RAISING THE CADAVALIER - many, many thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers by ROBERT ATTENWEILER

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Misc,NBA Basketball


Cavs 2012-13 Roster Outlook Pt.2: The Assets Phase

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Much of the talk about the “Oklahoma City Model” of team building centers, understandably, on Sam Presti’s drafting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – all top level NBA talents — in three consecutive drafts.

The amount of attention that their three draft day home runs makes sense, because (as any NBA fan — perhaps, especially a Cavs fan — knows) you need 2-3 high level NBA players to compete at a high level in today’s NBA. But a GM getting his franchise’s cornerstone, buttress and gorgeous bay window all through the draft – meaning that he doesn’t have to part with any additional resources (i.e. money or other good players) – frees that GM up to maximize Phase 2, The Asset Phase.

See, OKC had another lottery pick in that incredible draft run from 2007-2009 (that also got them Serge Ibaka, though later in the 2008 draft at #24). Jeff Green was taken with the 5th pick in the same draft where Kevin Durant went #2. Originally the Celtic’s pick, #5 went to OKC in the draft day trade that sent Ray Allen to Boston. Green has developed into a nice player, but he’s never really lived up to the promise of a top-5 selection. So, why aren’t we saying, “Gee, Sam Presti nailed those Durant, Westbrook and Harden picks. But, clearly, he’s fallible. Look at Jeff Green”? It’s because Presti’s draft success in 2008 and 2009 allowed Green to not have to be a big-time player to justify his selection. He was no longer part of OKC’s 2-3 star future. Jeff Green was now an asset and he let Presti go out and get Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics when his team was one very wide body from taking the leap from up-and-comer to contender.

All this is to say that, while local and national writers spend quite a bit of time connecting Chris Grant’s rebuild of the Cavaliers with what Presti did with the Thunder – and Cavs fans spend a lot of time wringing their hands about if the trio of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters will develop into as strong a foundation for this team as Durant-Westbrook-Harden – what Grant is doing with The Asset Phase of the rebuild is almost more interesting.

Assets, to think of them very generally, are not things that increase a GM’s chances of success as much as they are things that decrease the terrifying prospect that every decision they make has to be the right one. Assets are wriggle room – and with enough of them (be they draft picks, promising young players on rookie contracts, diamonds in the rough and, while less so now, big-money expiring deals) a GM should have a much longer length of rope, even if the results are that he still hangs himself with it.

So, in Presti’s case, downgrading Green from “Top-5 pick(!)” to “key asset” was fine because he’d found the stars he needed elsewhere – and it allowed him to cover over another of his rare draft whiffs (or, to be more fair, while the jury may still be out on the long-term success of center, Cole Aldrich, he was not good enough fast enough for a Thunder team ready to take the leap and needing a quality center) by turning Green into Perkins. The lesson, clearly, is this: in the NBA, if you manage your assets well and hit well enough on enough of them, you receive what few GMs really have—the necessary ability to fail.

If you’ve paid even modest attention to Chris Grant’s tenure with the Cavaliers, you’ve heard the same words over and over: “assets” and “flexibility.” And when we look at the team he’s assembled – talented young players like Irving, Thompson, Waiters and Zeller – we spend, perhaps, too much time inventing scenarios in which they all achieve the ceilings of their draft day promise or they just fail miserably. What has to be kept in mind is the middle ground – the Asset Phase – where a talented young player, even if he does not become Serge Ibaka or Russell Westbrook still has value and can help this team going forward (of course, they help them much better if they all just become All-Stars, but y’know…).

That’s also why Grant is being smart about bringing in undrafted players, like Kevin Jones or Michael Eric (or, in the past, like Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee, Donald Sloan or Manny Harris). While the odds are against these players reaching the promise or performance levels of a player picked high in the draft, the risk is very low and the reward, should the organization be able to develop this player into someone who can help the Cavs or (sometimes more importantly) interest another team, is very high. The true payoff of this is down the line when you can see if, say, Samuels is included in a draft day deal that helps net us a higher pick – or Eric develops into a rotation big, soothing the sting when Grant trades Varejao – or if Gee is included in that Varejao trade, getting us something more (another player to develp, more picks, etc) back. And, maybe, none of those things happen. Likely, none of those things will happen. But Grant is lengthening his rope – bringing in high-level talent, as well as developmental projects that should (should) allow the team, once it’s ready, to be competitive in the long term because they’ve done enough that’s smart to allow or make up for the riskier moves.

