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.

Kyrie-Irving-nice-dribbling-22-

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.

Cavs flag logo

December 20th Cavalier Scribbles – More Work To Do

I looked at the Cavaliers as a whole about a month ago and I, unfortunately, still see some of the same weaknesses that I noticed before. However, due to his head injury, the return of Mike Miller was delayed and the chance to make the rotation changes that should elevate the team were then delayed. The movement of Mike Miller to the starting lineup was the first of a series of moves that I think will improve the Cavs rotation short term and even more long term. Last night was a glimpse of that. I went into a little more detail on my scribbles of November 23rd, please look at that again if you would like more context.

The Cavaliers would  benefit greatly in my view from a rotation that starts with Kyrie, Miller, LeBron, Love, and TT. I know that is a bit of an undersized lineup, but it makes the most sense to start games. The “Big Three” and knockdown shooter Miller provide plenty of offensive firepower to start games. TT is a much better complementary player to that group because he cleans up misses and, frankly, plays better defense than either Love or Varejao. It is no accident that he is often in the lineup at the end of games. So that is one change I am still waiting for David Blatt to make. He is such a heady coach don’t be surprised if this change comes sooner than later.

The rotation for the Cavs should be Marion to spot LeBron and, at times based on defensive needs, Miller or Love. The most important thing he could do would be to give LeBron the rest he needs over the course of the season. Delly to backup Kyrie, of course, and run the offense with Dion. Waiters to come in for Miller and Andy to spell Love across the quarter and into the second. To bad for TT but he is the youngest big. He can extend through the first if needed. I think Jones should be the 10th man in the rotation to come in at SF and move Marion to the 4 when TT needs to come out or the offense needs a kick.

I don’t see a role for anyone else off the bench until injuries dictate that. I do like Harris for sure and am wondering about Haywood?? He obviously has very little or nothing left in the tank to not be used as an occasional rim protector. We don’t see him in practice and don’t know the true story here about his recovery from the injury. If he has anything left, then you will probably see him as a “surprise” rotation addition in short stretches when we play teams with great bigs such as we will see Sunday against Memphis. If he has nothing, then he is only here to be used as a trade chip in this off-season. A valuable role for sure but I would like to see more. Amundson is also someone who can get spot time depending on fouls and the like, but he also is undersized.

I agree 100% with LeBron when he says this existing team can make a strong run to win it all (code word “ultimate goal”) if they buy in and learn to play as a team and trust each other. Almost no media person or blogger believes that but I do. That being said, it is quite obvious that wing defense and lack of size hurts the Cavs often and begs the question of whether we need to make a substantial change. My point here is one of caution. This Cavs team is far from done growing together. They still are lazy at times. They still do not value their own words and fight to compete on defense as they know they must. The lapses are often large and long causing games that would otherwise be a blowout to be a grind to the end or loss. Better effort throughout would actually SAVE energy for the players in the final analysis. They would have more nights to sit out entire fourth quarters and conserve energy. I hope they realize that soon because the current approach is going to wear them out and make injury more likely.

The other caution is my continuous reprise to Trade Dion Waiters At Your Peril. I know that many say he “can’t fit in” or is a “bad fit”. I think that is very far from the truth. He is actually a perfect fit on this team if he begins to truly understand his role and embrace it. Dion has the potential, with determination, to be an excellent defender. His potential is far beyond Kyrie’s because of his ability to play above the rim and his quickness. But, as we have seen, Dion rarely uses that talent to it’s fullest because he saves it for the offensive end. This is the exact same thing Kyrie did until this year. Plus, on the offensive side, he still would be the most talented scorer of the rotation players and be the second option often as starters sub out or in. So he will get his chances on the offensive end if he is patient and can knockdown shots. Dion, with the right attitude and mix of players, can have 14-18 points off the bench and 6 assists per game. Playing with Andy will give him a viable pick and roll player who is the best player we have for that kind of 2 man action. Dion can thrive in that role if he simply gets past himself and understands what he must do.

And that is the reason that so many say he “can’t fit”. Many believe that Dion is a malcontent that can’t be controlled. I think if you read the Brendan Bowers article on Dion, you will understand that isn’t necessarily the case. Dion comes from a rough place and a rough background. He is emotional but thoughtful and does care about winning. He had hoped it would be easier with LeBron because of open looks. What he didn’t plan for is his usual early season struggles offensively and an inability to knock down shots as he did near the end of last year. I ask that everyone step back a bit from the “Dion must go” group and give him more of a chance to find himself. I think that, given time, he can do that.

I will say this, if the Cavs decide to use their last viable player trade chip (Waiters) in a deal, it had better be a blockbuster for the team. Not a Kosta Koufus or similar talent. If they are going to sell out for a rim protector, it had better be a nasty one who is athletic (like we played last night – Plumlee). A soft rim protector with limited athleticism just won’t do if we want to advance. Tyler Zeller, while not really a rim protector, would have helped just as much because he is athletic and 7 foot. I still regret we needed to give him up, but I know we did.

