Deng’s Professionalism Makes Him Best Cav

When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for two-time all star Luol Deng a little over a week ago, we proclaimed our love for the trade and said Deng steps in as the second best player on the team immediately.

We were wrong. 

Deng is the best player wearing the wine and gold uniform right now. 

You are probably reading this saying we are out of our mind, surely Kyrie Irving, the much-publicized young point guard is the best player.  After all, he is the face of the franchise.

After watching four games with Deng in uniform, it is clear he is the alpha dog. 

Why?  Not to be too simplistic, but he’s a basketball player. 

He makes open jump shots, he moves without the basketball, he plays solid defense.  Isn’t that what you want out of a basketball player?

We have been campaigning for some sort of veteran presence on the Cavaliers, and getting the all-star small forward from the Bulls, is the first step in the right direction.

Instantly, Deng has developed a chemistry with fellow vet Anderson Varejao, communicating with him on defense and moving without the ball to get good looks at the hoop when the “Wild Thing” has the ball at the elbow.

This is because they know how to play professional basketball, something the younger Cavs like Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters have yet to grasp.

However, these two players and the rest of the players who are new to the league should be watching Deng and Varejao with an eye toward being the professional both of these players are. 

It’s why it is clear, if you know basketball, that Luol Deng is now the Cavaliers’ best player.

It appears to have surprised the newcomer when his new teammates didn’t communicate on the floor.  To be sure, the Bulls must do it quite a bit, and talking makes teams better particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

The younger players have ability, but they seem to have “SportsCenter” games, meaning they do things that show up on highlight reels, but don’t necessarily contribute to winning basketball games.

Irving, in particular, seems to be struggling since the arrival of Deng, shooting just 37.5% from the floor and his assists are down as well in the four games Deng has played.  Perhaps, Irving is having difficulty converting from being in total control of the offense to Deng’s more disciplined approach.

And Deng’s contribution on the defensive end definitely tips the scales in his favor.  He may not be on the all-defensive team, but he gets in his man’s way consistently. 

Watch the younger players on the defensive end, opponents flash to the basket all the time and you will see the Cavalier defender trailing his man quite a bit.

This isn’t to say Luol Deng is a special player, but he appears to be the epitome of a professional basketball player.  He plays the game the correct way.

GM Chris Grant would be well served to obtain another veteran player to go with Deng and Varejao to help the Cavaliers move forward. 

The more players guys like Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller can learn the game from the better off the future of the Cavaliers will be.

JK

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Young Cavs Need to Toughen Up, Get Some Grit

The Cleveland Cavaliers opened their trip out west with good feelings.  They started their new acquisition, two-time all-star Luol Deng, and defeated the Utah Jazz.

However, things took a sharp turn south as the Sacramento Kings, a team with a similar record as Cleveland’s, hammered the wine and gold.  The 44 point loss was the largest margin of defeat in the NBA this season.

During the game, the Cavs’ young guards, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters seemed upset at being taken out of the game by head coach Mike Brown.  Whether they were dismayed by the fact their team was getting shredded or because they were losing playing time is up for debate.  Whatever the reason, it seems like there is a problem behind the scenes.

Yes, the Cavaliers are a relatively young basketball team, but the only rookie getting regular playing time is free agent Matthew Dellavedova, a gritty, energy type of player. 

The rest of the team is in their second or third years in the league, so they’ve been around long enough to know the NBA.  And they do have veterans like Anderson Varejao, Jarrett Jack, and now Deng, along with a veteran coaching staff to tell them the work that is needed on a daily basis to win in the league.

So, why isn’t it taking? 

The Cavs look disinterested in too many games, and they get blown out far too frequently for a team that has four top five picks in the draft on the roster. 

It doesn’t seem like the players are learning from the experience.  A loss like the one to the Kings shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone in the organization.

When Jack signed with the Cavs last summer, he made a statement about how there are two types of players, those who love the lifestyle and those who love the game. 

Right now, it looks like the young players with the Cavaliers are more about the former, and it spells trouble for the franchise unless that changes.