Or maybe I just want Waiters to be as good as Russell Westbrook. Yes. That would do, as well…

Misc,NBA Basketball


When Larry Bird Was Handsome (or, “The Way It Wasn’t”)

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I had the opportunity to see Magic/Bird on Broadway last week and I’m still shaking my head a little.

I’m not even shaking my head at the show so much which I like just a tiny bit more than I thought I would or knew I should (though I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for much of what was enjoyable about the show, even as I recognize that “liking” something means very little to any project’s artistic aspirations, had artistic aspirations rated highly enough to have even been given a schwag bag at this particular party).

I’m not against popular entertainments. I’m a sports fan, for god’s sake. And I’m not entirely against empty popular entertainments. I’m a Cleveland sports fan, for god’s sake. But there does seem to be some back-patting on the part of the show’s producers about how they are attracting “non-traditional” fans to the theater.

Now, I will admit that the crowd at the show I saw was hands-down the most diverse crowd I’ve ever seen at a play. But, those people who will go see Magic/Bird will very likely not rush out to see Venus In Fur the following weekend because – you know, that theater thing’s got something interesting going on.

These “new theater goers” then are little more than dollar signs invented by the producers. They have figured out a way to get people to the theater who wouldn’t normally go – but they are not people who will likely go back – and the people who would normally go don’t really see the point in this project so they won’t go … and it’s a whole cycle that they hope can be sustained just long enough to justify itself.

So, good for the producers of Magic/Bird for figuring out a way to (possibly) make money. Good work. But let’s call it that. Let’s not call it theater.

Theater as we know, is about figuring out a way to (probably) lose money.

But my review of the actual play goes something like this…

If you are a fan—whether a fan of good theater or a sports fan—it’s probably not a stretch to assume that you already have some opinion of the new Broadway play Magic/Bird. If you’re a theater fan, you might be scratching your head over how the story of two basketball players who played for different teams during the 1980s—two players who, in fact, only played each other twice a year, save for the three times their teams met in the NBA Finals—and produced, in part, by the very same professional sports league that once employed them, could ever make for satisfying theater. If you’re a sports fan—or, perhaps, a theater fan who loves one—you might see it differently: a light but predictably satisfying entertainment centered around the two players most often credited with saving professional basketball in the 1980s, whose rivalry became the storyline for a decade’s worth of NBA seasons, and who took on the type of mythic stature you’d expect from guys with nicknames like “Magic” and “Legend,” even as their story’s most lasting legacy is the effect on the American public when faced with the very real mortality of one of their most recognizable icons. Luckily, both of these opinions of Magic/Bird turn out to be correct.

Read the rest of my review of Magic/Bird on nytheatre.com.



Cleveland Revisionist History Lesson…

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You may have noticed (or, if you haven’t, just keep it to yourself, will ya?) that I haven’t been posting since the conclusion of the regular season.  Even winning the #1 (and #4) pick in the draft wasn’t enough to stir ye olde Cadavalier to the dusty keyboard and pundit-icize for a length of screen (though, to be honest, most of my thoughts were driven by anxiety over all the jokes that would come if we ever had a player named “Enes” on our team … jokes sure to occasionally flirt with brilliace – as you could easily go with either “penis” or “anus” … amazing, if you think about it … though, I’m sure he’s heard them all before).

Well, sports fans, I’ve been away because I’ve been hard at every sports fan’s true passion: new works of  American theater.

While few in the audience would ever confuse, say, Delonte West with True West, this new show of mine is not without relevance to this blog because it is about Cleveland (or, as one character puts it, “one Cleveland or another”) and is framed around the 2007 sports season.  You remember that season, don’t you?  The one where the Cavs made it to their first ever NBA Finals only to be swept by (if memory serves) one poor Varejao shot selection after another (and in, what turned out to be, the lowest ranked Finals match-up in the modern era.  The current Finals is up 75% from the Cavs Finals.  75%.  I’ll say it one more time: 75%.  Eesh…).

One of the things the play does in conflates a bunch of different moments in Cleveland/Cleveland sports history and churns out a story that … well … a story that, if not necessarily true in fact, is, at least, true in spirit.

The show also includes some motion comics by Scott Henkle that, we hope, will make Cleveland’s own Harvey Pekar proud(ish-like).

