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

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NBA Basketball

2012/06/08

We Can’t Possibly Screw This Up. Right, Jim Paxson??

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Hello, viewership. It’s been a while.

That while is due, partly, to that inevitable sinking feeling when a season like this past one ends. We had the third worst record in the NBA. Good for us. We found a new franchise cornerstone (and, Kyrie, you’ll forgive us for the mess as we attempt to keep the structure upright with a couple of jacks pulled from my old ’78 Pinto as we jam you into that very empty spot at the bottom corner of our franchise … forgive the concrete we hastily slather on like so much warm mayonnaise … forgive the way we blow and fan hoping that concrete will dry soon enough so that you don’t go anywhere – that this cornerstone stays put – that I can just go ahead and sell this damn Pinto and its jacks because I’m never going to need them again because you’re here and you love us and you will make every everything just plain okay). Good for us (that was where I left off, just in case you didn’t track it).

Everyone came out a winner. Kyrie validated his number one pick. We showed that we, maybe, can win some games behind him in the not too distant future. We lost just enough to get another high pick in this year’s draft. And we still weren’t good enough – or we suffered enough injuries – to have anyone feeling one way or the other about Byron Scott’s coaching job. Chris Grant hit a home run with Kyrie and Tristan Thompson. He whiffed on Casspi (though, and I’ve written it here before, it was a whiff that he had to at least try. Keeping Hickson would have been, likely, an unmitigated disaster.). He’s been calling a good game, so far.

So, the most that can be said of the Cleveland Cavaliers is that not much can be definitively said about the Cleveland Cavaliers. At least, not yet. Check back again next year.

And so we hit the end of the regular season and are all a twitter to start talking about who we’re going to draft. But then reality sets in and we realize that we have to wait another month until we know where we’re going to draft and then actually zero in on who might be available for us to draft.

So, I determined to let it all ride, viewership. I let it all ride until we found out that Nick Gilbert does not personally choose the draft order. I let it all ride until we found out that we got the number 4 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, a notch lower than our record slotted us and a coin-flip away from the number 1 pick, scooped up by the New Orleans Hornets who had tied us for third-worst.

Number 4… Number 4?! Number f**king 4?! But so many things could go wrong at 4. All of the teams ahead of us could actually draft logically and well and we will lose out on not only Anthony Davis, but also the top wings in the class, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest and Bradley Beal! At 4, Chris Grant might think it’s a good idea to gamble on Andre Drummond! He might try to sell us on Harrison Barnes or Thomas Robinson or even Jeremy Lamb!

We’re picking number 4, viewership … and I can’t think of a more interesting place to be.

This has been discussed by much more able talent evaluators than me, but after the Hornets select Davis, there’s plenty of questions and plenty of talent all the way into the second round. Drafts are often broken down into different tiers of talent, but the number of players in each tier is what fluctuates from year-to-year and what makes this draft particularly interesting. This year, we’ve got a consensus top tier – as last year we had a very shallow top tier of Kyrie and Derrick Williams. The top tier is the franchise cornerstone. Then you can argue that the next tier is from 2-6 and consists of, say, MKG, Beal, Robinson, Barnes and Drummond and could be argued to extend a few picks beyond that.

The second tier should project as potential All-Stars. The third tier players are projected as starters and high-end rotation players. This is the tier that runneth over in this draft. Teams will be looking to add players who can start – and many would start immediately – anywhere from 8 to 24, a pick that I did not, of course, pick out of thin air. And beyond that there is good value to be found well into the second round. There will be busts, sure, but it’s a good bet that there will be players who become much better than we expected.

So, yes, it’s possible that MKG becomes the next Scottie Pippen (who I like as a comparison more than Gerald Wallace which is, in many ways, a backhanded compliment for a guy you’re look at as, possibly, the second best player in the draft) and it’s possible that Beal becomes Ray Allen or, barring that, Eric Gordon. And it’s possible that Drummond becomes Kwame Brown with a poor work ethic (I just gave myself chills with that one) and Barnes could become Adam Morrison (a college scorer who lacks the athleticism to score in the pros) and Thomas Robinson could become Kurt Thomas, a solid, if unexceptional (save for his exceptionally crazy eyes), player.

What seems unlikely is drafting a player on the Diop/Wagner/L.Jackson Scale of Awful – and we have a fighter’s chance of adding two (if not three … or four … or five – sorry, bad reference right now) good pieces to go along with the three good pieces we have (which, if you’re curious, are Kyrie and Andy … Thompson and Gee combine to form one good piece – kinda the Voltron of NBA players). And the best part is how much there is to talk about. There are scenarios out there that net us any player outside of Davis, so it should be fun to see whose stock rises, who slips and how it all ends up playing out.