Look, every player likes to win.  The crowds are with you and it makes it easy to show up at the gym every day to practice.

What are needed for this organization to move forward are players who hate to lose.  Those men are stung by every loss, and they will do anything to prevent defeat.

Our contention is that Michael Jordan’s greatest attribute as a player was his competitive streak.  The man simply hated to lose at anything.  Most of the great players in any sport have the same trait. 

It doesn’t appear that the Cavaliers have many players who have the “competitiveness” gene.  They are happy to be professional basketball players, but they don’t want to do whatever it takes to win basketball games.

You would like to think the veterans on the team could communicate this to Irving, Waiters, and the rest, but it hasn’t taken yet and the season is almost halfway through.  GM Chris Grant added another veteran voice in bringing Deng over.

Hopefully, bringing a guy who has been on playoff teams the past few years makes a difference.

That’s the risk of having a team made up of a majority of young players.  Sometimes, they learn to win together like the Cavs of the 80’s with Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper, and Mark Price.

These Cavs need to develop some toughness and grit.  If winning doesn’t start soon then Grant will need to make changes with the roster to bring in players who are sick of losing.

The time to make the playoffs is now and the time to start demanding victories is also now.  The players need to get on board or move elsewhere.

 JK

GM Grant Needs to Add Shooter

The Cleveland Cavaliers are a struggling basketball team.

They’ve had four draft picks in the top four of the draft over the last three years.  They’ve hired a new coach.  They’ve taken some chance on the free agent market.

Yet, to date, the result is the same.  They continue to struggle and right now they are sitting at 10-21 on the season, and are on pace to win 27 games, a mere three more than last season, a record that got their coach, Byron Scott, fired.

That would seem to put the onus squarely on the shoulders of GM Chris Grant. 

Grant has brought in some talented players, with the prime example being Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in 2011, won the NBA Rookie of the Year, and has made an all-star team.

Outside of this year’s first overall pick, Anthony Bennett, the other two players who were selected in the top four of the draft were power forward Tristan Thompson, a solid player in the league and Dion Waiters, who has shown ability since entering the league last year.

So, Grant hasn’t taken any stiffs, with the disclaimer that it is still way too early to make any judgment on Bennett, who’s only 31 games into his rookie season.

Still, it seems that the GM hasn’t put together a basketball “team”, meaning the mix of talent hasn’t been working. 

While we have supported Grant’s talent evaluation in the past, we did so thinking he would convert the duplicate talent he has at certain positions and convert them where the team’s weaknesses are.

The wine and gold have a plethora of power forwards in Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, and Bennett and a bounty of point guard types in Irving, Waiters, and Jarrett Jack. 

This forces Mike Brown to have to play two power forwards and two point guards for much of the game.  That’s not a good mix offensively and defensively.

What the Cavaliers do not have are shooters.  Sure, Irving won the three point shooting contest last season, but he’s more of a penetrating guard than a pure shooter. 

The odd thing is, these types of guys should be fairly easy to obtain, a lot of them bounce around the league like Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick. 

That’s what is lacking with the Cavs right now. They don’t have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket from outside.

So when Irving and Waiters get into the lane with dribble penetration, they don’t have options to kick it out to, which makes the defense protect the basket all the more, making it tougher for those guys to score.

The extra power forwards aren’t as critical because Brown can use them, along with Tyler Zeller at center to alleviate some of the logjam, but the imbalance in the backcourt and at the small forward spot isn’t providing a winning mix.

On New Year’s Eve, the Cavs played the Indiana Pacers even for three quarters, but simply couldn’t make shots in the fourth quarter, being held to eight points for most of the quarter. 

When a guard did get into the paint, there was the overwhelming presence of Roy Hibbert, and when the ball got kicked outside, they don’t have a reliable shooter.

If anything is to be salvaged this season, Grant has to act quickly.  As it stands, the wine and gold can still make the playoffs despite their mediocre record. 

