Archive for January, 2012

Recap: Warriors 105, Cavs 95

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The Cavs lost their seventh game this season to the Golden State Warriors in a game that featured very little defense, some ugly stretches of play, and an avalanche of turnovers.

–The Cavaliers set a new season high for turnovers in this one. They surrendered the ball without a shot on 25possessions. Kyrie Irving had 6; Andy Varejao had 4; and several other Cavs had 3. For some reason, coming off a tumultuous 7-game road trip, this team decided it should try to run with the frenetic Warriors. The result was a lot of ill-advised passes, reckless drives to the hoop, and a general lack of focus on the offensive end.

–Kyrie Irving was okay. As mentioned above, he turned the ball over way too much. He had 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists, but he put these numbers up rather quietly. He was aggressive going to the rack, and got to the line six times, but other than that, he was merely of the better players on a team that put up a lot of forgettable performances tonight.

–There was an instance in the first quarter when, after an extended stretch of up-and-down play, Irving didn’t have numbers in semi-transition, but decided to take the ball into the paint anyway, which resulted in a turnover. I like his aggressiveness, and it wasn’t necessarily a bad play in a vacuum, but as he evolves as a floor general, he’s going to need to gain a better sense of when to push the ball and when to slow the pace. The Warriors, at the time, were forcing the Cavs to play their run’n’gun style of basketball, and it would have been prudent for Irving to hold the ball up and help the Cavaliers dictate the pace of the game rather than looking for a quick bucket.

–Semih Erden put up 14 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes of play. When he checked into the game in the first quarter, I said aloud to myself “I dunno if he’s an NBA player,” but he might be playing himself into the backup center role, where the Cavs could use some help. He played like a seven-footer tonight, using his strength and length to get himself easy buckets. It helped that Irving dropped a couple simple lay-ins into his lap.

–I appreciate that Casspi is running hard in transition in an attempt to get himself high-percentage shots at the rim, but he blew a few of those lay-ups tonight. I’m ready for the Alonzo Gee Era whenever Byron Scott is, and even readier for the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Harrison Barnes Era next season.

–The Cavs had no answer for David Lee, who put up 29 points on 13-20 shooting and 9 rebounds. He carried the Warriors offense in the fourth quarter and sealed the win by putting a few slick post moves on Varejao and Jamison in the game’s final minutes. I’m glad he’s finally fully recovered from the chlamydia of the elbow he suffered after being inadvertently bitten by Wilson Chandler last season, though I’d prefer he put up these kind of numbers against, say, the Lakers.

–Nice to see Andris Biedriņš (I insist upon proper diacritical marks) rocking that modified Manfred von Richthofen coif. It beats the over-gelled Johnny Unitas thing he’s been doing for the past couple of years. Oh, and he was 1-1 with 11 rebounds and a +18 on the night. He’s a sentient seven-foot question mark.

The Cavs have a few nights off before they meet the Bulls at the Q on Friday night. Hopefully they’ll take these couple of days to rest their weary bones and come out fresh for a game against one of the best teams in the league.

Links to the Present: January 17, 2012

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

“If only for a handful of minutes, Cleveland’s sparkling new point guard and power forward were neither ‘one’ nor ‘four.’ Be it out of experiment or necessity, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott ran select five-man units which featured Kyrie Irving as the off-guard next to Ramon Sessions while the ever-bouncing Tristan Thompson took every inch of his 6-foot-8 frame and played center. The result of the entire contest was a win as the Wine and Gold came back from a double-digit deficit to top the Charlotte Bobcats in their own house. The result of the multi-positional undertaking, at large, remains to be seen; for one afternoon, Scott was pleased with the outcome.” [Scott Sargent]

“With starting guard Anthony Parker out because of a sore lower back after the first quarter, coach Byron Scott turned to Gibson to start the second half and assigned him to defend Augustin. The Bobcats point guard made just 2 of 8 shots for five points in the half and had just two more assists as the Cavs rallied to beat the Bobcats 102-94 in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.” [Mary Schmitt Boyer]

“12 games into the season, Irving leads all rookies at 17 points per game and has become the go-to scorer for the Cavaliers.  He has attacked the basket with reckless abandon, attempting 5.2 shots per game at the rim, 8th among point guards.  Better yet, he is making those shots at a very good 59% clip after a 7-for-9 performance against the Bobcats.  Irving is proving that his ability to get to the basket using more craftiness than raw speed and power can be effective in the NBA, at least against the mediocre teams the Cavs have faced so far.” [Michael Curry]

“When Kyrie Irving actually vocalizes the words, he can’t help but smile. ‘Five years,’ he says with a grin, then pauses. ‘That’s extremely difficult.’ Irving’s plan isn’t about making the All-Star Game. It isn’t about winning NBA championships. It isn’t about landing a massive free-agent contract. And it isn’t about playing in the Olympics, either. It’s about accomplishing something that’s long been part of his life blueprint. He has five years to get his college degree.” [Ryan Fagan]

Steph Curry is likely out for tonight’s game against the Cavaliers, which is a shame since Irving v. Curry would’ve been really entertaining.