That’s the joy of 4 this year, viewership. Most years, the joy of one’s draft position comes only when there’s a sure thing waiting there. But this year, there will be talent available at 4 (talent that, I’m sure, Chris Grant will be able to talk me into), even if it’s not Savior #2 (but, maybe it is). So, let’s enjoy what could happen before and after our pick. Do you really expect the Bobcats and/or the Wizards to not do something completely boneheadedly ill-advised? Me either. Heh. This, I like.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some mock-ups of what the team will look like with the various players in play for #4. Until then, viewership, embrace your inner 4.

Misc,NBA Basketball

2012/04/15

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.

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2012/04/08

Tristan Thompson and the Problem of the Hickson Mirage Pt 2

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I won’t bother burying the lead here: it’s all going to be okay.

Or, if not okay, then, at least, it will not be what it was before (which, I suppose, does open the door for “worse” as well as “better,” but let’s turn that frown into slightly-less-frown and put our faith – or our slightly-less-doom – in the “better” here).  Just because Tristan Thompson is seeing minutes at his out-of-position, does not mean that he is a soon-t0-be-castoff like J. Jellybean Hickson was at this time last year (though we didn’t know it at the time).

The biggest thing Thompson has going for him is that he is a rookie. As such, he is under contract for, at least, three more years.  And, while we have all grown to have fan-crushes on the Toronto Tornado, to a fan, no one is sitting here telling you that they expect Tristan Thompson to be a star.  Some people think he will be really good, but most experts talk about him aiming for a 12Pt/10Reb/2Blk career … which, if you think of it, probably is attainable and probably would be just fine. The Hickson Promise, though, had us thinking bigger. He will forever go down as the player who – according to legend – Danny Ferry would not part with to bring a less-broken-than-now Amar’e Stoudamire to the Q to run with LeBron and Shaq (or, more accurately, to run with LeBron and wait for Shaq to catch up … eventually … in fact, in the fast break I’m running in my head they’re still waiting, waiting … waiting – ah, there’s Shaquille!) and even though the Suns dispute that they were ready to make that trade, there were games where the Hickson Promise would just rush to your head same as if you’d consumed an entire package of Peeps.

The problem was two-fold: we thought Jackie J. Hickson was better than he was and he thought he was too.  I don’t think it was J. Jerry’s fault. It was clearly our fault.  Our fault and our fault and our fault.  When we as the collective fanbase buy in to a player so, we have learned, unrealistically, that player’s going to buy into himself just as much, if not more so.  As Hickson’s role would change as Chris Grant and Byron Scott brought in players who could remember plays (although, the player that Hickson was swapped for caused a stir mid-season by admitting that he didn’t know all of the plays.  That’s irony … or miragery … or just funny) and who would not look like they were playing Marco Polo on defense and who had that switch inside them capable of being flipped into the “Understanding the Nuances of Winning Basketball” position, Jabberjaw Jabberwocky Hickson would, no doubt, pout.  By that point, he would believe he was a certain caliber of player and it would be the fans that, given time to have some buyers remorse, would think that notion exaggerated.  By then, it would no longer be our fault that Hickson (I’m giving up the J’s for the rest of the post … I do have some sense of the limits of your patience) inflated his own value.  It would be all on Hickson. Of course, it would be all on Hickson.  We would not remember our role (or management’s role) in getting to this point.  Just another deluded player that we were right about all along.

By then, though, we would also be paying Hickson about $12 million a year.

These are the types of decisions that should make us optimistic as fans of this franchise going forward.  Chris Grant seems to know that a rebuild is a rebuild is a rebuild – and that it’s not that he inherited all bad players from Danny Ferry, but that our perceptions of many of them were clouded with what they could do on a veteran-laden team led by the best player in the game.  That situation tends to make people look good.  Stripped of that situation, Hickson was a player who had ability (just look at his recent stretch as a Trailblazer), but who had to be constantly prodded by Byron Scott to reach anything near his potential.

Tristan Thompson – for lack of a more meaningful term – “gets it.” He seemingly wants to play defense.  He seemingly wants to guard the rim – and rebound – and dunk – and, yes, he seemingly wants to shoot from places and with a frequency that he shouldn’t right now – but, should he continue to develop, he has the potential to be a player who, like Anderson Varejao, is arguably overvalued, but … you know … unlike other players, properly so.