In basketball, pure talent isn’t the only determining factor.  You have to have the right mix and the Cavaliers don’t.

It’s on Chris Grant to make the correct moves and balance out his roster.  And he needs to do it sooner than later.

JK

Ultimately, Cavs’ Offensive Woes are on Brown

Many coaches who get their second job will say the one thing they learned from their first opportunity is that they should be true to themselves.  That way, when they ultimately get canned, they have only themselves to blame.

Mike Brown has now been fired twice from NBA coaching gigs, so you would have to assume that he has learned his lesson and is guiding his young team the way he wants to.

If he’s not, and he is placating his star player, which he was accused of in his previous tenure here, that is on the coach.  At this point in Brown’s career, he should have learned to please himself.

That’s why the media people who were hammering Kyrie Irving for the last four minutes of the Cavs loss on Friday night, when they blew a 12 point lead with four minutes remaining, can’t have it both ways.

The criticism came from Irving taking every single shot for the wine and gold for a three and a half-minute period. 

The simplistic Cavalier offense went back to the spread the floor and hope Irving can penetrate attack that was used when LeBron James was here and Brown was running things. 

Is Kyrie a ball hog?  Does he have confidence in his teammates?  Has he bought into the hype that he’s one of the sports’ next superstars?

There is no question that Irving likes to show off his handle, and he may figure he’s the best option to take a shot in crunch time.  It sometimes takes a long time to develop trust when you are an all-star type player.

And he wouldn’t be a great player if he didn’t have some sort of ego.

However, if the coach isn’t down with the way his point guard is playing at crunch time, he can take some action.  He can sit the player next to him on the bench. 

Now, we understand this will bring out the feelings of “Oh no, if we hurt Kyrie’s feelings, he will leave when he can”.

But Brown can’t feel that way.  His job is to win games and make Kyrie Irving and his teammates better players. 

The coach’s attitude has to be something to the effect of if I’m going to go down, I’m going to go on my terms.  That, of course, is if he disagrees with the way Irving is taking over down the stretch of close games.

The feeling here is that if the coach doesn’t take Irving off the floor, then the Cavs’ offense in crunch time is exactly what Mike Brown wants.

Which also shifts the blame from the player to the coach.

Bobby Knight used to say that nothing gets the message to the brain quicker than when it is sent through the butt, meaning if a player loses playing time, he will correct the behavior. 

We understand that Knight is old school and many of his methods don’t work today, but if Irving isn’t doing what the coaching staff wants, then Brown has no choice but to take him out.

So, what we are saying is that the media can’t have it both ways. 

If they want to blame Irving for stagnating the wine and gold offense, then the coach should share the blame for allowing it.

If it’s not on Kyrie Irving and it’s the offensive plan, then that’s on Brown for having a simplistic offensive plan.

The point is the coach is responsible for why the Cavaliers’ offense is anemic at best.  Yes, they’ve improved defensively, but that’s only half the game.

JK

On the Cavs Offense Troubles

The NBA season is a week old and after the Cleveland Cavaliers won their opener, apparently there were a few fans that felt the days of 60 win seasons returned with Mike Brown.

That is based on the reaction of some people after the wine and gold lost consecutive road games to Charlotte and Indiana. 

The truth is this team has to get used to playing together.  There are several new, key pieces getting a lot of playing time.

Think about it.  In Brown’s top nine players are only five players (Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee, C. J. Miles, and Dion Waiters), who were with the Cavs last season.

And since those five aren’t usually on the court at the same time, there is an adjustment period needed.

The holdovers have to get used to playing with Earl Clark, Andrew Bynum, and Jarret Jack and have to be re-acquainted with Anderson Varejao.

They have to learn where these players want the ball to be effective, and in Bynum’s case working off a legitimate low post threat.

That could explain the offensive struggles that hurt the Cavs during the two road losses.  Of course, it also could be the schemes that Brown has put together which at times seems like an early pick and roll, and if that doesn’t work, it’s up to Irving to come up with something.