Recap: Cavs 102, Bobcats 94

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The Cavs beat the Bobcats 102-94 in a sloppy, entertaining game. The Cavs climbed out from beneath a double-digit deficit in the second half, outscoring the ‘Cats 33-20 in the third quarter and 23-17 in the fourth.

–Kyrie Irving had one of those games the box score can’t quite explain. His numbers look great: 25 points on 9-16 shooting, 7 assists, and 3 turnovers, but the quality of his play fluctuated throughout the game. Let’s dissect it in bullet form.

–Irving was torched by D.J. Augustin (D.J. Augustin!) in the first half, who had accumulated 19 points by the time the teams headed for the locker room. Twice in the second quarter, Irving helped off of Augustin when he didn’t need to, which led to two relatively uncontested threes for D.J. I think this problem of over-helping stems from the way Irving was taught to defend at Duke. Many superior college programs (Duke included) play a high-pressure defensive system that involves a lot of trapping and doubling, which, when employed against collegiate perimeter players, is very effective in terms of forcing turnovers. Against NBA competition: not so much. Irving has to become a better decision-maker in terms of when to help (hint: don’t help on a Gerald Henderson drive that starts 19 feet from the bucket), and when to stick to his man. He also has to a.) take another half-step off of speedier point guards, b.) direct penetration toward the help behind him, and c.) react a half-second sooner on drives. I hope Byron Scott will drill that into his head, and we’ll see him grow into a more competent defender.

–Irving disappeared for awhile in the third quarter while Ramon Sessions dominated the ball. We’re only about 20 minutes into the Irving/Sessions backcourt experiment, but I don’t think it’s going to work. Both players need the ball. When Sessions was running the point, Irving just drifted to the corner, and waited while the shot clock ticked down. He’s not really a spot-up shooter, and he doesn’t move particularly well of the ball. Neither does Sessions. Plus, they’re both sub-par defenders. Parker, Gibson, and Gee are all better fits for the 2-guard spot.

–Kyrie Irving won the Cavaliers a basketball game in the fourth quarter. He was aggressive, crafty around the rim, and wanted to take the tough shots required to put the Cavs up for good. The moves he exhibited going toward the basket in the final period (that lay-up around B.J. Mullens!) are why GMs salivate over bigger point guards: Irving can absorb contact in the paint and still lay the ball in from a variety of angles. I know the Cavs don’t really have anyone else besides Jamison who can dependably score the ball by himself, but it’s been encouraging to see Irving accept the challenge of being the the Cavs number one option in crunch time.

–TT was relatively quiet in this game (8 points, 2 rebounds), but I’m coming around on him. He has such an ugly game (not a lot of post-up moves, no face-up game, no jumper), but he uses his strength and quickness to get shots up from right next to the rim, and he gets a couple of easy dunks every game via putbacks and solid point guard play. He reminds me of a more athletic Tyler Hansbrough, which is a hybrid compliment/concern. Also: free throws, but you already knew that.

–Jamison threw a hard eight tonight. 9-16 for 20 points. I tip my cap.

–Casspi kept his starting job for another day. He nabbed a handful of hustle points, sprinting down the floor after Bobcats buckets, and laying the ball in before the defense could get set. Casspi might need to start doing more of this, since he’s been struggling from beyond the arc.

The Cavs are now 6-6 and return from their seven-game road trip for a game against the Golden State Warriors tomorrow.

Dear Dwight Howard – a response to Marc Stein’s Weekend Dime from Ryan Braun:

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Hi Dwight:

Let me begin with a preface — if you choose to stay in Orlando, I get it. In fact, as a basketball fan with what I’d like to consider at least a semi-operative conscience, I would have to consider that preferable. I mean, how could anyone in Cleveland ever root for a superstar to leave a small market, right?

Dear Shaquille O'Neal's lawyers: please direct all complaints/legal inquiries to CFAAP.com

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…let’s go ahead and acknowledge your leaving as an inevitability. For the sake of both this article and the potentially delusional presumptions therein. Also, because you kind of reaffirmed the anti-Orlando sentiment with your “nothing has changed” quote relayed via the Sentinel last Sunday.

You still want to be traded, you say, and Dallas, LA, and the Nets are still your preferred destinations.

That’s fine. No judgment here. You’re a 26-year-old man/the heart wants what the heart wants.

But please, allow me the opportunity to pass on a message that my mom gave to me (in writing) when I suggested to her I might major in acting:

“Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

Now, if you’re reading this (and I soooo hope it gets to you…), you’re probably reading it on a Cavs blog and thus have subsequently assumed where it’s headed.

