irving has been the personification of professionalism in his role with the “new” Cavaliers. He has stayed out of the center of controversy. He has stayed above the nitpicking press who is trying to drive a wedge in the team every chance they get. He has showed the most consistent effort and intensity. Irving has rarely taken “time off” of the defensive end. He has most convincingly endorsed his coach and shown that he will do whatever it takes to win for him. Kyrie has most clearly committed to Cleveland and it’s team both with his words and his contract.

There should be little doubt that if the Cavaliers are to weather this storm and come out a winner, it will be Kyrie Irving that leads the way in terms of professionalism and grit. As Chris Paul is for the Clippers, he will be the glue that mends the team. Yes, he is very young. Yes, he is not a true leader like LeBron James is in terms of experience and talent. In fact, I am not implying he is the leader on this team (that role resides with LeBron). But he is the glue that will mend the divides and improve the play of everyone around him. He will be, as he should be, the true point guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now, having heard all that, it might seem this is an indirect slam on LeBron and his recent slow smoking of the embers that burn under the Cavaliers. One might think I am trying to make a point that Kyrie is the better leader than LeBron in general. That is not the case here.

I think that James, when he said very early that he “knew what he must do”, was correct in his assessment that he needed to be the primary driver on the offensive end. He was correct that he needed the ball in his hands and to be more aggressive. He helped the Cavs get a nice winning streak and get them kick started forward. Now I think James needs to see a different reality. Kyrie is more capable of assuming the point than he was early. He knows his teammates better and passes to them more in rhythm. He rarely tries the sloppy behind the back and inside wedge passes that hit his or the opponents legs and bounce harmlessly away. He is less nonchalant with the ball and more purposeful. What LeBron and Coach Blatt need to impress upon Kyrie is that he is not needed to dribble through 4 guys on the way to a transition basket. He can see the block and back out. He can run the offense when it isn’t there. Same for LeBron.

This all has to do with trust of your teammates. Kyrie and LeBron have a ton of talent around them and they need to use it. The national press and even the local press sometimes might make you believe that the Cavs have no talent after LeBron. The story of LeBron against the world is a good one that sells. But that is not the case in Cleveland. The Cavaliers are barely scratching the surface of their talent. Think of our 60+ win teams with LeBron the first time around. He had NOTHING when compared to the talent on the current team. Yet this team looks like they will struggle to win 50 games. Don’t be deceived by December appearances. This team has far more to grow and far more to prove going forward.

The stories of LeBron vs Blatt and LeBron trying to force Lue as the head coach are all conjecture based on “source” innuendo and opinions. Some have said that they have been following this controversy for weeks and have visual evidence to support their opinion. They have said that players don’t trust coaches who have not played in the NBA and had experience there. (And Eric Spoelstra played in NBA??) Others point out the lackluster effort on the court by James at times being in “chill” mode as evidence he is trying to undermine Blatt. All of these points have elements of truth but that is why Kyrie holds the key to glue all of this together. He has given no such clues as to a crack in his loyalty. He has supplied consistent effort on both ends of the court. He has a long term contract with the Cavs.

So, if we are looking for a “hero” to lead us out of the darkness, look no further than our own point guard. He learned how to play with talented players and consistently play defense this summer. He learned under a coach who has not coached ONE MINUTE of NBA basketball.

LeBron is still the undisputed leader of the Cavs. He will always be the key to success on the floor. But he can do that in many ways. Having the ball consistently in his hands with his loose handle and inconsistent passing is not the way to elevate the Cavs NOW. It was necessary before. It is time for LeBron to see that and turn over the reigns to his point guard. Let Kyrie make his mistakes and guide him as he goes. James can do that. LeBron can cut hard off the ball and get some easy hoops. Why not? He deserves it.

 

NBA: Preseason-Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin Love Not Playing in Fourth Was a Step Forward for Cavs

It is hard to digest the unadulterated overreaction to the fact Kevin Love did not play in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Orlando Magic game. This seems to be an ongoing and disturbing theme regarding all things Cavs that have occurred this season. The media overreaction should have been anticipated but it is the tone of the media overreaction that is distressing. The fan overreaction also is expected given the hard lessons learned regarding Cleveland professional sports teams and four very tough years watching Cavs basketball. Regardless of how predictable some of these reactions might be, it is still tough to focus on the positive when all this negativity swirls around the Cavs constantly.