NBA Basketball

2012/03/31

Tristan Thompson and the Problem of the Hickson Mirage Pt 1

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Cavaliers fans have been here before.  Just a year ago, they had a player, an athletic 6’9″ player, a natural power forward in a season-long struggle with any shot outside of 5-feet from the basket, who they shifted over to play center because they’d lost a significant part of Anderson Varejao’s season and were (and continued to be until just recently) staring at Ryan Hollins as their most viable pivot option this side of Kate Moss.

Last year, you might remember this player was one J. Jonah Hickson. And in today’s shrinking NBA where no man may stand taller than 6’11″ and be any damn bit of good (maybe you can be 7 ft, but don’t even think about being 7’1″), he played a good stretch of center for this (if a noticeably worse version of this) team.  In the last 40 games of the 2010-11 campaign, Hickson (yes, the very same J.J. Hickson who was just released by the Sacramento Kings after averaging, essentially, 5 PTS and 5REBS) tore off an All-Starian stretch in the post, averaging 16.6PTS and 11.1REBS.  That’s not bad for an undersized center, you might think.  Byron Scott was finding ways to make J.J. Hickson maximize his positive impact on the game.

Then the season ended.  And Tristan Thompson was drafted.  And Hickson was shipped to Sac-town for a fairly immobile small forward.  And the Cavs lost a significant part of Anderson Varejao’s season.  And Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden might as well be holograms for all they’re able to effect the game (well, positively, anyway … holograms don’t normally fill me up with sweet, frothy rage the way Hollins and Semih “The Sandman” Erden have).  And Byron Scott finally turns to an athletic, natural power forward (6’8″ this time … so, y’know … at least we’ve got getting shorter going for us) to take over the starting center position.  And this player, this Toronto-ian big, this Power T who, we all hope, will be pitying some fools in the NBA for messing with him some day in the very near future, is tearing off his best stretch, though on an admittedly shorter sample size.

So is everything 2012 is 2011 again.  Or better put: how do we know that Tristan Thompson is actually any good?  How do we know he’s not a mirage (not to be confused with being a hologram)?  If J.J. Hickson can stand under a basket and look like a decent NBA rotation big-man one moment and then a hapless scrub the next who, outside of Chris Grant, do we have to tell us that it’s all going to be okay?

Coming up next: Who we have to tell us that it’s all going to be okay…

NBA Basketball

2012/03/03

Byron Scott and the Myth (?) of Player Development

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There are things that we think and things that we know.

We may think that Kobe Bryant is a better player than LeBron James.  We think it because we want to think it.  Part of us wants it to be true.  It’s the same part that made the exact opposite argument when LBJ was playing for CLE and Kobe was a tad more in his prime (and, viewership, if any of you ever tells Kobe, even 20 years from now, that I ever insinuated that he is passing his prime, I swear to god I will drug you, dress you up in my clothes [they’re not bad … you like western shirts, right?] and prop your body in some believably “Robert” position [or, barring that, the Heisman pose] in front of one of my apartment’s windows – because Kobe will be coming to cut my ass [which will actually be your … well, you see what I’m saying]).

But we knew we were wrong then – because the numbers told us we were probably wrong – and we know we’re wrong now, because numbers have always loved LeBron James and no year more so than this one.

Likewise, there are things that we think about Byron Scott as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and what his effect has been on some of the team’s younger players – and there are things that we know. We may think that he’s not the world’s best tactician.  We may think it’s only a matter of time before his style causes his players to tune him out.  We may think that the Cavs are clearly playing better basketball this year and that Coach Scott has to be given some credit for the overall improvement in the team’s culture from last year to this.

Maybe we even know some of those things.

But sometimes it can be pretty tricky to tell the difference.

Now, I always liked Mike Brown.  I liked Mike Brown, mostly, because Mike Brown won more games as head coach of the Cavs than anyone had in a very long time.  He also didn’t seem like a dick, which was nice.  He won with a superstar player playing for him – though he never won so much to cover over his obvious weaknesses as a coach.  He was not overly concerned with offense.  And he was not good at developing young players.

During his tenure, only Daniel Gibson went from rookie to rotation player – and he yo-yoed in Brown’s esteem, partly, it seems, because of injury and partly because Daniel Gibson was never going to be 6’8” Sasha Pavlovic (it’s okay, Boobie … there are worse things to never be in your life).

Enter Byron Scott – and suddenly the same player who couldn’t get regular minutes for a defensive-minded coach has become the team’s best perimeter defender, and a key member of an athletic, versatile bench that – when everyone’s healthy – can help this young team compete.

Now, I’m going to take Bryon Scott’s word for a lot of this, but he talked about taking Gibson under his wing and Gibson has seemed to have a strong relationship with the former shooting guard from jump.