Don’t stop reading.

I know you’ve already said (with just about zero ambiguity) that you’d rather not be traded to Cleveland.

That’s perfect! I don’t want you traded to Cleveland either.

I want you to sign there.

Trust me, I have definitely thought this through.

Reason # 1 — The Trade Thing is so 2008…

Allow me to open, Dwight, by directing your attention to exhibit A (and/or “Reason #1”)…the trade thing.

It’s en vogue right now, I know, and I’m even a little hypocritical for shunning it as definitively as I’m about to since a year and a half ago I was staying up nights at a time monitoring the Cavs’ progress in luring Amar’e Stoudemire away from Phoenix.

As I often am, I was misguided. (The acting major’s yet to pan out.)

I was misguided, as are many still, because lost in the league-encompassing excitement of a landscape shifting trade is a patently obvious nugget Knick of information regarding these cataclysms…

Take a look at all of the teams for which these deals have gone down in recent seasons.

None of them are winning.

None of them.

In fact, they’re not even close.

New York, New Jersey, the Clippers… not exactly the elite of the league, right? Perhaps even more damning is this… Are these teams even in a position to improve?

The Boston Celtics (the reason this whole “movement” started) are the only team of the modern era that was built via trade, and the only reason it worked (temporarily) was that each (aging) star was sold for pennies on the dollar, thereby allowing the Celtics to retain two players — Rondo and Perkins — who turned out to be better than anyone they’d shipped out. It was enormously lucky in the first place, and any chance of that particular history repeating with these “forced” trades is effectively wiped because A) the motivation behind the F-trades is often a player seeking a specific market/not a team sniffing out a palatable return, and B) everyone involved is a lot less willing to work out an amenable deal when they feel like they’re being jerked around.

So, let the record show us having the following two epiphanies:

1. In today’s NBA, you can still get yourself traded…but you can’t get yourself traded without gutting the team that you’re headed to, thereby nullifying the chance you’re headed to a better situation basketball-wise.

2. Because of this (epiphany 1), if you’re going to go…free agency is the way to go.

I don’t like that last epiphany as a Cavs fan (I wish the new CBA had come equipped with a franchise tag…), but it’s true.  If you’re signing a 5-year extension with a team that’s just traded its best young prospect + multiple first-rounders, rarely will that team still have the means to surround you with talent.

Of the “cataclysm teams,” the Heat are the only group I’d list with even a chance to win a title within the next few years, and it’s because they came together through free agency.

I'm the hater lion.

However awful that was.

Regardless, the point of exhibit A (and/or “Reason # 1”), Dwight?

If you don’t want to get stuck on a bare cupboard of a team subsequently plastered with unreasonable post-trade expectations…you might want to reconsider your route.

Sign with somebody in the offseason.

If only someone had concocted an elaborate yet grounded presentation to give your options via that route some clarity…

Reason # 2 — The Cavs from a Basketball Perspective:

This was the most enjoyable segment for me to write, and I’m 99% sure the reason for that is a legitimate belief in the following… (I’m so good an actor now, I can never be 100% sure I’m not fooling myself…)

The Cavs are on the verge of being really, really good.

Not this year, mind you…but soon. (And very soon if you heed my letter, DH.)

If Oklahoma City is the model for small-market rebuilding (Durant, Westbrook, Harden — add water), we’re one elite draft pick away from following suit. Through a stroke of remarkable good fortune (and by “good fortune,” I mean $30 million from Dan Gilbert), the Cavs were able to restock this year with both Tristan Thompson (who I pray to the basketball gods will be a smart Josh Smith) and Kyrie Irving (who I pray to the basketball gods will be a healthy Chris Paul). They’re 20 and 19, respectively. Provided they don’t propel us too far forward before their bodies fill out (and it might be close), we’ll probably end up landing one additional high lottery pick this year. Which again, provided these guys pan out, is the Thunder model. A potentially elite foundation.

And the rest of the roster?

That’s where things get really interesting.

In fact, to show just how interesting… I’d like to welcome the Dallas Mavericks to the article. Being the only team on your trade list with considerable cap space forthcoming, they seem to have become the assumed favorites to land your services via the free market.

Found this picture on Mark Cuban's nightstand...

Let’s say Dallas hits the jackpot this summer (that would be you and Deron Williams), thereby amassing what would probably be considered the second true “super-team” in the league. My grandma would be happy (she went to high school with Jason Kidd), but that’s not what this article’s about.

What is best for you, Dwight?

