Archive for November, 2012

Recap: Clippers 101, Cavs 108

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Being a Cavalier fan over the last few years has been not unlike being trapped in the back of a garbage truck as the steel compacting mechanism repeatedly crushes your body until it’s a flesh bag for bone dust. It’s like Hell, but with wind chill. So you’ll excuse me while I celebrate this November Cavalier victory by filling my apartment with gleeful obscenities and fixing myself a beverage I like to call “victory juice.” (High Life with a lime wedge because I’m an aristocrat. When the Cavs lose, I call this beverage “High Life with a lime wedge.”) We fell down the Dion Waiters Insane Overconfidence K-Hole tonight, and we’re alive in its thrall. Or at least the steel compacting mechanism is momentarily stuck. Let us recap:

–Dion Waiters’s favorite rapper is the apocalypse. He was out of his mind, draining a bunch of stupid shots with aplomb. He attempted 11 three-pointers—the majority of which were contested—and sank seven of them. At one point in the third quarter, he nailed three straight threes he had no business taking. Then he transformed into a falcon, grabbed a flare gun, and skywrote “Saint Weirdo” in orange smoke. His mind went blank except for the color fuchsia with 4:10 left in the fourth, such was the intensity of his hallucinatory state, and he proceeded to knock down a pair of threes while literally having no idea who he was or what basketball is.

–Kyrie Irving wasn’t on Waiters’s level in that he wasn’t bombed out on his own fearlessness, channeling Sun Ra with his jump shot. He had trouble finishing around the rim in the second half (DeAndre Jordan blocked a lot of his layup attempts) but was otherwise spectacular. The bulk of his points came in the first quarter, when he burned through Chris Paul and the Clips’ interior defense early, then stroked three consecutive triples to close out the period. The final line on Irving: 24 points, 10 assists, three turnovers, and a three-pointer with 28 seconds to go that iced the game.

–Tyler Zeller—before getting popped in the face by an inadvertent DeAndre Jordan elbow (x-rays negative)—had a great game. The major concern I’ve had about Zeller is that he isn’t going to be able to handle the physicality of the NBA—that he’s going to prove too waifish and not quite aggressive enough to defend and rebound adequately. He acquitted himself well against the most athletic front line in the league (and, admittedly, scrubs like Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins), grabbing seven boards and playing adequate defense. He even bothered a few driving layups with his length when he came over to help from the weak side. On offense, he accumulated 15 points by running the floor and knocking down the odd open jumper. His best game as a pro.

–Byron Scott put Alonzo Gee on Chris Paul nearly every time they were on the floor against one another. Trill AG did a fine job; he isn’t quick enough to get right up in CP’s face, but he moved his feet and funneled Paul toward help when necessary. He even caused a few bad passes and deflections with his length. I don’t know if Scott was blowing smoke or if he’s a bit deluded by his affection for Gee when he recently said that Gee is “one of the best defensive players in the league,” but it appears—regardless of the gap in defensive prowess between Gee and, say, a truly elite stopper like Tony Allen—Scott will assign him to the other team’s best perimeter player because he believes Gee is up to the challenge. I like this, by the way. Even though he’s not Andre Iguodala, Gee is a good athlete and understands angles well enough to curb the effectiveness of most players he’s assigned. I can see Gee buying into this role as the Cavalier who checks all-star guards and wings. Now, if only we could tweak that jumper…

-Speaking of coaching decisions, I wonder exactly what Scott is doing when he has Boobie Gibson run the offense, even for the odd play here or there. I know he wants to give Irving some opportunities to play off the ball and that Donald Sloan is less than competent in his role as backup point guard, but Boobie should never touch the ball unless he’s immediately swinging it to a teammate or stepping into a jumper. One of the flaws in his offensive game was exposed in the first quarter when he caught the ball on the left wing, took a couple dribbles, and was promptly blocked by a lunging Clipper defender. Boobie lacks the quickness and ballhandling skills to create his own shot with any consistency. He’s a terrific spot-up shooter, but giving him the ball at the top of the key or on the wing and asking him to create something is almost always going to end in tears.

–Let’s not talk about Tristan Thompson. Today is not a day for two negative bullet points. Let’s not bring discontent into what is a mostly jubilant home.

–Ryan Hollins had two points, five rebounds, two turnovers, and no flagrant fouls in which he threw his big stupid body into another player in a way that ostensibly defied the laws of physics. Also his best game as a pro.

