Carrasco Is Tribe’s Enigma

One of the regular debates surrounding the Cleveland Indians is what to do with Carlos Carrasco. Is he a starter or is he better suited for the bullpen?

One thing that no one doubts is the right-hander’s arm. He has outstanding stuff, getting his fastball to the plate around 95 MPH and he has a fine slider as well.

However, that stuff hasn’t translated to success at the big league level.

Carrasco was out of options at the beginning of the season, so the organization had to bring him north or risk losing him to another team. And again, with that arm, there really was no choice.

When there was debate about keeping the guy who is the last link of the Cliff Lee deal or keeping Josh Tomlin instead, the argument is simple: Tomlin is at best a back of the rotation pitcher, while Carrasco could be a #1 or #2 starter if he could put it all together.

Our thought on the righty is that it is a mental issue. He struggles when he has to think about his pitching between starts. When he doesn’t know when he is going to pitch, such as being in relief, he seems to have better success.

The other reason the bullpen looks like a good option is Carrasco’s pretty good the first time through a batting order, but has problems the second time through.

Last Sunday, he mowed down the first nine Toronto hitters he faced, and then gave up six hits and three walks in the next 2-2/3 innings.

Is that an effective start? Overall, 5-2/3 innings with six hits allowed doesn’t look bad, but when you consider all the damage was concentrated in an eight out span, it really isn’t good.

Last year, when pitching in relief, Carrasco held hitters to a .156 batting average in 13-2/3 IP last year, compared to a .383 average in 33 IP as a starting pitcher.

On the other hand, we said the same things about Ubaldo Jimenez last season.

Mickey Callaway worked a miracle with Jimenez a year ago, and by the end of the season, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League. Doesn’t Carrasco get the same benefit of the doubt?

The question is, though, whether Carrasco’s problems are mechanical or between his ears. To be sure, Jimenez’ problems were thought to be strictly with his delivery, but we are sure that the pitching coach had to build back the hurler’s confidence too.

If we read between the lines after Carrasco’s starts, we can sense frustration from Terry Francona and Callaway in the pitcher’s inability to maintain what he is being told.

It seems like Carrasco makes changes in his delivery, but when he gets in trouble, he abandons the alterations and goes back to just trying to throw harder.

Is that correctable? Of course, but the manager is trying to win games too.

Some pitchers don’t function well in certain roles. Former Indian reliever Steve Karsay was great as a set up man, but had problems trying to be a closer.

Francona needs to get the most out of Carlos Carrasco. It will be interesting to see if the pitcher can follow the Jimenez success story, or if he will wind up pitching out of the bullpen.

Management has to be more patient than fans. That’s a lesson we can all learn.

Too Early For Panic, But Tribe Fans Can Be Concerned

It is not a secret that the Cleveland Indians haven’t played great baseball thus far this season.  They are sitting at 7-10 on the season, but right now the American League has nine of its 13 teams within three games of the .500 mark.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the entire season went that way, because there aren’t many bad teams in the junior circuit.  So, while the Tribe is struggling, only two teams (Oakland and Texas) have won more than 10 games already, s0 it is hardly time to panic.

We realize that Cleveland is a football town, and it has a football mentality.  Last year, there were many fans who wanted the Indians to trade for prospects when the team was five games out of a playoff spot in late July, when the trade deadline hit.

Of course, Terry Francona’s bunch played much better down the stretch and made the playoffs, winning 92 games.

We are saying once again that it is a long season.  The Indians have played a little more than one-tenth of their schedule, so there is no need to be going crazy about the Tribe’s play thus far.

None of the Indians’ key players have been hot thus far, and no matter what the team’s harshest critic has to say, it is doubtful that Nick Swisher will hit .174 this season, nor will Carlos Santana hit .153.  It’s probably amazing that Francona has Cleveland at 7-10 with the paltry production of these two important players.