The following is the absolute best case scenario 2012-13 Dallas lineup, in which I assume the Mavs’ ability to dump Shawn Marion by the trade deadline (which is the only way they’d have  enough cap space to sign both you and Deron):

PG – Deron Williams (28), Jason Kidd (39!), Roddy Beaubois (24)

SG – Vince Carter (35), Jason Terry (35), Delonte West (29), Dominque Jones (24)

SF – Shawn Marion (34) ( presumptive salary dump)

PF – Dirk Nowitzki (34), Lamar Odom (32), Brian Cardinal (35), Yi Jianlian (25), Sean Williams (26), Brandan Wright (25)

C – Dwight Howard (26), Brendan Haywood (32), Ian Mahinmi (25)

Dallas has $41.4 million on the books for 2012-13, again, predicated solely on their ability to let everyone crossed out leave and/or pass away from age-related illness. With the salary cap projected at around $60-61 million next year, it’ll take a suitor for Shawn Marion’s $8.6 million guaranteed, plus ALL of their resulting free-agent money to sign you and Deron Williams.

Thus, this would be your team for the foreseeable future — exactly as listed above, minus Shawn Marion/plus league minimum filler. (And Dirk is 34, Deron Williams can’t stay healthy, yada, yada, yada…)

Now, contrast that with Cleveland’s potential 2012-13 lineup:

PG – Kyrie Irving (20), Ramon Sessions (26)

SG – Anthony Parker (306), Boobie Gibson (26), Mychel Thompson (24)

SF – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (19), Alonzo Gee (25), Omri Casspi (24), Christian Eyenga (23)

PF – Tristan Thompson (21), Antawn Jamison (35), Samardo Samuels (23), Luke Harangody (24)

C – Dwight Howard (26), Anderson Varejao (30), Semih Erden (26), Ryan Hollins (28)

There’s just under $41 million on the books here (only $9 million in 2013-14!) with all the notable pillars locked up. That means Kyrie, Tristan and Andy (seriously, you’ll love this guy…), plus “unnamed 2012 lottery pick,” plus Dan Gilbert’s willingness to lock-up our keepers for the long-term (Sessions and Boobie, perhaps?) or swing them as the rarest of expiring contracts (those belonging to good players) for dollars on the dollar.

The point of all this being, in Cleveland, you’re looking at a team with potentially four All-NBA caliber players, a team with insane roster flexibility, and a team with an owner more willing to dole out cash than Pacman Jones at 2am.

Also, a team that has no true center.

From a basketball perspective, only Chicago makes more sense (why they’re not on your trade list, I have no idea…), and even then, only in the immediate.

From a basketball perspective, it’s the perfect situation.

And, while I realize much of the preceding’s accuracy depends on your evaluations of the players involved — i.e. How good are the young Cavs, really? — I’d like you to know this: Because of my briefly aforementioned conscience/an overwhelming fear of failure stemming perhaps from graduating college with an acting degree, publishing on an ESPN subsidiary at least forces me to temper my enthusiasm for all things Cleveland somewhat in the hope that I can write reasonably informative articles/maintain my current state of employment. For periods of time, I can be a semi-responsible faux-journalist.

Along those lines…

Kyrie Irving, while just 19, might be the best pick-and-roll prospect to enter the league since you, Dwight Howard (pandering just a touch there…). I don’t believe I’m overstating that. KI comes off the screen at such a funky pace that he can almost walk a guy right to the rim, and he’s already exceedingly comfortable with his midrange jumper. This was a major strength at Duke, and he’s been re-getting the hang of it pretty early at the NBA level. And Dwight, what Kyrie’s doing now, he’s doing while working with Andy Varejao (who, again, you’re going to love and is actually a remarkably effective P&R partner…but also operates about 3-4 feet lower than you do). Remember when everyone thought it would be awesome to team you up with Chris Paul? Well, I’m thinking of something similar but with healthier knees. Kyrie is good, and by this time next year, Kyrie’s going to be better.

And Kidd-Gilchrist (listed above on my projected roster) is a conservative addition. He could be Brad Beal, he could be Harrison Barnes. I like MKG because he was Kyrie’s teammate in high school and is tenacious enough to have a relatively high floor…but he’s also probably the 7th pick in the upcoming draft. Imagine if that’s Anthony Davis. Imagine if it’s Drummond.

Regardless Dwight, you’re getting the Cavs’ foundation as is, plus either a top-tier wing prospect or the best big in the draft. And the oodles of cap space.

Imagine you’d had an opportunity to head to OKC right after they landed James Harden.

Would you have done it?

Really, the only possible reason this isn’t a no-brainer is that you’d have to live in Cleveland, which, don’t worry…I’ve figured out too.

Reason # 2B — Cleveland is a burgeoning entertainment mecca/end of hardcore analysis:

I know you have media ambitions, Dwight.

You know who else had media ambitions?

Steven Spielberg. (Ever heard of him?)

#movielinefirstdrafts

Yes D-12, Steven Spielberg was born in Ohio, and you won’t find someone who’s made good on “media ambitions” more successfully than him.

Need more?