The Cavs travel to Golden State on Wednesday to take on the Warriors. Until tomorrow, friends.

Kevin’s Summer Project

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Cavs fans, bear with me here.  This summer, my NBA draft-experting led me down a rabbit-hole I could not evade.  As the draft approaches, a plethora of athleticism data arrives in late May and early June, and I struggle with the question: “what does it mean”?  Dion Waiters is only 6’ – 4”; Jeremy Lamb has long arms; in a laboratory, Harrison Barnes jumps really high.  Should I care about any of this?  I embarked on a project to track how pre-draft measurements correlate to actual, eventual NBA production.  In today’s post, I hope to introduce the process.

Who is this guy? I don't know, but he has a 7-foot wingspan.

I started by compiling the pre-draft measurements for every drafted NCAA player from the 2000 through 2010 drafts.  This data was gleaned from the world’s most comprehensive draft website: drafexpress.com.  I focused on eight measurements:

  • Barefoot Height
  • Wingspan
  • Reach
  • No-Step Vertical Leap
  • Maximum Vertical Leap
  • Three-Quarter Court Sprint Speed
  • Lane Agility (Cone) Drill
  • Bench Press reps of 185 pounds.

To my spreadsheet, I assembled every player’s Offensive Win Shares (OWS), from basketball-reference.com, for each of their first four seasons.  For players drafted in 2000 through 2007, their “peak” season of OWS from their first four years is also evaluated.  The analysis ignores the strike-shortened 2011 – 2012 season, hence no four-year-peak season for 2008 draftees.  I purposefully chose separate offensive and defensive metrics.

Also, players were sorted into two groups by age; 21 and under as of February 1st of their rookie year, or Older.  Additionally, players were categorized by the five standard basketball positions.  Utilizing the positional-labels proves important, as comparing OWS across the entire spectrum of possible heights and athleticism would be meaningless; obviously both tall and short players are successful; clearly little guys are faster than big men, but both succeed.

After sorting into those various categories, I correlated each of the eight measurements with the players’ OWS’s.  Each player had a maximum of five OWS values: 1st season, 2nd season, 3rd season, 4th season, and peak.   Near-zero correlation meant no discernible relationship between the measurement and NBA offensive performance.  Highly positive correlations reflect that players strong in that particular measurement were likely to be successful offensive players.  Negative correlations can largely be regarded as near-zero; I won’t advance any theories that a certain group of players is better off being smaller or less athletic.  (As a final note, speed and agility correlations were made negative; i.e. smaller sprint times resulting in larger OWS are reflected as positive correlation.)

With that as the basics of the study; the pre-draft measurements provide a fairly minimal array of predictive uses for offensive production.  For five positions, two age groups per position, five seasonal OWS values, and eight measurements; there were four-hundred correlations.  The graph below reflects their distribution.

As you can see, this is approximately a bell-curve centered near zero.  Of the 400; only 228 (57%) are positive correlations, only sixty-five (16.3%) exceed 0.25, and only two exceeded 0.50.  As a frame-of-reference, here are graphs reflecting 0.25 and 0.50 correlations:

The 0.25 correlation graph is fairly useless.  In the specific case of this graph, Danny Granger was both tallest and overwhelmingly most offensively successful.   This alone drove the positive correlation.  The next four-tallest players were all offensively worthless.

The 0.5 correlation starts to resemble something meaningful.  Four of the five highest-leapers managed successful seasons, and the fifth was Greg Oden.  With one exception, the low-fliers all struggled.

Part of the draw towards the low correlations is second-round picks adding noise to the data, as every NBA flame-out was awarded zero win-shares for each season.  Looking only at first-round picks, with their guaranteed contracts, provides the distribution below.  There are only 320 correlations here, due to sample-size issues.  For both guard positions, there were relatively few upperclassmen first round picks, so I left everyone in one age-group.

194 (60.6%) were positive, with sixty-six (20.6%) exceeding 0.25. Most encouragingly, a tantalizing eighteen rose above 0.50.