However, we did say that the four key players for the Indians this season were Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Swisher, and Michael Bourn.  Through 17 games, only Kluber has lived up to expectations.  Sure, he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA, but those numbers are affected by his first start.  He’s had three pretty good starts since.

Salazar was cruising in his last start on Thursday, giving up one run in his first four innings.  The Indians got him a lead, and he suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone, walking the first two Tiger hitters, and then giving up a three run homer to Ian Kinsler.

That makes three consecutive outings where the youngster couldn’t get through six innings.

Bourn has been hurt, missing the first 13 games of the year with a hamstring issue, but he hasn’t shown any signs of changing his approach, striking out five times in his first 13 at bats.

The centerfielder hit .232 after the All Star Game last year, with an on base percentage of under .300, unacceptable for a leadoff hitter.  He needs to cut down on his swing and put the ball in play, using his legs more.  If he doesn’t start producing soon, his contract could become an albatross for the organization.

Outside of Kluber and Zack McAllister, the starting rotation has also been questionable.  Justin Masterson has been good twice, which is only half of his starts.  Carlos Carrasco has a big start this afternoon, mainly because Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are breathing down his neck to take his spot in the rotation.

If Carrasco doesn’t do well today, he likely will be moved to the bullpen with one of those two being called up to make a start Friday.  We believe that’s why Jason Giambi reactivation was moved to Monday, so the front office can decide who gets sent down, a position player or a bullpen arm.

Let’s wait another 10 games, when the Tribe has played 1/6th of their schedule to make any rash comments.  The likelihood is that the American League will still look the same, a jumbled group of teams with similar records.


No Emotion Needed From Gilbert Now

There was good news from the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday as the players cleaned out their lockers and the front office had meetings.

No one got fired.

Yes, we’ve advocated that changes have to come for the organization, which has gone from 19 wins in the first season after LeBron James left for free agency, to 21 in year two (strike shortened), and then 24 in year three, to this year’s disappointing 33-49 record.

However, here’s hoping yesterday’s inactivity was due to everyone in the front office, including owner Dan Gilbert, taking a deep breath and not making any rash decisions.

In Cleveland, and probably Detroit, we all know that Gilbert is an emotional creature.  His famous rant after James made his decision is derided throughout the NBA, but was applauded by his fan base.  That could be a reason attendance hasn’t dropped off drastically despite four straight seasons of mediocre basketball.

It was reported this past week that Gilbert is irate about the lack of a playoff spot this season, and insiders think major changes are in the work this summer.  But as of right now, nothing was announced.

It was just last off-season that former GM Chris Grant, with the owner’s approval, hired back former coach Mike Brown, and didn’t even interview anyone else.  That’s the type of emotional decision that needs to be avoided this time.

Now, there have been rumors that the wine and gold want to bring in a president of basketball operations to oversee the front office and decided the fates of interim GM David Griffin and Brown.  That’s a solid decision.

However, two frontrunners for the post that have been mentioned are former Pistons Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.  The Pistons happen to be Gilbert’s boyhood team, so hiring either of them despite questionable records as coaches/executives would be thinking more with your heart than your head.

The owner is the Board of Governors meeting this weekend and should be picking the brains of the other basketball minds there to decide what would be the best course of action for his team.  George Karl is another name that has been bandied about for the lead hoops position, and in our opinion would be a tremendous hire, even if he never played for Detroit.

We think Karl is one of the country’s best basketball minds.

Even so, this is a decision that has to be well thought out and not rushed into.  There is a long time between now and the NBA draft, when free agency and trades are consummated.  It’s a two month window.

As for the coach, Gilbert shouldn’t let the big contract he and Grant gave Brown be any consideration.

While the team did gain nine games in the win column, there is no question it was a disjointed season, filled with many streaks.

Brown thinks the team seemed to improve in the second half of the season, but January had a six game losing streak, followed by a six game winning streak, which was following by a 15 game stretch in which Cleveland won just four games.