I’ve included the monologue on The Miracle of Richfield below, if you feel like some story time.

Our Greatest Year opens June 17th.  More information can be found on the Disgraced Productions website.

Enjoy (and wish us the broken legs)…

In 1976, Nick Mileti, owner of the city’s professional basketball Cavaliers, stood behind a podium and answered questions from the press in regards to his team’s – to the Cavs’ – first playoff appearance in the team’s 6 years of operation.  Mileti took a question from the beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer after which, before saying anything, he produced a tattered piece of newsprint from the wallet he kept in his back pocket.

When he spoke, he told this story: Mileti, while at school in Boston, met and fell for a beautiful woman from Warsaw, Poland.  He left school and returned with her to Poland only to find out – through an series of increasingly baffling and horrible events – that this woman was, in fact, not from Warsaw at all and was not even Polish – a ruse, Mileti was the first to admit was the type that seemed impossible to swallow until well after you yourself found you had just done so.

But Mileti had grown to like it there and stayed on until he received word that his mother – who had been baking bread in Cleveland’s Little Italy (or, as Mileti always called it, Little Little Little Italy) since the wartime was sick and requested his return.  So, Mileti rushed to her side – only to arrive too late as his mother lied in her bed, recently passed, the last newspaper she ever read, still unfolded across her chest.  Mileti skipped ahead what came next and picked up at his own picking up of the newspaper from his mother’s bed.  It had been open to the comics section and Mileti’s eyes fell on the strip Betsy Wow: Girl Executive, a locally produced strip about a female business magnate and her adventures that Mileti had never seen anywhere but in the Plain Dealer.  Mileti read as Betsy’s secretary, Benjy, pinned another man in the secretary pool, a Joey Reslenda, for being a corporate spy and Benjy took it upon himself to ensnare this man, with a plan that involved showing up to a certain bar dressed in the white pressed uniform of a sailor.
For some reason, this comic strip caused Mileti to, in spite of the circumstances, laugh.  He laughed for some time and with real joy.

That was the story that Nick Mileti told as he held out the clipped, worn-by-years comic strip for the reporters to see with the simple message: you never know when something completely unexpected is going to happen.  If Mileti meant the story to apply to his teams chances in the playoffs, he did not clarify.  He just smiled, the reporters asked no further questions and Mileti retired to his normal downtown lunch spot where he ran into a mid-day drunk Frank Tarborogh, head of the pridefully Cleveland-based U.S. Steel.

Tarborough, really quite drunk, told Mileti he had just been made an offer on U.S. Steel by the Canadian Superior Steel and he was strongly considering selling. Mileti was appalled.  He was a businessman, sure, but he was also a Clevelander, a “homer.”  There’s an implied connection between a professional sports team and its city that, while the team is a business like any other, there at least needs to be airs shown that X team is Y City – that they are inseparable, that they share the same ups and downs, that when Nate Thurmond, who was, at the time, a player on the Cavs, would stub his toe, the entire city would yelp out in pain and that, conversely, Thurmond would cry (just a little) when your husband left you or would try a little bit harder the next time down the court because you’d just been diagnosed with a wonky heart and wouldn’t be doing any more running any time soon. Mileti embraced that idea and, so, was horrified that Tarborough would put a big smudge on the smelting pot that had long symbolized the region

So, Mileti proposed an honest wager.

For every game the Cavaliers won that year, Tarborogh would hold off selling U.S. Steel for one year and, if they won nothing, Mileti would say nothing – would arouse no resistance – when Tarborough sold his shrinking industry giant.  Things will turn around, Mileti said and, at the time, believed.  You never know when something surprising will happen.  The drunken Frank Tarborough was certain the Cavs would win not a game and took this wager.  The Cavaliers would win their first round series with the Washington Bullets 4 games to 3.  And, for a brief period, steel was steel in Cleveland again … or it remained so … or, at least, things did not have to change.  It was called The Miracle of Richfield (Richfield, OH being where Mileti had built the arena where the Cleveland team played) because Mileti’s team had kept the brittle backbone of Cleveland’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of jobs – as well as the people who worked them – from turning to dust.  For a time.

It was called The Miracle of Richfield – not by the fans, most of whom didn’t understand what was so miraculous – but by Mileti, a man who believed in what his city was … at least until he was shown that it could no longer be.  Not anymore.