And this season’s “project” player for Scott, Alonzo Gee, is also demonstrating a more polished, effective game and threatening to break into the starting line-up.

Coach Scott, while admittedly dealing with a completely different set of expectations from the fans as the organization rebuilds, seems to be able to target younger players and work with them to become more consistent contributors for a competitive team.

Except, according to the numbers, none of that is true.  We just think it’s true.

Under Scott, Gibson is playing the most minutes per game (in 2010-11 and 2011-12) since his career high-water mark of 2007-08.  But his PER this season (don’t you fall asleep on me!  I know you don’t like it when I talk advanced statistics – I don’t like it either – but I promise I’ll only say PER, like, three more times…) is a career low.  And even last year, when his PER (two more times) was his best in six seasons, it was still short of the average for an NBA player.

And as for Alonzo Gee: his stats are startlingly similar to last year’s. He’s just playing a few more minutes this year.  His PER (one more) is up by about a point but, again, short of the pro average.

Clearly, the point of this is that we should all go back to booing Gibson and Gee, chiding them for being useless at the game of professional basketball and watching as backsides stick to the end of the end of the end of the bench.  Oh, yeah, and Coach Scott makes players the same players they always were – not exactly a ringing endorsement.

But, no, of course, that’s not the point.  The point … and I don’t know that I had one so much as an observation … is that Boobie and Gee are two of my favorite players to watch on this team (along with Kyrie, Varejao and Tristan … sorry to leave you out, Semih) and, while it doesn’t seem like they’re MVP candidates, it does seem like they help this team in ways that you could see them helping a better version of this team.  And both players are excelling on the defensive end – which tends to be under-represented in the statistical world.

Or, maybe, Coach Scott is just building a really nice bench for this team and that part of his reticence to move Gee into the starting line-up has been that Gee is not a starting caliber 3, even if he’s doing nice things for us off the bench – and that being better doesn’t always mean being “better.”

Just another lesson in rebuilding, viewership: when slightly below average is a better slightly below average than the slightly below average from last year, you’re watching the 2011-12 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oh, yeah.  PER (done).

NBA Basketball

2012/02/06

Is Kyrie Irving THE GUY?

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It’s great when I get to start a post by quoting Eric Snow (the specter of whom Mike Brown must be seeing when he looks at his starting point guard, Derek Fisher).  Snow said, “You’ve either got The Guy or you’re trying to get The Guy.”

Snow was saying this in relation to the Cavs’ situation when they had LeBron James.  He was saying (if it’s not already clear) that in today’s (or any day’s, I guess) star-driven NBA, teams either believe they have the player they can build a championship around – the guy who will take them to the top and when he’s gotten them to the top, keep going up, up, up until the air gets so thin that everyone passes out and aren’t even conscious for the horrible plummet back to earth and the splattering on the sidewalk and … well, that’s where the figurative language meets its end.  They either have that guy or they don’t and want one really, really bad.

The Cavs, at the time of Snow’s quote, felt they had The Guy.  Then they didn’t.  And now…?

I’ll admit, I thought Kyrie Irving was going to be a very good player (pat, pat, pat on back).  I actually thought (and I don’t think I was in the minority here) that his ceiling would be as the second or third best player on a contending team, that the Cavaliers were still a The Guy away.  But, as our rookie point guard is progressing at a mind-thrilling piece, we can, however tentatively, nervously and with qualification, ask the question: Is Kyrie Irving The Guy?

I’m going to blow the end of this argument right here.  Who the hell knows?

But there are some promising signs-

The fact that Irving is scoring at an advanced-for-a-rookie-guard clip (18.1 PPG through Monday) in relatively limited minutes (29.6 – but increasing) and shooting 50% from the field is pretty ridiculous. Irving’s at an even 50% from the field, an even 40% from 3, his assists are up (he and Varejao are getting a great feel for each other on the pick-and-roll) and his turnovers are down (he hasn’t recorded more than 3 in 2 1/2 weeks) and he seems moderately more present on defense.  What this means, should this all prove the rule and not the exception is not that Irving is going to take 30 shots a game – make 15 with a sprinkling of 3s and get to the line a bunch (where he is “down to” 83% … practically Price-ian on this team) and be a 40PPG scorer.  I think we’ll see some stupid (the complimentary one) scoring nights over Irving’s career, but that can’t be his end.  Going forward, Irving will be much more valuable as a 20/8 guy who doesn’t need a ton of shots to get his and spends most of his time making it easier for his teammates to score (and, yes, hopefully playing steady, strong defense).