Whenever, it appeared the team was “getting it”, playing team basketball, it was followed by a period in which they executed like they just met each other that very afternoon.

We aren’t going to speculate what that means, but it doesn’t show the players were buying in.

If this summer’s decisions are made with a cool, calm, calculated mind, then the future of the Cavaliers may indeed be brighter.  Emotional decisions have gotten them to where they are now.


Big Summer for Cavs, Bigger One for Irving

Tomorrow, the Cleveland Cavaliers will conclude a very trying season.  On Thursday, the wine and gold will embark on an off-season which be as important as the one since LeBron James left as a free agent in 2010.

The franchise is at a proverbial crossroads for sure, and most of it centers on the team’s best player, Kyrie Irving.

Irving was the first overall pick after the first season without James, arriving after Cleveland suffered through a horrible season.

Unfortunately, they still haven’t made the playoffs with Irving in a Cavs’ uniform and this year, with the young players who the organization has accumulated with a slew of high draft choices supposed to be coming into their own, instead with a loss in the season finale tomorrow night will have a 50 loss season once again.

Is this all on Irving?  Of course not, the Cavs waited until this season to appear to want to start winning, and didn’t bring in any quality veteran players to help the now 22-year-old learn the ways of the NBA from dealing Ramon Sessions to getting Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes this season.

They also didn’t hire a head coach with a track record of developing young players either.  It is galling that young players like Sergey Karasev and newly acquired Scotty Hopson didn’t get a minute in the past two games, both played after Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs.

However, you have to wonder about Irving, who seems to not have the ultra-competitive gene.  He seems content to get his numbers while his team loses night after night.

That’s not good.

It reminds of Vince Carter, who while in Toronto complained that the team didn’t get better.  As the Raptors’ best player, it was his responsibility to make the team better.  He didn’t want any part of that.

If that is Irving’s attitude, not only should the Cavs trade the two-time All-Star, they need to do it this summer, and move on.

That’s why this is such a key summer for Dan Gilbert, and whoever will be in the team’s front office, whether it be a president of basketball operations and/or general manager.

They have to make the determination as to whether or not Irving wants to be the best player on a championship team, or if he would like to be famous and make commercials and get endorsements.

And they have to figure out if Irving will do whatever is necessary to be that type of player.  Will he play better defense, will he share the basketball, will he take responsibility when the team loses?

Those are the things leaders do for their teams, plus they make all of their teammates better players.

If the Cavs determine Irving can be that type of player, then they should keep him here with a maximum contract extension.  He’s that talented of a player.

If he can’t do that for the organization, then they should deal him while he still has a tremendous amount of value around the NBA.  The ransom the wine and gold could get for a young player of his caliber would be enormous.

However, another year like this one, and the whispers will start as to whether or not he’s another guy with tremendous skills, but doesn’t play a team game.

There is no question the Cavs have some talented players on the roster.  If their supposed best player can’t play with them and raise all of their games, then the franchise will be forced to make a very tough decision, at least from the outside looking in.

From the inside looking out, it would be a smart decision because the losing needs to end right now.  Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to be part of the solution, starting right after tomorrow’s game.



Tribe Pitchers Need to Throw Strikes

The biggest worry most fans of the Cleveland Indians had going into the season was the starting pitching.  With two weeks of the season having been played, that concern still exists.

Despite the absence of Michael Bourn and slow starts by Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, and to some extent Carlos Santana, the Indians have scored enough runs.  They rank 3rd in the American League in runs scored, averaging 4.83 tallies per game and the team’s OPS ranks tied for 4th in the junior circuit.

Unfortunately, the two teams they trail in runs per night are teams they have played thus far in the 2014 season:  The Twins and White Sox.  Are those teams hot, or are the struggles by Cleveland’s starters responsible for their impressive ranking.

Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway’s pitching staff has struggled throwing strikes, leading the American League in allowing walks.  They also lead the AL in striking hitters out.  This combination leads to high pitch counts for the starting pitchers, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen.  And we all know how Francona likes to protect his relief corps.