I will admit that it has not been easy even for me to sit back and wait for the team to gel given some of the poor performances I have seen. This is especially true because many of the disappointments seem to be a result of lack of effort or lack of understanding what kind of effort is needed. Lately, even more is being made about the team’s “fit” and chemistry. Despite all of these difficult issues being raised, I think the Cavaliers are on track to perform as expected in 2014-15.

And maybe that was the problem from the beginning?? The Cavs fans and national media seem to have unrealistic expectations of the Cavs waltzing to an NBA title. Now I don’t mean to suggest that was everyone. But a fair percentage of media and fans honestly thought an NBA title was more than a passing possibility. Now that reality has firmly set in, it seems everyone has to be the “deep diver” to find the root of the “failure”.

Looking at this further, it seems that it might be hard to find the root of the failure before a failure has actually occurred. In simple terms, until this season is over and the records are complete, it is not possible to judge success or failure of the 2014-15 Cavaliers. Even then it might be tricky.

This leads me to the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic. Kevin Love had played solidly for 3 quarters. He had 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers in those three quarters. Love had played 33 minutes. That is exactly 3 minutes less than his season average of just over 36 minutes. The Cavs had played poorly with little energy in the first quarter and had allowed 60+% shooting from the floor for the Magic in the first half. The second quarter was better and the coach felt that the defensive effort was there from the second quarter on. Yet, because Love didn’t play in the fourth quarter and the Cavs defense was best in the fourth quarter, Brian Windhorst just had to point that out to notorious Cavs hater Bill Simmons that the Cavs defense was noticeably better in the fourth quarter, implying that the earlier failures were primarily dropped in the lap of Kevin Love.

The no show in the fourth was looked upon by these expert pundits as a sure sign of a lack of faith by Blatt and the Cavs in Love’s ability to affect the game on the defensive end in the fourth quarter. This sent Bill Simmons rushing to the trade machine to look up possible trade scenarios for Love and Windhorst to pile on with his comments about the relative improved defense in the fourth.

I wonder if they had even a slight pause when they heard that Love himself approved of the move to keep the same team that had seemed effective on the court for the fourth. Did they maybe swallow hard when they heard that Blatt and Love both acknowledged each other after the game and did a fist pump of approval after the win? Finally, what do you think they were “analyzing” when LeBron vocally explained how this type of act by an All Star was a sure step forward for the Cavs. And followed this up by saying that all Cavs need to be willing to sacrifice their individual feelings for the betterment of the team and that he hoped the team was watching. He made it very clear that he was watching and noticed Love’s vocal and animated support of his teammates in the fourth quarter.

Well, I am absolutely certain that those writers could care less about all that logic and will continue to pervade their theories about the meaning of Love’s absence in that quarter. That is why I am much more concerned about what Cavs fans think and how they perceive this rare occurrence. I am hoping that Cavs fans will look on this as a positive step forward as I do.

It has been increasingly difficult for me to handle all of the negative energy on twitter and repeated calls for changing the “fit” of the team with trades or downright complete overhauls. It just doesn’t make any sense to me this early to panic based primarily on “style points”. While the loss of Andy is a serious blow, it is not a death sentence to this season. It was going to be exceedingly hard to win an NBA championship this year anyway considering the fact we had a new head coach, many new players, two new stars, and a slew of holdover players that had never won anything in the NBA post season.

This is not the NCAA Division I football championship rankings where it seems style points predominate. As hard as it is to win in the NBA, the Cavs should be judged on wins and losses and style points should be excluded from the assessment. That is why the fourth quarter was so important to the Cavs maturation as a team. They beat an inferior team without one of their All Stars and with another All Star sitting on the bench the entire quarter. Love’s support of the move and support of his teammates speaks volumes compared to the disharmonious din played by others wanting to find fault.

This seems to be one more small step in the right direction. I hope it carries over to others and the clear message is sent. This team cannot be about individual player’s accolades. It is about building chemistry, fit and finish. Sure the Cavs might need some changes going forward but they need to focus on who is here right now and become the best Cavs team possible.

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