It’s just tough when your best player is your point guard. A team’s point is so crucial to their success (just ask the 2011-12 New York Knicks) and so much is asked of the position, that it’s difficult to also ask your point guard to be your leading scorer.  But isn’t Chicago considered a contender with reigning-MVP Derrick Rose?  They are – and I love Derrick Rose.  Is Derrick Rose The Guy? Absolutely, he’s The Guy.  But the last two teams to win an NBA championship with their point guard as their leading scorer were the Pistons (once, with Isiah Thomas) and the Lakers (once, with Magic Johnson) and those were both on incredibly balanced teams.

Your point guard can be your The Guy but, by all indications (and the Bulls haven’t proven this wrong yet), it’s then even more important to get balance and the ability to score big out there on the floor along with The Guy.  Or, to put it differently, at the end of close games, opposing teams should have to deal with the fact that the guy with the ball in his hands – while capable of taking and making the shot – at least, may not.

But, no, you say? Kryie will just blow by – spin by – cross-over past – dribble through the defense on his way to the game-winning lay-up.  Okay, great.  End of discussion.

Or we can talk about how, while he might develop into The Guy, the real Kyrie Irving Era won’t begin until we get one more elite offensive talent to pair with him.

Still, it’s a hell of a start.

Uncategorized

2012/01/21

FORESIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/200 … or, it’s never too early to start thinking about how bad we might still get

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Just when you thought you were done seeing those “worst loss in franchise history” things…

Well, let’s hope that was the “aberration” Byron Scott said it was and look at the bigger picture.

At 6-8, the Cavs have wins against the Pistons, Bobcats (twice), T-Wolves and Suns – and competitive showings against the Pacers and Lakers (though not, unfortunately, in two against the Raptors).  So, they’re beating the teams they are (at least, mostly) better than and showing the resiliency to not roll over against the league’s elite (remember, Bulls game = aberration).

Kyrie Irving is playing better earlier than many people thought.  Anderson Varejao is being a particularly good version of Anderson Varejao.  Antawn Jamison is finding ways to be effective/inefficient.  This team is a professional basketball team again.  In fact, the only people more excited by the way the Cavs are playing might be D.J. Augustin and D.J. Augustin’s agent.

Of course, going forward, there are still plenty of things waiting to upset the apple cart of good feeling (and piss on all of the apples and then set the cart on fire) and get us right back to NBA bottom-feeder (instead of hovering-just-above-the-bottom-feeder).  And I’m not even talking about the schedule.  I’m talking about the trading deadline and/or the off-season and what we’d look like without Varejao, Jamison and Ramon Sessions.

1.)   Varejao: What’s that?  You’ve heard that the 2012 NBA Draft is deep with delicious, delicious talent? You’ve heard that teams have been inquiring about Andy and that a deal could net the Cavs an additional pick which would be better than nothing considering Varejao will be past his prime if/when the Cavs are ready to contend again?

But you also like that the Cavs look more active defensively this year (outside of certain aberrations) and think there are things the younger bigs (Tristan Thompson, in particular) can learn from Varejao? Well, spit out that cake.  You cannot have and eat, y’know?  Here’s the thing (and it’s been written about, I’m just agreeing): there is no sense in trading Varejao if the only thing you’re doing is getting a younger (and quite possibly worse) player.  If you’re trading Andy mid-season, he’ll be going, no doubt, to a contender – so your precious added draft pick will likely be in the mid to late 20s.  And, while this isn’t written in stone, I’m betting that Anderson Varejao is going to be better even 3 years from now (when, hopefully, he’s able to come off the bench again at power forward and slow down his career odometer a little) than the players available with that pick.  Again, not stone writing here – but I’d be willing to lay valid currency on it.  And I’m not sure that half of a shortened season is enough time for him to impart on Thompson the types of “how to succeed as an NBA hustler” lessons.  Give him, at least, a full season.

Might there be a trade proposed in the off-season that makes sense?  Sure. Off-season deals are the ones when you’re more likely to see a decent or up-coming player get moved for the piece that is Anderson Varejao – or a team making the move thinking it will contend but then actually sucking – the deals that, with some luck, end up looking a little better than you first thought.  But Anderson Varejao for late first round pick (even a 2012 first round pick) ain’t getting us any better and sooner than Anderson Varejao.  And, you know, we’ve already got him.

2.)   Jamison:  Well, things couldn’t all be hopeful-outlooky…  Antawn Jamison is (understandably) the focus of the vast majority of fan frustration this year. We’re not frustrated with Irving or Thompson.  They’re rookies.  We’re not frustrated with Varejao.  He’s busting his ass out there and being productive.  Maybe we’re frustrated with Casspi, but he’s still too new (and we were already so used to being frustrated with the guy we traded for him).