Well, hopefully I have capably communicated the basics.  The only conclusion I hope you drew today is that the pre-draft size and athleticism measurements offer little predictive information relating to NBA offensive performance.  Over the course of the season, I plan on providing insights into:

  • What are those high-correlation measurements?  How useful are they?
  • What about defense?  A reasonable hypothesis would say that size & athleticism are more critical there.
  • Which measurements rarely or never provide strong correlation with offensive or defensive performance and hence, are reasonable to ignore?
  • Are there athletic traits that NBA teams are over or under-valuing?  Certainly some negative correlations are due to GM’s overpersuing players based on certain athletic profiles that do not reliably prove successful.
  • Are there combinations of traits that prove highly reliable towards predicting success of a drafted player?  What about failure?
  • Did the hand-check rules initiated in 2004 – 2005 make speed & athleticism more important?

I hope this turns out to be an interesting and provocative series.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Was Jennings’s Shot Good?

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Byron Scott certainly doesn’t think that Brandon Jennings’ buzzer-beater should have been counted: “Looking at it again in the locker room, the shot shouldn’t have counted.” The issue is not really about whether or not the shot left his hands before the game was over, but rather if the clock started late on the inbound pass. Looking at the play, it does seem unlikely that .7 seconds was enough time for the play to take place. Especially when you look at Jennings’ release, a peculiar sort of slingshot motion. Of course, the Cavs are now 1-2, and no amount of commiseration or complaining will change that, but this kind of stuff is a crucial part of Cleveland fanhood. Here’s the link.

Recap: Cleveland 102, Milwaukee 105 (or, please make some lineup changes)

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first.  UNLESS THE GOAL IS TO LOSE, LUKE WALTON NEEDS TO BE WEARING A SUIT DURING GAMES.  WE ARE NOT SURE WHAT YOU ARE THINKING, BYRON SCOTT.

This guy is really good (and apparently bowled a few frames last night). The player's backing him up...not so good.

Walton played seven minutes last night, a timeframe during which Milwaukee outscored Cleveland by sixteen points, part of a stretch where a 22 to 10 lead became a 28 to 41 deficit.  Walton’s PER is NEGATIVE 9.9.  His Offensive Rating is 28.  During his twenty-three minutes this year, the Cavs have been outscored by thirty-eight.  I know the amazing bench disparities of the first three games are not all Luke Walton’s fault, but his name needs to officially become “Luke Walton’s Expiring Contract”, and we do not need to see him on the court.  Play Leuer or Play Samardo.

Really, Byron, fix the rotations in general.  The Sloan / Gibson backcourt is not going to work.  Playing five bench players as a unit (especially including Walton) obviously leaves the Cavs at a major disadvantage.  Generally speaking; keep two of Kyrie, Andy, Dion and TT on the court.  The 31 to 6 run was amazingly frustrating for me to watch, and I am sure it was for Coach Scott, too.  He has the ability to do something about it.  Please make changes immediately.

Aside from the horrendous seven minutes fueled by the Sloan – Gibson – Miles – Walton – Zeller quintet, the Cavs were the better team last night.  They were a Brandon Jennings buzzer-beater away from overtime.  This seems encouraging, as on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, against a possible playoff team; last night was the type of game I could foresee the Cavs being dominated.  They were not though.  After falling behind, they clawed back to take the lead early in the third.  The teams traded buckets the rest of the way, until Milwaukee stretched to a seven-point lead with under two-minutes remaining, as Cleveland showed a shocking inability to contain Mike Dunleavy or Larry Sanders.  If last night serves as any indication; those two may receive All-Star invites, with their 46 points befuddling Cleveland on only 21 field goal attempts. At the end though of course, Mr. Clutch, Kyrie Irving scored seven points in the last minute-and-a-half to force a tie.  A desperation Milwaukee buzzer beater sealed Cleveland’s losing fate, and the Bucks walked away 105 to 102 victors.  The battle of the bench was won by Milwaukee 62 to 15.

I don't like Brandon Jennings or Mike Dunleavy anymore.

A few notes:

Offensively, Kyrie proved great again.  He scored 27 on 63% true shooting, nailing jumpers off pull-ups and out-of-spins, and attacking the paint.  The  way he puts spin on the ball to convert layups off the glass is amazing; Derrick Rose-esque.  His seven assists generally set Cavs bigs up for easy finishes.  The Kyrie-to-Andy screen-and-roll is a thing of beauty that needs to stay in intact.  Occasionally sloppy however, one of Kyrie’s four turnovers came with a minute to go, marring the otherwise excellent comeback.  Finally, Kyrie obviously worked on his left hand during the summer, but on at least one occassion last night, he shot lefty even when unnecessary.  Kyrie, we know you are good; there is no need to add degree-of-difficulty.