In the Tribe’s 12 games thus far, the starter has completed seven innings just twice (Justin Masterson on Opening Night, and Zack McAllister vs. San Diego), and in only two other games have they thrown six frames (Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, both this past week against the Padres).

That’s two out of every three games that the bullpen is forced to get more than nine outs per game.

To be sure, Callaway and the skipper would prefer the starters to be more efficient, throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play to get outs.  Masterson has walked nine in 15-1/3 frames, Carlos Carrasco has walked five in 10-1/3 innings, and Danny Salazar has issued five more free passes in 9-1/3 innings.

Speaking of Carrasco, it appears he isn’t pleasing his bosses.  He struggled in his second start of the season on Friday night, but what had to have Francona and Callaway shaking their heads were the two walks he issued after the Tribe tied the game at three for him.  Response runs have been a problem this season for the whole staff, but when they occur because of walks, it makes the manager upset.

After the game, reporters received the dreaded “ask him” answer from the pitching coach, a very good sign of his anger.  Callaway sent a clear signal to the pitcher that he is no longer covering for him.  And both he and Francona go out of their way to take the player’s side when at all possible.

The right-hander had his next start, scheduled to be Thursday at Detroit, delayed until at least Saturday vs. Toronto, but the guess here is that the front office is buying time to see whether or not to use Bauer or maybe Josh Tomlin in that spot with Carrasco staying in the bullpen.

Blake Wood (seven walks in 4-1/3 IP) could be sent to Columbus to make room in the ‘pen for Carrasco, as the organization tries to find a spot for the young right-hander and his electric stuff.

If he fails in the relief role, GM Chris Antonetti will likely have to cut ties with Carrasco.

While it is still very early in the campaign (less than 10% of the season has been played), the Tribe needs to get more length out of the starting pitchers.  If the current guys can’t do it, Francona will make changes.  He isn’t about to throw away a season because of this problem.


Raptors Did What Cavs Couldn’t

Four years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat via free agency and the team went from a perennial NBA power to a team that has been in the draft lottery every year since.

That same season, another team lost a premier free agent to the Heat and that team has recovered very nicely despite not having as good of a record as the wine and gold had the year before James left.

That would be the Toronto Raptors, who lost Chris Bosh, and yet they will enter the playoffs as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. And they did it despite not having the top pick in the draft twice since Bosh departed.

The Raptors won just 22 games the first year after their star free agent left, compared to the 19 games the Cavaliers won in the first season of the post-James era. So, there wasn’t much difference that first season.

The following season, Cleveland added first overall pick Kyrie Irving and the fourth choice in Tristan Thompson, who was selected one pick ahead of Toronto, who picked center Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out the following season because of a contractual situation in Europe.

The Raptors went 23-43 in the strike-shortened season, while the wine and gold were just two games behind, finishing up at 21-45.

In year two of the post-superstar era, Toronto traded for guard Kyle Lowry and drafted Terence Ross with the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft. Cleveland chose Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick.

The Raptors also traded for Rudy Gay using Jose Calderon and former first round pick Ed Davis, and saw a player picked before Bosh’s last season with the team, DeMar DeRozan, blossom into a budding star.

Toronto jumped to 34 victories last season, while the young Cavaliers went 24-58, mostly because they won just four games the last two months of the season.

This past off-season, led by new GM Masai Ujiri, the Raptors traded former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York for Steve Novak, some expiring contracts and draft picks. They also added Tyler Hansbrough as a free agent.

With DeRozan’s emergence, they were also able to deal Gay to Sacramento during this season, for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes, who have contributed greatly to the team’s success this season.

Cleveland also added some veterans to the roster this year in Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, and the team improved over the second half of the season, playing .500 ball, but a horrible first half of the season has them currently with 12 less wins than the neighbors to the north.