Jamison is a former All-Star who – for better or worse – is going to wind up taking most of the shots not falling into the box score under “Irving, Kyrie.”  And, you know what?  He should be.  He’s the only person on this team with a proven track record as a scorer on the pro level.  And, you know what else?  He hasn’t been terrible this year.  He’s averaging 16.1PPG and 5.8REB and, yes, while you don’t want your starting power forward shooting 41% from the floor, Jamison’s always going to shoot way too many 3s and long 2s, bringing his field goal percentage well south of what you’d like from his position.  He’s put up some stinkers (and has been destroyed by big, physical frontcourts since he got here) but, as has been pointed out, when the Cavs are successful, they’re usually getting good games from Irving and Jamisonand that’s the problem.

As a Cavs fan looking forward, I (and I believe everyone else, Jamison included) would love to see him traded to a playoff team for a first rounder.  Using exactly the same logic as with Varejao, Antawn Jamison is (most, most likely) going to be less serviceable three years from now (to the Cavs, anyway) than Player X drafted in the 20-30 range.  But, there are also 25 games this year after the trade deadline.  So, no one should complain about the number of wins we’re getting early.  If Jamison gets moved at the deadline (which, again, is the right move … or a right move) this team will likely go from “not good” to “baaaaaad” real quick as teams play “5-on-Kyrie” until the end of April.  Now, what team needs Jamison?  Does any team need Jamison?  That remains to be seen.

3.)   Sessions:  Ramon’s lost a little of the luster he had early in the season when he was hitting(ish) his 3s, seeming to care just a smidge about his defense, and teaming with Irving to form one heck of one point guard.  He’s still shooting a career high from 3 (31%), but you’d love a little more distance between that number and his overall field goal percentage (32.5%).  I don’t think I’m going out on too long of a limb in saying this: Ramon Sessions is a top-10 back-up point guard.

And that’s great.  The Cavs need top-10 players everywhere, so if their back-up point is one of the better back-up points in the league (and it’s fair to say that Sessions is), then we don’t have to worry about that and we can get back to the business of replacing our bottom-10 starting 2, 3, 4 … well, I don’t have to tell you.  Sessions is still a pretty young player (25), so there’s still the chance he can improve and still be playing at his peak back-up years when the Cavs next start considering the playoffs.  And he’s an upgrade over who many teams have coming off the bench, so there’s going to be rumors about Sessions out there.  I could go either way with this one.  Again, having Sessions keeps us strong at a very important position.  But, you can find guys who can replace enough of what he brings so that (for a team that’s not very good, remember), you won’t be losing a ton of games on account of this one move.  And if you trade him and wind up getting a player you think could start in this league … well, that’s a whole lot of hypothesizing that’s probably not useful at this point.

NBA Basketball

2012/01/10

The NBA: where occasionally entertaining development happens

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It didn’t happen in 2003.

Adding LeBron James to a roster I’ve widely talked about being the worst of (at least my) memory, did not change my sense of what kind of team I was following.  I still expected them to lose.  I knew we wouldn’t win anything of substance that year, but at least I got to be a fan of a transcendent talent.  That was the first time (barring flashes from Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez) that, as a fan of Cleveland professional sports and, certainly, the Cavaliers I had the chance to feel what it was like to be a fan of a player who would develop (very quickly) into a superstar. But, let’s be clear, I still expected them to lose.  It wasn’t even 2007 when it happened and, if I remember correctly, I was still a little cautious of the idea in 2008.  But by the start of the 2008-09 season, I knew something had come to pass and that if I didn’t change, I was going to be left behind.  So, I did it, finally.  I expected my team to win.

This happened in fits and starts and, I’ll admit, was never entirely comfortable, but I would no longer be shocked if things went right for the Cavs.  Things were supposed to go right for us.  We were going to win it all, if not this year than next – or if not this year than the next – or if not this year…

That’s why I think a lot of us who followed the team were so adamant that they could actually be competitive last season. I was in with both feet.  We were a quality organization with proven players and a recent track record of relative success.  But the battering that comes during a 26-game losing streak tends to make us run for cover – take shelter.  And, for me, it meant curling back up with the comfortable feeling that admits “my team is not good at basketball.” And that’s fine.

But this year we are not good.  Neither are we (exceptionally) bad. So what do I do now? What’s it like to be a fan of a rebuild that – unlike its predecessors – might have the ammunition and taken the first steps toward being a success again?