Paul Newman’s from the area as well, Ohio is the country’s leading producer of greenhouse and nursery plants, and if you’re concerned about unwanted pregnancy — we’re the rubber capital of the world.

(Ed. Note: This is harder than the basketball section. I’ve been digging around for like an hour and that was the best I could do.)

Let’s close the “Cleveland as entertainment mecca” section with the following…

Consider A: Cleveland was a bustling metropolis in the 50s and 60s (even the Rockefellers lived there!).

And…

Consider B: There are two schools of thought re: the nature of the world’s social history. Ancient cultures believed in cyclical nature (that Dark and Golden Ages would forever alternate), while more recent sentiment assumes the world is on a linear path.

So, if we deduce the actuality as a perfectly reasonable combination of theories — after all, history is linear in that technology is advancing more rapidly than human nature, but cyclical in that I’m wearing my grandfather’s polyester pants right now and feeling particularly stylish — the conclusion would have to be that by the end of your 5-year max contract, Cleveland will again be an Eden on Earth…only with robots.

Okay, done.

Ps- You can’t spell “The Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg” without OHIO.

Now done.

Reason 3a — The Cavalier bump:

The theory goes that being in Cleveland helps promote athlete likeability (ATTN: Adidas: AL is very important for market share capitalization), and I constructed the following chart to demonstrate it visually.

I'm not very good at charts.

So. Definitively established. Cleveland = likeability.

ATTN: Adidas.

Reason 3b — How better to one-up LeBron?

Okay, it’s 1AM now and I want to close with some semblance of legitimacy.

Here goes…

You don’t have to admit to this, Dwight…but I know.  Truth be told, I think a lot of people do…

We here in Cleveland have always felt the lack of a Dwight puppet egregious.

The LeBron James show, which debuted a year before you entered the league and has subsequently amassed the gravitational pull of an imploding galaxy, has kind of relegated you to the backburner in terms of the national consciousness.

I’m writing to you on behalf of Cleveland (as a city, I think we can sympathize).

I began by laying out all the basketball reasons that the Cavaliers make sense…and now here is the vindictive one.

You want to pull ahead of LeBron James, and we want that for you…but to do it, you have to start heading in the opposite direction.

If you go to Dallas, to LA, and maybe even in Chicago (although again, if you want to be traded, reconsider the Bulls…), you will forever be lumped in with LeBron. And as much as it probably sucks to hear, and as much as you may consider it unjustified…you’ll never be at the forefront of things when you’re standing right next to him. You’ll always be a supporting character in the LeBron James drama.

So take an alternate path.

Be the small-market superstar.

Make a small-market super-team.

I realize it’s self-serving (hugely) that I want the small-market super-team in Cleveland…but honestly, I’d support the idea anywhere.

You’re not going to outscore LeBron James.

So outsmart him. Call Adidas and tell them we have a banner open.

Also, I’ll draw you pictures.

Again, letters to CFAAP.

The World is Yours.

TWIsM,

Ryan Braun (CFAAP, Cavs: the Blog, Studio Yogurt)

Ps- Dwight, the Browns are going to be awesome next year.

…………………………….

AWARD WATCH (16.5% of the way through the season):

NBA MVP – Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder (25.8 ppg, 6.8 reb, 3.4 ast). Kobe is scoring like he hasn’t in 6 years, but I can’t say it’s helping the Lakers. LeBron is playing better than anyone in the league, but the Heat have lost 3 in a row. Meanwhile, the Thunder are 11-2 and Durant is just plugging along, shooting less and scoring more efficiently than he ever has.

CAVALIER MVP – Andy Varejao, PF/C (9.5 ppg, 11.2 reb, 1.5 ast). Kyrie’s not far off from having a chance at this spot, but to date, still, there’s not a player on the Cavs more important than Anderson Varejao. He’s consistent, the perfect role-model for a lot of the younger guys on the team, and almost as much of a pillar offensively as he is on the other side of the ball. I’d put Andy’s pick & roll competency up there with many of the elite bigs in the league.

NBA COY– Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose’s team is 12-2 (tied for the best record in the league), and Thibodeau has, in my estimation, done very well to proactively extend support to a struggling Noah and Boozer (and/or protect their trade value). I thought they overachieved last year, but the Bulls seem to be locking themselves in as a perennial top seed.

CAVALIER COY – Byron Scott. Really, a competitor’s yet to emerge.

NBA ROY – Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (17.0 ppg, 3.1 reb, 5 ast). Ricky’s coming on strong too (and each side seems to have its fervent advocates), but after watching Kyrie improve the past couple of weeks…I’m f’ing giddy. The kid can get to the rim at will, IS getting progressively more comfortable with NBA length, and looks more and more confident in his ability to dictate the flow of a game every time out. Rubio is at 10.4, 4.1, and 8.0 while playing a completely different floor game for a completely different team…which is what I’ve used to decide this argument for the week. The team. At current, I think Rubio struggles more on the Cavs than Kyrie does in Minnesota.