The key move for Toronto looks to be trading a starter and a first round pick for Gay, and then swapping him out for some key role players once DeRozan replaced him as the primary scoring option.

That is to say, they traded from strength. They had Lowry, meaning Calderon was superfluous, and DeRozan’s play made Gay expendable as well.

The Cavs had plenty of talent tied up in two positions (point guard and power forward), but hasn’t used it to their advantage.

Hopefully, even though they started rebuilding at the same time, the Cavaliers are a year behind the Raptors and the 2014-15 season will signal the wine and gold’s return to Eastern Conference prominence.

However, the Cavs can tell you about the “process” all they want, but another team went out and started winning games.

It’s another reason to take a good hard look at the organization this summer.


Tribe Starters Need Length, Decisions to be Made

First of all, let’s all calm down Tribe fans.  The season is only one week old and the Cleveland Indians emerged at the break even mark at 3-3 even though the performance of the starting pitchers wasn’t good.

It is too early to panic because outside of Justin Masterson, each of the starters made just one appearance.  Let’s give each of the starters three or four starts before jumping to any conclusions.

However from a team standpoint, Terry Francona can’t be happy about having to use his bullpen this much this early.  Already, the Indians’ starters have gone less than five innings in exactly half of the games, and the club has had five straight starts where the starter hasn’t gone six complete frames.

So, it will be interesting to see the games tonight and tomorrow when Corey Kluber (3-2/3 IP) and Zack McAllister (4 IP in his first start) take the hill against the San Diego Padres.  If both can pitch up to the level they achieved last season, then any concern will be eased for both fans and the skipper and Mickey Callaway.

Fortunately, the bullpen has done the job so far, allowing just seven earned runs in the six contests, and five of the eight members of the relief corps haven’t allowed an earned run as of yet.

But it’s the amount of innings they have pitched so far (24-2/3, an average of 4 per game), that has to concern Francona and Callaway

We could be sitting here a week from today after five consecutive solid outings by the starters and be concerned about the relief pitchers getting enough work.  That’s why you can’t make bold statements regarding a baseball team after one week.

The Tribe front office will have some decisions to make in the next week or so regarding the make up of the roster when Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi are ready to be activated from the disabled list.

OF Nyjer Morgan has gotten on base (.500 OBP) so far, and it is easy to say he stays over Elliot Johnson (0 for 5 thus far) when Bourn is ready, but it is more complicated than that because Morgan swings from the left side, and the Tribe is overloaded with left-handed hitters.

If Morgan was right-handed it would be a no-brainer, and it is difficult to see Francona and GM Chris Antonetti going with six left-handed batters (with three more switch-hitters) among their 12 position players.

The fact that Johnson can hit from the right side may be (along with his versatility) his biggest edge.  With the opponents throwing southpaws in five of the next six games, Johnson will get a chance to prove he should stay.

When Giambi comes back, it could be at Lonnie Chisenhall’s expense, or the Tribe could decide to go with one less relief pitchers.  This would assume the starting pitching gets straightened out.

If that’s the case, the two candidates to sent back to Columbus would be Vinnie Pestano and Blake Wood.  Wood had a leg up until yesterday when he took to loss by walking two, hitting a batter, and then allowing a three-run double to give Minnesota the lead.

Pestano has allowed runs in both of his outings in the young season.

The battle(?) between these two is something else to keep an eye on this week.

Even though spring training is over, the front office and the skipper still have roster decisions to be made.  That’s something to watch this week.


Forget Last Ten Games, Cavs Need to Examine Organization

With the recent surge of good play over the last week or two, many basketball fans around the area have thrown out the idea that enough progress has been shown by the Cleveland Cavaliers to keep the status quo.

That would mean keeping acting GM David Griffin is his position and bringing back Mike Brown as head coach.

Those people are also ignoring the first 65 games of this NBA season, and focusing instead on the last ten.

That is a dangerous mistake.

