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Cleveland Cavs' Season Already on the Brink

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COMMENTARY | It's bad enough when your No. 1 overall pick shows up to camp out of shape and then proceeds to lay more bricks than a mason.

It's pretty bad when your point guard and perceived "franchise player" snubs your head coach during a loss to the Chicago Bulls.

It's also bad when your top free-agent signing openly talks about retirement as he discusses his comeback from knee surgery.

But to call a players-only meeting just 9 games into the season, with only three wins to show for it (and no wins on the road) and with rumors leaking out that that meeting may have gotten physical with some players, shows that any talk of a playoff berth this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers may be a bit premature.

If anything, winning a simple GAME is a step in the right direction -- as their 103-96 overtime win Nov. 16 at the Washington Wizards has been perceived to be by both the local media and within the organization.

According to Jason Lloyd, Cavs beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal, it was Kyrie Irving -- who was caught on camera on Nov. 11 during the team's 96-81 loss at Chicago blowing past head coach Mike Brown during a timeout -- who stopped Brown's postgame meeting after the team's miserable 124-93 loss at Minnesota two days later and asked if the players could talk things over among themselves.

Brown, who was fired after just five games last season by the Los Angeles Lakers and was reportedly defied both on and off the court by LeBron James during the disastrous Games 5 and 6 losses to the Boston Celtics in 2010, which led to Brown's firing a month before LeBron's infamous "Decision" to join the Miami Heat, was supposedly happy to allow the players to have their own meeting. Even though, to some observers, it looks like he has already lost the locker room.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst, himself a former Cavs beat writer before following LeBron to Miami with ESPN, was the first to report that tempers flared during the meeting and there may have been a physical altercation. Most in the local media dismissed that talk.

What got many to raise their respective eyebrows was Irving's appearance in a face mask during the Cavs' home game against the Charlotte Bobcats (what turned into an 86-80 loss) and Dion Waiters being scratched from the lineup entirely to what the team called an unspecified "illness."

Waiters also did not make the trip to Washington on Saturday night because of that "illness." Without him, and with several beat writers attempting to dig deep to uncover what really happened at the meeting, the Cavs got 41 points from Irving and got as big as a must-win this early in the season as you can have.

Returning to the team's practice facility on Monday, Waiters denied that he was involved in any physical confrontations with any of his teammates or that any fallout from that meeting was why he missed the last two games.

"We men," he told reporters. "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."

Lloyd, a former colleague of mine and someone I still consider a friend, said that two unidentified players on the team told him that there was no altercation with Waiters and anybody else, especially Irving. He said those players have been pretty straight-forward with him in the past, and that has no reason to not believe him.

Those players did say that there were some raised voices during the meeting, but no one player was singled out by Irving or anyone else who talked.

Brown has said that Waiters' future role with the team is undetermined, and we could very well see last year's fourth-overall pick in the draft be demoted to a role off the bench. With the solid play of C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack as they've taken Waiters' minutes at the two-guard the last few games, Brown could be more comfortable using them instead of Waiters, who was drafted under former coach Byron Scott's watch and not his own. Also, Brown raved about undrafted rookie Matthew Delladova, who has also benefited from Waiters' absence and may have played himself into a more prominent role.

Ironically, both Jack and Miles have come out publicly and said that the meeting was "beneficial."

There are some rumors that the "illness" was Waiters' response to being demoted. Waiters said him getting sick was merely a coincidence and that there isn't anything more to it.

The only way for people to forget about this turmoil is for the team to start winning and winning consistently. But Brown is now playing Earl Clark at power forward when he never practiced there (due to Anthony Bennett's not being ready for prime time) and is starting Andrew Bynum at center after the latter missed the entire preseason with his injury. Translation: It might take a while.

Regardless of whether Waiters punched anyone or was sick or not, I would expect his name to be heavy on the rumor mill for potential trades. It just doesn't appear that he is a good fit for the Cavs and Mike Brown's philosophy.

And, with general manager Chris Grant coming under more scrutiny, it may be in his best interest to see what he can get for Waiters before he is held accountable for the fact that his two most recent top four draft picks are both reserves.

Dan Gilles lives in Northeast Ohio and has been a sportswriter for 19 years. He has been published in multiple newspapers and web sites, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. He is a life-long fan and observer of the Cleveland sports scene.

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