Essentially, this is a broadening of the feeling shared by most Cavs fans this year: I want them to win- just not too much. Which is totally rational, but also totally weird.  What are we rooting for? What do we as basketball fans actually want to see?

I didn’t experience the building of the Price/Daugherty teams.  By the time I came to follow the team, Michael Jordan was in the midst of making it very clear that we could have fine regular seasons, but the Cavs would never win anything of substance as long as he was around.  I grew into the Indians when they were winning away the 90s- when long-time Indian fans were going through the same mix of elation and abject dread that saw me through 2003-2008 (luckily we got nice heaping serving of Jose Mesa to ensure that, if nothing else, I could feel one consistent way about all of my favorite sports franchises).  So, if it’s not about wins and losses this year, and really it’s more important to figure out how to get Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb AND Andre Drummond on this team next year (which will involve a funny story where Chris Grant swings deals that net us picks 1-60 in the talent-rich 2012 draft promptly before removing his Chris Grant mask and revealing that he is actually the Red Skull before removing his Red Skull mask and revealing that he is actually Captain America before promptly exploding and creating an entirely new universe within his office at The Q) what do I cheer for?

I posed this question to my friend, Scott, he quickly answered, “I’m rooting for the Pacers game” which is to say rooting for a game where we lose, but only need a little more to beat improved (and likely playoff-bound) teams.  That “little more’ is the next 2-3 years of drafts, trades, free agent signings and … here we go … development.

That’s what I’m a fan of now.  I’m not a basketball fan who is looking for wins from his team.  I’m not a basketball fan who knows it’s never going to happen for his team.  I’m a fan of displays of on-court development of the players we have now – good trades of veterans that can help us get more picks or other players whose development I will also cheer hardily – signs that our players have “turned a corner,” “gotten it,” or “flipped a switch.”  I’m, necessarily, a fan of potential … which, as it turns out, is kinda fun.

It doesn’t suck (all the time) to watch this team and their losses (within a certain context) are necessary now.  All I want is to see players playing hard and seeing their efforts rewarded (only very occasionally) with a win.

Lucky for me, through the first 2 ½ weeks of the season, that looks like exactly the team we have.  Let the winning begin …ah, maybe next year?

NBA Basketball

2011/12/30

Suspicions and Absolute Certainties after two games…

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-Someone needs to tell Boobie Gibson that his license has been revoked, that he’s no longer allowed to drive.  When Boobie puts the ball on the floor, things generally just don’t work out.  In a perfect world, he would model his game after Bruce Bowen: defend and take nothing but 3-point shots.  I’m not saying Boobie is as good (or dirty) of a defender as Bowen was, but he does good work on that end of the floor for a team that still struggles locking down the perimeter.  Maybe Bowen-Lite … Bowen-Lite-&-Short.  BLS, Boobie.  BLS.

-Is it just me or do none of Antawn Jamison’s odd array of floaters and flip shots work anymore.  I was watching the Pistons’ broadcast of Wednesday’s game and the commentators actually called Antawn “unguardable.”  I think those of us who have been watching him in a Cavs uniform for the last year + might beg to differ.  Yes, we all remember Antawn in a Wizards uniform wrecking all kinds of havoc with all kinds of unorthodox shots, but for whatever reason (the shots look weaker and flatter than they did, so I’m going to go with older legs/knees) they only serve to drag down Antawn’s field goal percentage and, with it, the number of quality possessions the Cavs get (which, we should all remember, ain’t all that many to begin with…).  Against the Pistons, Antawn scored the way he should score with this team: 3-pointers (though, that should not be his go-to, as it often was last year … He’s gonna take ‘em, people … We might as well just accept it…) and driving cuts to the basket.  He clearly gets the offense Byron Scott wants to run and showed against the Pistons that he can still have success as other than just a “stretch” guy.
-Remember last year when the Cavs led the league (at the start of the season, anyway) in bench scoring, with the reserves regularly outscoring the starters.  Well, we’re back.  The starters have been outscored by the bench in both of the first two games, but they’re doing it differently than last year.  First, when your bench is as (or more) competitive than your starters, it generally points to the lack of high-end talent in your starting line-up and that’s very true with the Cavs.  But where last year’s bench production was largely due to Byron Scott bringing Antawn Jamison off the bench, where Antawn would play starter’s minutes and take a starter’s number of shots, this year’s unit is just a good unit of high-energy, athletic players who can defend and are being led by a point guard who, given his early-season production, is a starting-quality NBA 1.  I don’t know that any of the second unit bump the starters from their spots (they’re not that much better), not this year anyway.  But it’s good to know that there will be players on the court for all 48 minutes who can help the Cavs win basketball games (though, yes, still clearly not many…).