Yes, the Cavs have a ways to go for sure. And Windbag (eh Sorry I mean Windhorst – disrespectful) tried to bring that home today. But I think with the right rotation and time to grow, we still have a championship team as currently constituted. The time to tweak the team might be in the off-season, but I know that won’t be the case. We will make a deal and maybe soon. I just hope it is the right one.

Johnny Manziel

Were You Surprised by Johnny Manziel’s Performance ??

I think the Browns and their fans were both faced firmly with the realization that Brian Hoyer, despite his local roots, was a big reason why the playoffs were slipping away. He has some leadership skills and talent for sure but his consistency was nowhere to be found. Hoyer showed that he was a “rhythm” quarterback. When he hit some throws and especially when they were in the hurry up offense, he would keep doing well and seem to make high quality throws. If the team or he hit a skid, he seemed to fight to find that rhythm and for the final 3 weeks he never found it.

That is why I called that the time was right for Manziel prior to the Colts game. However, I was never under the delusion that Manziel had a high chance of success. It is just that we needed a change and I had hoped that sitting on the bench all of those weeks might have helped him prepare. I guess I was wrong about that but I was hoping.

I want to reprise my “draft analysis” of the Johnny Manziel pick to clarify that I knew what we were up against from the beginning with “Johnny Football”. I suspect that many of my readers knew as well. Here it is:

Johnny Manziel, QB:

By some projections, Manziel was the best QB in the draft. He is also a lightning rod for controversy, scrutiny and another potential “black eye” for the city of Cleveland and it’s sports teams. If you wanted Manziel because he finally “puts Cleveland on the map”, you are in for a rude awakening. He will only put us “on the map” if he succeeds and the Browns win football games. That would have happened anyway if this storied franchise began to win and contend for titles. If he fails (which is a strong possibility), he will put Cleveland “on the map” again for late night jokes and ridicule. So watch what you wish for. It might not be what you think.

That being said, if the multiple flaws translatable to the NFL that Manziel possesses are conquered or controlled, his good traits could make this a draft to remember for our lifetime. He has a quick release, enough arm strength to function at the pro level, enough accuracy on short/intermediate throws to be successful, and an uncanny ability to sense pressure and escape it. Those traits are good a good fit with our scheme and he has enough talent to pull it off. If it weren’t for all of those critical talent/character flaws in his game, his chance of boom would be better than bust. I will outline the flaws in depth in a separate analysis but by way of summary here they are: 1) A sense he needs to escape when he doesn’t and then run 2) Inability to go through full progressions with his reads 3) Predictable methods of pocket escape that places his offensive tackles in “no win” scenarios 4) Questionable accuracy on deep throws 5) Instincts to run before finding open receivers 6) No demonstrated ability to slide and step up in the pocket to throw 7) No demonstrated ability to command the game from behind center – strictly shotgun/pistol 8) Virtually never pitching or handing the ball off on read options 9) No demonstrated ball skills to handle play-action sets and create deception without the ball 10) Serious questions about work ethic, sense of entitlement, ego getting in the way of progress, and willingness to be a student of the game (knowing playbook better than anyone, studying game film of opponent, etc.). I’ll stop there and save the rest for later. As a Brown’s fan, I am hopeful but far away from crowning “Johnny Football” as the savior of Cleveland sports.”

Here is my full draft analysis: Browns Draft Analysis

It is interesting to look back at what I thought and how things are working out thus far.  But I think the Manziel analysis clearly pointed out nearly everything you have seen from Manziel since he became a Brown, during his first start, and the “rumors” of poor preparation being circulated since his start. My point here is that this abysmal initial failure by Manziel should have been predicted by his characteristics before we drafted him. I was hoping he had fixed at least some but I saw no real evidence of that during the game. God help the Browns if he had started the season as our quarterback. I think it is safe to say we probably never sniff the playoffs if that had happened. At least now, after 13 games on the bench, there is some hope going forward.

My current opinion of Manziel has not changed. The 10 flaws pointed out were all in evidence since his arrival and in the Bengals game. However, I said then and will say now, if he can overcome these multiple flaws and learn from his mistakes, we have a chance to see a good quality and exciting quarterback for many years. I happen to think it is CRITICAL for the Browns to do well and hopefully win at least 1 out of their last 2 games. The fans and the organization cannot have another off-season of turmoil and change. Winning is only bred by winning and that is what the Browns must do. Losing to improve draft order is a worthless hope and an even more worthless goal.

So I happen to think that Manziel will show a significant improvement this week. The time on the bench and the utter humiliation suffered against Cincinnati is bound to wake him up a bit. He is not a dummy. He understands the concept of heroic legacy versus comical bust. If he does “bust out” as his flaws would suggest, he will be more than a forgettable bust. He will be a historic bust. I really think that might be just the motivation Johnny needs to improve.

If he uses his gifts that are transferrable to NFL play, he has a chance (if only a small one) to be “Johnny Football” again. I hope that is possible because I want to believe in him. I want the Browns to succeed. Needing to replace Manziel before he really gets a solid chance seems like a bad strategy. So I will root for him and hope we see a “new” Johnny Manziel on Sunday. And, even more importantly, I hope we see a new Browns team against the Panthers. The one that played against Cincinnati must be dead and buried forever.

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