CAVALIER ROY – Kyrie Irving, PG. But let’s talk about the other guy… As a 21-year-old sophomore NBAer (essentially Tristan Thompson’s age, but with a year more experience), Josh Smith averaged 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in about 32 minutes a game. Tristan can’t handle the ball like Josh (not a good thing), nor can he shoot like him (maybe a good thing?), but the point I’m trying to make is that he’s not far off and I have to believe he’s being steeped in the type of discipline that Josh Smith never was. In four years, TT’s an energy guy or an All-Star, and his development might well determine the ceiling of this team.

Links to the Present: January 13, 2012

Friday, January 13th, 2012

“Irving is a 19-year old kid tasked with placing a franchise on his still-developing shoulders.  His game, despite being modeled after countless idols, is his own. Speed won’t be taught; he won’t sprout to 6-foot-5 or be outfitted with a Blake Griffin-like being any time soon. Kyrie Irving is not the next Paul or Rose. He’s not the next Iverson, Zeke or Wall. He’s not even the next Nash or Stockton or Kidd. Kyrie Irving is The Next Kyrie Irving. And this may wind up being the best news of all.” [Scott Sargent]

“Alonzo Gee could be the Cavaliers’ most improved player from last season. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Gee started his transformation last year when he started 29 games with the Cavs (5-5). Now coming off the bench behind starter Omri Casspi at small forward, he makes things happen when he’s on the court.” [FS Ohio]

“The Cavaliers got back to .500 last night against Phoenix and the Lakers are on their own mini win streak of 4 games. After getting Andrew Bynum back from suspension and Kobe Bryant getting some weird vampire treatment in Germany, the LakeShow is rolling. Kobe has scored 40 points in his past 2 games and as I peruse the Cavs roster, I don’t see anyone capable of stopping him from grabbing 40 again.” [Conrad Kaczmarek]

Recap: Cavs 101, Suns 90

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

The Cavs defeated the Suns 101 to 90 in a game that, after the first half, never really felt winnable for Phoenix.

–Kyrie Irving put on a vintage Spectacular Rookie Performance. “Spectacular” because he rattled off 26 points on 11-17 shooting, and took the game over for a five-minute stretch during the second quarter, using every weapon in his offensive repertoire: a pair of threes, a crafty 18-foot pull-up, a baseline jumper off the dribble, and a slick spin move toward the rim. “Rookie” because he turned the ball over 6 times and couldn’t stay in front of his opposite number, Steve Nash, who posted 16 points and 15 assists. “Performance” because he is a thespian at heart.

–I’ve seen enough of Irving that I’m no longer worried whether or not he’s going to be good. I’m now preparing to spend the next three years figuring out if his ceiling is Borderline All-Star or Slightly Less Wealthy Man’s Chris Paul. Either way, he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. His offensive game—especially in terms of putting points on the board—is surprisingly polished for a guy who doesn’t turn 20 until March. I think he’s having trouble adjusting to the superior athleticism of the NBA, which is why he sometimes throws a pass a half-second too late into a clogged lane or allows his counterpart to blow by him on the defensive end, but once he adapts to playing against NBA-caliber athletes every night, look out.

–Andy Varejao pulled down 15 boards tonight, and drew a couple of offensive fouls on D. Sadly, in an upset, he was out Horrible Hair-ed by Robin Lopez.

–I would say I’m concerned about Omri Casspi, but I’m not sure I care? I just look at Casspi’s box score every night, go “Oh, he sucked again,” and move on to Antawn Jamison’s J.R. Smithian shot totals. Casspi wasn’t a disaster tonight (6 points on 3-7 shooting), but I assume Alonzo Gee’s going to replace him in the starting lineup pretty soon, since Gee’s been as blandly effective as Casspi has been ineffective.

–TT tried hard. He hit a really tough shot in the lane early in the fourth quarter. I don’t remember anything else, but apparently he grabbed 6 boards in 15 minutes. Also, he’s not allowed to take another one of those step-back 15-footers he tried in the second period before he practices it another 5,000 times in the gym.

–Ramon Sessions was awful (1-7 and 3 TOs), but he was due for a bad game. I still think he’s an excellent backup point guard, and the only guy on the second unit who can dependably create his own shot (no, I’m not counting Gee). If he’s content with his role as a change-of-pace scorer off the bench, I would like to see the Cavs keep him going forward.

–The Suns are depressing. They were the most fun team in the league from 2003-09, and now they’re just Nash, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris (who looked good), and a bunch of overpaid role players. Can we get Nash and JMZ onto a contender, please? Preferably together? It’s breaking my heart.

