There has been a great deal written about the Cavs, their effort, and their coach recently. The subject has been analyzed and organized in different ways. Much of it has revolved around Coach Scott and how the Cavs effort reflects on him as a coach and a motivator. I would like to start the Cleveland Wins two part series on this topic with a controversial yet, I think, appropriate beginning. That will be to focus more on the players than the coach or the organization. In the current NBA, whether we like to admit it or not, the players dictate the tone and quality of the team and the coaches are sometimes bystanders in the process. I believe that is as relevant to the Cavs as it is to any other NBA team.
Now let’s put the disclaimers on this blog right away. This is not an attempt to “absolve” Coach Scott from any responsibility. This is not a shot at Kyrie. This blog hardly considers Anderson Varejao at all and that is intentional. It is, however, an attempt to better define the current Cavalier’s mental approach using the players as the focal point.
Tristan Thompson has emerged as the leader of this young Cavs team. He has been the one player to display the mental toughness necessary to carry the team forward in the future. Other players may gain that toughness and sense of accountability, but TT has it now …… in spades. No other player has even come close.
Kyrie Irving is the best player on the Cavaliers and that remains unquestioned. He shines above all other players except the greatest in the game today. But, despite his honest efforts to become a leader, it has been more bestowed on him rather than ingrained in him. The same was true of another player that left a few years ago. That player has clearly evolved beyond his play here and I believe, one day, Kyrie will as well. I just want it to be in Cleveland and not somewhere else. In that other era, no other player could really step up and become the leader of the Cavaliers when they needed one. Maybe this time is different.
In order to be the true leader of a franchise (this does not translate to mean best player), you have to possess a few key qualities. First and foremost, you need to be talented and the players around you must see that and believe that. It is sad to say that the players need to see that and believe that in order for you to be that leader but such is today’s NBA. Second, you need to play with intensity and provide few excuses. Third, if it is appropriate, you need to reflect the spirit, determination and lessons of your coach on the floor. Fourth, you need to BE THERE! In other words, you need to be on the court more than off the court. Fifth, you need at all times to hold yourself accountable for your actions and that your actions on the court reflect your words off the court. Sixth, and not least important, when you say the “right things” to the press and others after a win or loss, you need to BELIEVE them and they need to be ingrained inside you. Seventh, with the game on the line, you need to be even more intense and focused than your enormous intensity and focus for the rest of the game. Eighth, once you have established a track record for 1-7, you need to hold your teammates accountable as well for 1-7. They may never believe it like you do, but they might just follow. That is what makes you a leader in today’s NBA.
Think of the words, actions, and play of TT through this tough and painful season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Compare what he has done and said to the 8 characteristics listed above. I think you will agree that he is emerging in all 8 categories and already there in most of them. It has been one of the only shining lights in an otherwise dark and difficult year.
He has always been a player considered one of potential over NBA production. No one will ever confuse him with Kevin Garnet or Tim Duncan in their prime. In the draft previews one key scout who often gives his observations anonymously said that he would love to work with TT for a few years and see where he could go. He described him as a player with endless motor, superior athleticism, and a desire to be great. At the beginning of the season, no one could see his supposed “progress” from his hard off season work. However, almost as if a light bulb turned on in his head, early into the season he could see where he was going and we could too. Since that has happened, the characteristics of a true leader have begun to emerge with the culmination in a monster performance against Boston. Yes I know about all the players missing from Boston. But that does not minimize Tristan’s performance. And the leadership key comes from what he said leading up to that game and what he said after that game. He believes what he says and now says it with conviction and purpose. And then he goes out and backs it up on the court.
Now don’t get me wrong, TT had many games before that one where he did not back up his words with actions and had recently been in a kind of a funk like the rest of the team. However, when his conviction came back in the press and in the game, his role as a leader became clear. Go back and look at some Tristan interviews as a rookie and early in 2012-13 seasons. He said many of the right things, but you could just see in his face that he was struggling with believing them. His tone was more uncertain. His demeanor less firm and convincing. Kyrie definitely has that problem right now and always has had it. That player that left was similar. But TT no longer is struggling with believing. His tone and demeanor has changed. TT has it now! Thank goodness someone does.
The Cavaliers fans and organization should rejoice in that and look with more anticipation at what the combination of Kyrie and Tristan can do going forward. Maybe some fans can actually get off the “why did they pick him fourth” second guessing train. Maybe, just maybe, we picked up Jordan and Pippen in the same draft. Maybe, just maybe, Dion and Tyler can follow and develop the same steely resolve that TT now has all the time and Kyrie has closing games. If so, this season will not be an entire loss and a leader will have emerged. And that leader is Tristan Thompson!