Remember where most experts thought the Cavs would be when the season started, and that is the playoffs.  Instead, the wine and gold will be watching the post-season again, and will once again be a part of the draft lottery, although not with the probability of getting one of the higher picks.

With the maturation of third year players Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and the experience gained last year by Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, along with the return of Anderson Varejao and the signing of Andrew Bynum, most people had the Cavaliers ready to make a decided leap in the standings.

Bynum didn’t work out here, but then-GM Chris Grant dealt him to the Bulls for two-time all-star F Luol Deng, and Griffin added another quality big man in Spencer Hawes at the trading deadline.  Still, the wine and gold will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive.

And you can’t forget the embarrassing losses to Sacramento and New York on the road, and to the Lakers at home, when Los Angeles had to play with a player who had already fouled out to end the game, and the Cavs still lost.

This is not to say that owner Dan Gilbert should clean house, but he should do an overview of the entire organization to see what the front office should be and should do going forward.

The first step would be to hire a basketball lifer and let him run the operations of the franchise, and it turn let that person decide who should be the GM and the coach.  This is something the owner has proven to be too emotional to handle.

Our suggestion would be George Karl, who learned the game from Dean Smith and has spent an eternity in the professional game.  But, anyone else with that type of background will do, and preferably no one with Piston ties (there is that emotion again).

That person should pick the GM, maybe Griffin, maybe not and let the GM pick the head coach.

We have been critical of Brown since he was hired, and let’s face it, he’s not an elite NBA head coach.  The organization needs to at least look and see if there is someone more qualified to be on the bench guiding this young team.

Let’s face it, outside of Waiters, has any of Cleveland’s young talent thrived under Brown?  There is no question that Irving, Thompson, and Zeller aren’t better than a year ago, and at their ages, they should be getting better.

Out of the rookies, only Matthew Dellavedova has seen significant playing time, while first overall pick Anthony Bennett and fellow first round choice Sergey Karasev will really be spending their rookie season in year two.  Their development has been delayed by one year.

No matter what happens the rest of this season, the worst thing Gilbert should do is overlook the first half of the season because of the last month.  That’s what bad organizations do.  They take one good thing and project it over everything else.

Yes, it is difficult to make changes after one year, and Gilbert will set him up to look foolish by making a change.  However, if in the end it makes the franchise better, then it will be the right thing.

That’s why you bring in a basketball person (again, not Isiah Thomas or Joe Dumars) to run things.  Then, it is their decision to make changes to move the team forward.

That’s the wisest course of action for the Cavaliers.


It’s Opening Day!

Today is the day that signals spring is officially here in northeast Ohio.  It’s the home opener for the Cleveland Indians, a day for the even the casual fans around town to stop talking about the NFL draft and salute the return of the Tribe.

We have seen a lot of Opening Days in town and we thought we would share a couple of the most memorable.

The one that stands out right away is 1975, a historic day for the sport of baseball as well as the Indians.  It was Frank Robinson’s first game as the first African-American manager of a major league team, and he put his name in the lineup as the DH and hit a home run off Doc Medich in his first at bat, leading his team to a 5-3 victory over the Yankees.

The other obvious choice in most fans’ memories occurred 20 years ago, as then Jacobs Field played host to its first regular season game.  Walking into the new building after spending so many years at the armpit known as Municipal Stadium was a thrill.  You couldn’t believe a facility like this was built right here in Cleveland.

The game was a classic as well, and it was a harbinger of things to come.  The Tribe was being no-hit by Randy Johnson into the eighth inning before rallying to tie and then won the game in extra innings on a Wayne Kirby single, the first of many, many walk off wins by the home team in the new park.

People as old as we are still refer to Progressive Field as the “new ballpark”, and it is now 20 years old.

There were other more obscure games that we recall though.

The ’71 opener was a 3-2 victory for the Indians, highlighted by a game winning single by utility infielder Gomer Hodge who went 2 for 2 and proclaimed he was hitting 2.000 after the game.

