BY JUSTIN LADA
Earlier this week and part of last, I began to wonder: Are the Cleveland Cavaliers too good for their own good? Are they progressing too fast?
I know how it sounds, it sounds absolutely crazy. Before last night my answer to that question was yes because their best course of action is to draft in the high lottery again. After last night’s 114-75 stoning at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, that answer is still yes because maybe the Cavaliers actually felt like they were a good team. Maybe they started to feel as if they were going to find their way into the playoffs as that 7-8 seed. Maybe that will happen, but the beating the Bull gave them Friday night should wake them up and see that they are not yet one of the big boys and haven’t earned anything. This wasn’t the sort of beating that the older brother puts on the younger brother, this was the Bulls coming to the Cavaliers house, stealing their clothes, tying them to a pole and making them watch as they took everything in the house, including the dog.
Hopefully what the Cavs learn from this is that they have a ways to go and have to go out and give 110% every night, or their day will never come. This is why I held myself back from writing any opinion about the Cavaliers before seeing them play in person. My reasoning being that they are young. The player they are counting on to make them back into a contender is currently 19 years old and played 11 games above the high school level before this season. I figured he would struggle early and maybe often. However he has proved me wrong. He has played wonderful most nights.
The Cavaliers clearly made the right choice, when picking between Irving and Derrick Williams. Williams looks like he will be a pretty good scoring wing. But Irving is the kind of point guard that you win NBA championships with. And his coach would be the guy to know that.
What Friday’s worst home loss in franchise history proved
Byron Scott was a very good point guard on the ‘Show Time’ Los Angeles Lakers and made the rare transition to being a great NBA head coach. Not good, great. Scott took 2 different teams deep into the playoffs, both of which included some good point guards you may have heard of, named Kidd and Paul.
After hearing the Scott talk after the Cavaliers disheartening loss on Friday, I’m convinced he’s the right coach to get this team to being a perennial playoff team.
The Cavaliers were able to keep up in the first quarter with the Bulls in a scoring match, 34-26. That was thanks to three straight long bombs from Irving and some brilliant passing to lead Omri Casspi and Anderson Varejao to the basket. The Cavs played almost zero defense in the first quarter, and actually played worse defensively for the rest of the game.
When Scott was asked after the game if he ‘laid into the team or let them think about it’, Scott responded with: “I told them I hope we play with more heart (against Atlanta tonight) and more of something else I can’t say on camera.’ Scott told his men he wants more heart and he wants them to play like men.
Which leads us to Irving. Irving is clearly the team’s best player, like I said, having only played 11 games at Duke. That’s a lot to ask of one guy who is playing on a team that went almost two months at one point without winning a game last season. Scott has kept his minutes somewhat limited and has been regularly taking him out with about six minutes to go in the first quarter.
Irving was asked if that bothers him and he feels he’s ready for more. Irving said he feels he can handle more, but responded by saying Scott is his coach and that be believes in his coach and what he does. He trusts that Scott is doing it in his best interest and he is behind his coach.
Scott has been in the NBA for 29 years, and Irving has been playing in the NBA for 3 months. He trusts Scott and believes in him. Unlike the man who previously occupied the locker where Irving now dresses, he doesn’t question or undermine his coach. He trusts his coach and lets him do his job. Irving just shows up. He helped the Cavaliers keep scoring pace Friday night, until the Cavaliers lack of defense hit rock bottom. Without getting into all the stats, the Bulls just shot the Cavs out of the gym because they were wide open almost all night long. That’s all that needs to be said.
The worst part about the loss was that the Cavaliers looked like they were getting better and better and progressing. But the Bulls didn’t even have the 2011 MVP in their lineup, Derek Rose, missing his third straight game with a toe sprain. The Cavs allowed his replacement CJ Watson to score 15 and hand out seven assists.
The Cavaliers know they aren’t prime time. Right now they are not ready to be on the previews before the big show.
Antawn Jamison is more inconsistent that someone with constant mood swings. When he’s on, he can score 20 or more points in any given night. When he’s off he does things like shoot 1-10 like he did Friday. When he’s off early, he never finds it. He’s in the last year of his contract and likely won’t be back in 2012-2013 for one reason or another.
Omri Casspi got off to a very slow start and might still have problems with his knee. The fact is he hasn’t performed as well as he did in Sacramento.
Anthony Parker is showing signs of age, and who knows if he can make it through the season. With a bad back and a quickly fading jump shop, this is more than likely his last season in Cleveland.
Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden are the Cavaliers only two 7 foot players. That’s all they are, is seven feet tall. Neither has shown any kind of skill set that makes anyone excited about their future in Wine and Gold.
Anderson Varejao continues to be a marvel. He continues to improve with almost no fan recognition. He doesn’t turn the ball over as much and his 12 foot jump shot is actually reliable now. He has improved his rebounding, if that was possible. He had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Friday night lashing and is top five in the NBA in rebounds per game. Clearly the Cavaliers extended losing streak last year showed how much they missed him.
Alonzo Gee didn’t have a good night Friday but has been improved and is worth a longer look based on his athleticism translating into productive minutes, unlike Christian Eyenga who looks like he’ll never hang on.
Ramon Sessions might be the Cavaliers most improved player, improving his shooting touch as well. Daniel Gibson is the Cavaliers best perimeter defender and can still shoot the long ball, even if everyone’s defense was absent.
Obviously Tristan Thompson has shown promise and if he continues to improve he will be a part of the Cavaliers future, in some capacity.
Luke Harangody? Who knows, he played his first minutes of the season Friday and made two foul shots. Samardo Samuels is up and down but can’t seem to stay out of Scott’s dog house.
Every observer so far knows on paper and in person that the Cavaliers lack a dynamic shooting guard or small forward to compliment Irving, Varejao and maybe Thompson. Another lottery pick could help them land that.
The Cavaliers hit rock bottom last year with their extended losing streak, and even though their loss Friday was their worst at home franchise history and it looked like something a Ted Stepien team would play like, it was an aberration. The Cavs are on the right track. Scott’s challenging demeanor and his hopeful budding superstar trusts him and actually wants his coach to do his job. They haven’t lost their identity or have been caught faking their name and age; they just got a wakeup call. Scott and Irving make much more sense than the previous regime’s plan. Unlike a certain other Cleveland team, the Cavaliers front office and their fans eventually will benefit from patience..
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