That’s how Brown’s offense worked when LeBron James was here.  Last night, Austin Carr mentioned the Cavaliers struggled late in the game because there were too many 1-4 sets with Irving trying to break down the defense.

Brown has stated he has stressed defense in training camp and has done very little with the offense, and we will give him the benefit of the doubt on this right now.  Still, his history has shown his offense has struggled especially against good defenses and in crunch time.

The other problem for the Cavaliers right now is they aren’t shooting the basketball very well.  Whether that is part of the offensive design or not remains to be seen, but several Cleveland players are having problems in this area.

Both starting guards are really having problems. 

Irving is the league’s defending three point shooting champion and right now, he is shooting just 37% from the floor, compared to 46% in his first two years in the league.  He has also hit just 2 or 11 attempts from behind the arc. 

You have to expect that this is just temporary based on his track record.

His backcourt mate, Dion Waiters had some issues with shot selection as a rookie, but he still made 41% of his shots.  Through four games this season, he is making just one out of every three shots. 

Newcomer Earl Clark is another player way off his career norm.  Clark hit 44% of his field goal attempts a year ago, and is making only 32% from the floor after four games.

Thank goodness for C. J. Miles, who is off to a sizzling start, hitting 52% of his shots and making 8 of 21 from three-point range.

Irving, Waiters, and Clark will start to make more shots, but Brown’s history shows people have reason for concern about the ability to score points late in games.

There has to be a better plan than get the ball to Kyrie and hope for the best.

JK

Optimism for Cavs Should Be Guarded

Tonight, the 2013-14 edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers will debut tonight at Quicken Loans Arena when the wine and gold take on the Milwaukee Bucks.

There is a lot of optimism regarding the team this season, with many national experts picking the Cavs to make the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James went to Miami.

Is this optimism warranted?

You can make arguments both ways.

The first concern would be the injury factor.  Three key members of the squad have had problems staying on the court over the last three years:  Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and newcomer Andrew Bynum.

If all three can play 60 or more games, Mike Brown’s team will be in great shape.  But that’s a huge “if”.

Bynum and Varejao, along with Tristan Thompson, who we feel will be much improved, and Tyler Zeller will provide a formidable frontcourt combination.   

However, the first two players mentioned can’t be counted on to stay healthy.

We said over the off-season that the Cavaliers needed to proceed as if Bynum would not play one minute this season.  They needed to continue to build as if he wasn’t going to play.

Perhaps reducing Varejao’s minutes will help him stay on the court.  Even if Bynum can’t play, Thompson and Zeller can handle the post, and first round draft pick Anthony Bennett and free agent signee Earl Clark can split time at the four spot as well.

However, if both big men are out, does the wine and gold have enough at the key rebounding positions?

In the backcourt, Irving has shown he can be one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, but he has missed significant time in each of his first two seasons with injuries.  Perhaps this will be overcome as the former first overall pick gets stronger with age. 

If he misses a lot of time this year, he could get the “injury prone” rap that no one wants.

Last year, when Shaun Livingston came in from Washington on Christmas Day, he brought veteran leadership for the guards.  He has moved on, and in his place, GM Chris Grant signed Jarrett Jack as a free agent.

Jack will bring that same leadership and he has a proven history of putting the ball in the basket, scoring 13.0 points per game last season and 15.6 per contest the year before that.

The veteran is a true combo guard, playing the point when Irving is on the bench and playing off guard when Irving is on the floor. 

Along with Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers will have a solid three guard rotation most nights.  That is if Irving can stay healthy.

One thing can be said with certainty for this year’s squad.  They will be better defensively; Brown will make sure of that. 

Because of that, no longer will the Cavs lose huge leads down the stretch.  The coaching staff will make sure that everybody makes an effort when the opponents have the basketball.  That alone will lead to more victories.

If Irving, Varejao, and Bynum can stay on the court for most of the season, the Cavaliers will definitely be much improved.

However, none of those three can be counted on for durability until they prove otherwise. 

Until this is proven, the Cavs will have to be viewed through jaundiced eyes.

JK