The Cavs are now 5-5, and they travel to the Staples Center to take on the Lakers tomorrow night. $20 says Semih Erden fouls out in 10 minutes or fewer in that game.

Links to the Present: January 12, 2012

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

“The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving last summer to be their point guard for the next decade. Only for the next few months, they need him to be a shooting guard. He’s already shown a knack for getting his shots up. With limited scoring options on the roster, the Cavs are asking their 19-year-old rookie to carry a heavy load. He is second in scoring and leading the team in assists. He’s shooting the highest field-goal percentage of all the guards and he’s second on the team in shots taken.” [Jason Lloyd]

“The Cavaliers were 3-2 in their first five games, shooting 42.3% from long range. So far, after four games on this road trip, the team is shooting 26.2% from three, going 1-3 in those games. After shooting 50% on his threes in the first two games (4-of -8 shooting), Ramon Sessions has gone 2-for-9 since (22.2%). Anthony Parker’s 32.4% is by far the lowest of his career since he returned from Europe in 2006. Omri Casspi’s 29.2% is almost an eight percent drop on his career low and a nine percent dip from last season. Antawn Jamison’s 28.9% is his lowest since his second year in the league. He hasn’t shot worse than 34% from three since 2007-08, which was the only time in the last 10 seasons he shot below 34%.” [Andrew Schnitkey]

FTS’s Conrad Kaczmarek speculates on possible Varejao (and Ramon Sessions) trades that might happen over the coming months. My personal favorite: OJ Mayo and a first-rounder for Andy. But then, I have an irrational love of OJ Mayo; in reality, he would probably take a ton of bad shots in Cleveland and be out the door by the time was 27.

A Premature Farewell to an Old Friend

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

It’s been nearly a year since Kendrick Perkins switched teams, but if you canted your ear toward New England last night, you could hear, as the 7-footer ducked under the hoop and converted a nifty reverse lay-in to put OKC up eight over Memphis, some dude named Sully slurring curse words into his whiskey. These drunk expletives aren’t birthed solely from a bitterness over the fact that the Thunder are a thriving young squad that will compete for a championship this season, and that fruition of the Celtics’ fragile title aspirations depend upon the rapidly-disintegrating knees of Kevin Garnett. Jeff Green’s failure to rise to the occasion in last year’s playoffs and the subsequent revelations about a heart problem that might prematurely end his career (get well soon, Jeff) has something to do with it, but Sully and Celtic Nation mutter rancorously to themselves whenever Perkins’s scowling mug appears on a television screen mostly because it’s painful to watch an errant son carry on without them. Ask any Celts fan: Perkins’s departure hurt because he was as close to family as athletes get. They watched him grow from an 18 year-old man-child who would have been better served to spend a few years at a major college program into one of the most crucial components of the best defense in the league. Trading for big names and acquiring all-stars via free agency is exhilarating—it’s not like Clippers fans are complaining about how they got CP3—but the best-loved players on a team are often those plucked directly from the amateur ranks and developed over a half-decade. I don’t agree with many arguments that say LeBron should have stayed a Cavalier, but it’s true that no fanbase will ever adore him like Cleveland did.

Of the rubble LBJ left behind, Andy Varejao is Cleveland’s best-loved relic. He’s a player, like Perkins, with whom one has to spend time to appreciate. Most NBA analysts and commentators characterize Varejao, whose physique resembles a long, tanned stalk of broccoli, as either an energy guy or an irritant. They mean this as a compliment—media types always have a twinkle in their eye when they talk about player who accumulates a lot of floor burns—but it casts the lanky Brazilian as an archetype that’s not altogether accurate. While Varejao has always shown hard on pick and rolls, taken his share of charges, and competed relentlessly for rebounds, he was the second-best player on a series of championship contenders because he’s made of more than grit. Beneath that shock of undulating hair is one of the better minds in basketball. Few big men know when and at what angle to cut to the basket better than Varejao, and he can finish with either hand once he gets to the rim. Though often overmatched physically in the post, the Cavs have trusted him over the years to play some of the league’s best forwards and centers one-on-one without fouling himself onto the bench.

The player I describe is, of course, suited perfectly to help transform a contender into a champion, sort of like what Tyson Chandler did for the Mavs last season but with less handsomeness and more panache. The Perkins-for-Green trade was met with such outrage in New England because Perk was already where he belonged: alongside his mentor Garnett and his best friend Rajon Rondo, on a team where the talent around him maximized his own unique skills. Varejao was once in the same perfect situation—LeBron James’s court vision got him 2 to 4 easy buckets a night, and all he was required to do each game was play hard on both ends of the floor—but on a young, inconsistent team, he doesn’t quite belong. He warms the hearts of Cavalier fans with his effort and serves as a sterling example for Cleveland’s young roster, but he, like all great glue guys, deserves to play with exceptional talent around him. Anderson Varejao should leave Cleveland.

