Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was known for his long, Pat Riley-inspired, marathon practices. Cleveland Cavaliers players were also known for not particularly liking those long, Pat Riley-inspired, practices; which is part of the reason why Scott was replaced by former-former Cavs coach Mike Brown during the 2013 offseason. Brown is known best in NBA circles for letting LeBron James and Kobe Bryant just about walk all over him during his stints with LeBron’s Cavs and the Lakers, so it was assumed that a lightened atmosphere and defense-first outlook would do great things for the Kyrie Irving-led Cavs.
That hasn’t really been the case early on, though, with the Cavs stuck at 4-7, the team’s offense stuck at a very Mike Brown-like 29th in the NBA, and various Cavs guards missing time for dubious flu-related symptoms, and Irving sporting a black eye following a team “meeting.”
Dion Waiters, who missed most of last week while ostensibly out with the flu, swears up and down nobody laid a hand on the team’s franchise player during said meeting. Honestly. He promises. Scout’s honor. To George Carlin. All that stuff. From Mary Schmitt-Boyer at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
"We men,'' he said, talking with reporters for the first time since before the game at Minnesota.
"Nobody got into no altercations or anything like that. We got everything off our chests that we needed to. That's that. All the other rumors, man, are rumors. Don't believe it. It's not true. We talked. Everybody talked. Nobody put their hands on nobody. At the end of the day, we're teammates. Like I said, I'd rather fight somebody else on the other team than one of my teammates. That's the way it is. That's the way I was brought up. I feel as though we say we're family, then we're a family and I'm going to look out for you to the best of my abilities. All the other stuff is foolishness.''
If you’ll recall, this meeting came after a particularly poor showing from the Cavaliers in a loss to the Timberwolves, one that saw Minnesota have all manner of access to the front of the rim in the hours following their frustrating loss against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavs actually have improved significantly on defense under Brown, vaulting to tenth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (up from 27th in 2012-13), but the inconsistent work on both ends alongside the up and down play from Irving has been both surprising and at times galling.
Things have gotten so intense that Cavalier beat writer Jason Lloyd offered 41 “final” thoughts in the wake of Irving’s 41-point night against the Washington Wizards, a night that needed overtime to allow the Cavaliers to top 100 points. Some of those points read like this:
11. It has been a lot to swallow and he hasn’t always handled it appropriately. He has at times behaved like a petulant child, he has sulked, pouted and shown up teammates with demonstrative displays on the court following mistakes. Most of that has dissipated this season, although he still has nights where he seems moody and “off.”
12. “He’s trying to figure it out,” one teammate said Saturday. “He’s trying to figure out where that line is.”
13. The “line” he is talking about is how to be critical of teammates without being offending. The key, one teammate said, is to be able to take criticism in return. It’s OK to be critical of others, just as long as Irving is receptive when teammates have something to say to him.
With these pre-teen points in place, it’s important to note the learner’s permit mention:
15. One player said Irving has never reacted inappropriately to a critical comment a teammate has aimed toward him.
This supports Waiters’ claims, which is good. Though we’ve been dismissive of Brown at times – or, “all the time,” whatever – this is a team and roster that we want to see succeed. As Lloyd mentioned amongst his 41 points, Irving doesn’t exactly exude gravitas despite his otherworldly talents and franchise player rank. He was a late bloomer as a high school prospect and one that saw his lone year at Duke and first few seasons in Cleveland marred by injury. The NBA is a weird place in that it expects its teams’ best players to also act as their best leaders, something that seems natural in the wake of the Michael, Magic and Larry-led era, but something that doesn’t always make sense. Irving can’t be just one of the guys while dropping 41 on John Wall, and that’s something he’s still getting used to.
And again, despite our misgivings about Brown and despite the unfortunate start, the Cavs are still a much-improved team that is only three games below .500. Something as reasonable as a 38-33 finish to the season puts them into the playoffs, and Brown has made an impact defensively. It’s true that Waiters and top overall pick Anthony Bennett have disappointed – but these youngsters have five months to keep things from going pear-shaped. And if Brown continues to wave that juice card around, he’ll have learned from his past mistakes in Los Angeles and oh yeah Cleveland.
At the risk of making excuses for the slow start, we’ll fall back on the great Tim Grgurich, as quoted by Lloyd, in his breakdown to Mike Brown. Which rhymes. Check it:
“[Jarrett] Jack played in (four) preseason games, Andrew [Bynum] didn’t play at all, we’ve moved Earl [Clark] to the 4 and you’re trying to figure all this out on the fly with no practice,” Grgurich told him. “We’re still in training camp. Relax.”'
Please do, Cleveland. Even if you’re a little anxious following three straight lottery appearances and some odd draft maneuvers. Kyrie Irving’s got a faceguard now, and Dion Waiters doesn’t have the sniffles anymore. Andrew Bynum might even be able to play in back to back games, and Anthony Bennett has talent and touch and size and was thrown into an unfortunate situation with his shoulder surgery, top overall selection, and paucity of Summer League options.
You’re still in training camp. Relax. This is an indoor voice players-only meeting.
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