In 1974, an opening day record of over 74,000 packed the old stadium to watch Gaylord Perry and the Indians outduel Mickey Lolich and the Tigers 2-1 on Chris Chambliss’ home run.

In 1980, the Tribe came home after a 1-5 west coast swing to beat the Blue Jays 8-1 behind the pitching of Rick Waits and a home run by eventual American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau, who went 3 for 3 on the afternoon.

The 1986 loss to Detroit was perhaps the coldest opener we attended.  Phil Niekro started for the Tribe and seemingly went 3 and 2 on every Tiger hitter that day which made the 7-2 loss even more chilly.

The first home game in 1992 went 19 innings, before the Red Sox won 7-5 with Tim Naehring winning the game with a two run homer off Eric Bell.  In the starting lineup for Cleveland were these guys who were cornerstones of the teams that game the post-season year after year later in the decade:  Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, and Sandy Alomar Jr.

The 1996 lidlifter featured the Indians getting their 1995 American League Championship rings in a 7-1 loss to the Bronx Bombers.  Why else was that game significant?  Yanks’ rookie SS Derek Jeter hit his first big league homer in the game.

Today, someone will have a memory that will stick with them for many years.  That is the magic of baseball and the home opener in particular.  It’s a special day especially if you are a real fan.

Finally, it’s here.  Let’s play ball!


Hopefully, Kyrie Learned While He Observed

A couple of weeks ago, Kyrie Irving injured his bicep and there was speculation that he would miss the balance of the season. The prevailing thought was the Cavaliers’ slim playoff chance went out the window.

Then, the team started winning and currently sit just three games out of the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference with the team sitting in that spot, the Atlanta Hawks, in a free fall.

Now, Irving is ready to return and the hope here is he learned while he has been sitting and watching his teammates win four of the last five games.

What has been clear to everyone watching the wine and gold over the past week is that the offense has better ball movement. No longer is the ball dominated by one player eating up the shot clock, instead everyone is getting involved.

And players who were thought to be underachieving are getting more results.

Jarrett Jack has been a whipping post most of the season by fans, but suddenly, he been very productive, averaging 15.0 points and 5.8 assists per game since Irving went down.

Luol Deng, another veteran who fans have felt hasn’t been as good as advertised, is shooting 48% in the last six games (he missed two games with a sprained ankle), compared to the 42% field goal percentage he has compiled since coming to Cleveland.

The simple answer is that suddenly the Cavs are a better team without Kyrie Irving, but that’s ridiculous.

Irving is most definitely a talent. He’s made two All-Star teams and was the MVP of the game this year.

However, at times, talented players need to understand that he has to trust his teammates. The biggest thing Phil Jackson accomplished in Chicago was getting Michael Jordan to understand this.

When Irving arrived here as the first overall pick, he was without question the only true offensive player wearing the wine and gold. If he didn’t make things happen when the Cavs had the ball, then no one did.

Now, Cleveland has some other options to score. Dion Waiters is showing he is capable of running the team and can certainly score. Jack can put the ball in the basket, and Deng is an all-star talent as well.

Newly acquired Spencer Hawes is a threat from behind the three-point line.

Irving has some players to run with and he has to make sure they get the ball where they need it to be effective and he has to understand that it is a hindrance to the success of the team to dominate the basketball. He has to get everyone involved.

When he takes the court this week, he needs to show his teammates that he wants to be part of the recent success the wine and gold has had.

That means showing that he and Waiters can not only co-exist, but start forming a very formidable backcourt tandem for the organization.

It also means deferring to Jack at times, and making sure that not only do Deng and Hawes get shots, they get the ball where they feel comfortable.

That’s called being a point guard and a team leader.

If Kyrie Irving does that for the rest of the season, it will go a long way toward the ultimate success of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and also show he is willing to pay the price it takes to be a winner in the NBA.