The logistics of that move are unclear at the moment. The Clippers would be a logical fit, but the Cavs just drafted their starting point guard for the next five-to-twelve years, and Eric Bledsoe, despite possessing a shooting guard’s skill set, is listed at 6’1″. The Celtics, Heat, and Lakers don’t have any assets, and neither do the Knicks or Spurs unless one possesses an irrational love of Landry Fields or Kawhi Leonard. The Grizzlies have O.J. Mayo, Josh Selby, and Rudy Gay. Portland has Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum, though I don’t know why they would trade either of them for frontcourt depth. Chicago already has a Varejao of their own in Joakim Noah, and Dallas is hoarding cap space to go after Dwight Howard or Deron Williams this summer. Regardless, as the hours tick down toward the trade deadline, I think a contender will find a way to secure Varejao. Some team that realizes either that its window is right now (the Celtics or Lakers) or that it’s one good player away from a title shot (the Clips or the Grizz) will finagle an overly-complicated three or four-teamer that involves draft picks, expiring contracts, and access to Warren Buffet’s secret archipelago off the coast of French Guiana. Or it will happen in the offseason, when teams have more cap flexibility and newly-drafted rookies.

It will happen, is my point. Anderson Varejao will leave Cleveland, and I will miss him. My favorite Andy Moment—even more than the head-punching against Orlando or the “Chosen 2″ Sharpie tattoo—is also my favorite Delonte West moment. (Together, these two composed the goofy core of the most fun team I’ve ever rooted for.) In West’s internet-famous stint as a correspondent for Jim Rome is Burning, he rolls into a team photo shoot with fried chicken and Tahitian Treat (“how player is that?”) and clowns then-rookie J.J. Hickson (“you betta have my donuts!”), but the best part of the clip comes when he and Varejao go fake Bruce Lee on one another before cracking up and breaking into a bro-hug. It makes me smile every time to see the gigantic Varejao and tatted-up West—both of whom seer with intensity when they’re on the court—goofing off like a pair of jungle cats on holiday.

The only remaining players from the days when the Cavs were miming pre-game family photos and winning 60 games a season are boringly nice guys: Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, and Boobie Gibson. While they’re all consummate professionals, I wonder how invested one can be as a veteran on a rebuilding team that, by the time the rebuild is complete, probably won’t need you anymore. It has to be like playing basketball aboard a slowly sinking ship. Either mutinous thoughts grow in your brainpan or you have accepted your fate. Then there’s Andy Varejao, writhing on the deck like a lightning-struck marlin. He doesn’t know any other way. God bless him.

Disappointed by Casspi trade?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Omri Casspi’s start to the season surely has some questioning the trade that brought him here. I came across a handy website that could make you feel better (in addition to a future first round pick and J.J. Hickson only shooting 39.7% from the field this year).

According to one statistical method (regularized adjusted +/-), Hickson was:

The NBA\’s worst player in 2011

4th worst in 2010

3rd worst in 2009

And just for fun; of 11,504 two-man combinations that were employed by NBA teams from 2008 - 2011, the worst defensive pairing was (drumroll, please)…..Mo Williams and J.J. Hickson

Links to the Present: January 11, 2012

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

“It would have to be an unbelievable person to get back/ I look at him as one of the guys you look at and say ‘He’s not going anywhere.’ I just feel that strongly about him and what he means to this team.” [Byron Scott on the prospect of a Varejao trade]

“Varejao, 29, has three more seasons on a priced-to-move deal worth $27 million. The Cavaliers likely could get a first-round pick and perhaps a young center in return from some club looking for a valuable reserve post man. The Brazilian would have been in demand last season as well if he had not torn a tendon in his ankle in a Jan. 6 practice. With injuries piling up, Scott recalls talking of how they could ill afford to lose Varejao on Jan. 5.” [Tom Reed]

“Cavs GM Chris Grant seems to be the kind of GM who likes talking to other teams and keeping a firm finger on the pulse of the trade market. As well he should. It’s important to know what kind of interest there is, not just for Varejao and other trade targets such as Sessions and Jamison, but for every player on the roster. The only way to make a fully informed plan on how to best rebuild this franchise is to know the value of the assets you hold.” [Andrew Schnitkey]

“The 7-foot, 240-pound Erden played 17 minutes in the Cavs’ 113-105 loss at Utah on Tuesday. He was the first big man off the bench for the Cavs (4-5, 1-3 on their seven-game road trip). The Cavs are intrigued by Erden’s skill set and length. He’ll likely take forward-center Samardo Samuels’ minutes on the second unit. The 25-year-old Erden has been injured with one ailment after the other since coming to the Cavs in a trade with Boston on Feb. 24, 2011.” [CBS Sports]

And here’s a video of that disgusting spin move Kyrie Irving put on Al Jefferson last night.