-Two games (1 preseason, 1 regular) is all I need.  Samardo Samuels is our back-up to Anderson Varejao.  Look, I like the fact that Ryan Hollins is 7-feet tall as much as the next person, but what I like MORE is how Samardo seems to be able to score, rebound and generally look like he knows that he is one of ten players on the court when he’s out there and, as such, is free to participate in this game of basketball.  Is Samardo undersized?  Sure.  But, with the current state of quality bigs in the NBA, how many back-up centers are there who are going to torch this guy?  Probably not 30.  Okay, now, Samardo, you are released to go 1-14 for 3 points and a rebound tonight…

Uncategorized

2011/12/10

Thoughts on The Beard…

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Thanks to Brian Windhorst for shining a light on why the “Cavs to amnesty Baron Davis” rumor – though lacking a fair amount of competitive basketball sense – refuses to go away.

Apparently, it’s Davis himself who has continued to fan the flames, hoping to find his way off the Cavaliers roster and onto another one more … what’s that word … oh, yeah “good.”

This makes sense if you’re Beardly because, even though this year’s Cavs team will not be as bad as last year’s (presumably), you (Beardly) are probably not going to be around by the time this thing fully turns itself around.  The team has already drafted its point guard of the future (oh, he of 11 NCAA games) and you are still (arguably) a top-10 (to 15) point guard when you’re healthy, so you can imagine that it doesn’t look to too appealing to spend your last two years in your relative-prime (Beardly is only 32 – or, to put it another way, about 17 years younger than Steve Nash) to be the mentor to a 19-year old rookie and the team’s de facto 2 guard.  We’re seeing the same thing from the recently amnestied Chauncey Billups, as he’s telling teams to back off the waiver wire and let him become a free agent.

The difference is that Chauncey has already been waived – and was a casualty of the amnesty clause so that the Knicks could get far enough under the cap to sign Tyson Chandler.  The Cavs, in regard to Baron Davis, have no such Tyson Chandler on the radar. Were they to amnesty Baron Davis, seemingly, it would be so that he doesn’t become disgruntled and a bad influence on the team’s young players.  That is how much the Cavs seem to fear Disgruntled Baron – they would rather pay him the nearly $29 million remaining on his contract (minus whatever he would get paid by the team that picks him up) to not bring that bad attitude (which, it should be noted, we have never actually seen from Baron since coming to Cleveland last year, but that is as part of the BD myth as the beard and the belly).

Part of me gets that.  But that part is not as large as the one that thinks that caving (that’s right, I said it – boom!) to Beardly’s wish to play elsewhere is not good for the Cavs because of (to steal a Stern-ism) “basketball reasons.”

How can you part with a top-10 (or 15) point guard and get nothing in return except for the ability to pay him to help another team win games.  What other team, you ask?

The Lakers were the talk several weeks ago, but it looks like they’ll be getting a certain veto-inspring star after all.  The Knicks just signed Mike Bibby and (if I understand how the amnesty waiver system works – and I admittedly DO NOT KNOW how the amnesty waiver system works) won’t have the money or room for Beardly.  You could see him having some value for the Celtics, Thunder and Grizzlies as a back-up.  And, I repeat, he could still start for over half the teams in the league (give or take a quarter of the teams in the league).

So, no perfect fit, right?  I’m not … I’m not forgetting anyone, am I?  There’s no team out there who could use another player with some star-level talent to help round out a team with an abundance of star-level talent?  Oh, yeah … them.  Clearly, Dan Gilbert wants no part in paying Beardly to increase the Miami Heat’s chances of winning a championship.  Gilbert would rather, I’m guessing, eat his own face.  Or maybe he’s just hoping to drive Baron to pout and gain a ton of weight before waiving him hoping that he’ll be in Miami for exactly 48-hours before getting tired by all of the “Wait, which one is Eddy Curry?” comments.  Maybe…

If I were Chris Grant, I think I’d approach Beardly in a way probably very similar to the way Chris Grant has already approached Beardly: “Hey, Baron, we understand that you want to play for a winner.  You helped yourself by coming in last year and playing well and helping the team win some games.  If you keep with us and keep that up, we will find a contending team to take you on either at the deadline this year or next year.”  Clearly, that’s not what Beardly wants to hear – since it clouds what would otherwise be a very easy solution.  But Grant (and Gilbert) must have the guts to put up with Davis until they are able to acquire more assets (or even just asset) in parting with him.  We still don’t have much value on this franchise.  Baron Davis has value.  The Cavaliers must figure out how to maximize that value.