Somewhere between Lebron leaving, the hurt wrist last year, and tank-a-palooza 2012; the phenomenon of Anderson Varejao “taking a leap” has been overlooked.  He tallied 20 points and 17 rebounds last night.  During a twelve point third quarter; he drilled three jumpers and flashed his high-post drive into a righty hook.  Last year’s averages of eleven points & eleven rebounds are surely in play this season.  Borderline all-star discussion could be reasonable.  Sometime in the last two seasons, Andy hit his ‘peak’, and it is a joy to watch.  I do think he is over-helping on defense, frequently allowing his man scoring opportunities.  The Nazr Mohammed drive-from-the-three-point-line on Friday night was one example; last night’s Larry Sanders explosion another.

It was not a great game for Waiters.  He nearly air-balled a three.  A possession later, he lost the ball in traffic, then complained about a perceived foul, while his guy, Monta Ellis, sprinted down court for an un-obstructed lay-up.  He missed a box-out, allowing an easy Dunleavy finish, and seven of his twelve field goals were of the inefficient ‘long-two-point’ variety.  But I ain’t mad at ya, Dion.  He’s engaged on defense, and has displayed both an ability to get to the basket and be a shot-maker.  From a twenty year old who is three games into an NBA career, I am content with his output.

C.J. Miles has been bad.  Almost impossibly bad.  Like he can’t get worse.  Averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 turnovers per 17 minutes is not what Cleveland signed up for.  Last night, he shot 0 for 6 and lost the ball three times.  He’s not a good three point shooter, but is hoisting them at career-high frequency, including 3 more last night.  His drives are out of control and a complete mess.  He has not shot a free throw in three games.  After Omri Casspi’s horrendous start to last season, now CJ this year…did Lebron leave a curse that forever befalls Cleveland small forward acquisitions?  I hope not.  Miles has a seven-year track record as a tolerable NBA player; this has to get better.

Speaking of Omri Casspi…where is he?

Alonzo Gee played really well last night, finishing with 18 points and 6 assists.  He repeatedly put the ball on the floor with solid results, including a lefty baseline drive for a layup, and later, a ferocious posterizing of Larry Sanders.  He canned two shots from long range, and nabbed a couple of steals.  Even when it’s working really well; I still get nervous every time AG handles the rock.  Something deep in my brain tells me, “this should not be part of the offense.  He should be shooting open threes and finishing fast breaks”.  Anyways, all the dribbling worked for him last night.  His defense was occasionally suspect however, as he wandered away from Dunleavy, in part allowing the aforementioned offensive explosion from the Bucks’ small-forward-sub.

Donald Sloan scored eight, making two from deep, including once while getting fouled on the last possession of the third quarter.  His other make was a twenty-foot shot-clock-buzzer beating jumper.  This is all fine and well, but offensive-success-via-Sloan-jumpers seems nonreproducible.   As a career 31% long-range shooter in the D-League and only 17% in NBA games; his early season 60% shooting is probably unsustainable.  Even with those three made threes in five attempts, his PER is single digits.  In my obligatory need to reference this; let Dion get the reps as second-string primary ball-handler.  He needs the experience for later, plus the team is probably better now.  Or keep playing the most overmatched lineups in the entire NBA.  The choice is yours, Coach Scott.

Recap: Cleveland 86, Chicago 115 (or Luke Walton is not an NBA power forward)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

You can’t really blame the Cavs.  The Wizards were so bad on Tuesday that I’m sure the game just felt like another preseason game.  So the carryover from that game to this had to lull the Wine and Gold into a false sense of security.  Hey, Byron Scott even coached like it was preseason, once again playing Luke Walton at power forward for a particularly brutal 4 minutes that left Luke’s plus/minus at -11 for the game.  But hey, it’s preseason.  You can get away with playing a 32 year old 6’8″ guy who missed the better part of the last three seasons with injuries and was considered “unathletic” in his prime against a 26 year old stud who just got a $32 million dollar contract.  I don’t normally believe in the validity of the plus minus statistic, but words cannot describe how laughable it was to see the Taj Gibson / Luke Walton Matchup.  Let me just distill the experience for you:

Time Bulls Play Score Cavs Play
02:02:00 AM
28-16 Luke Walton enters the game for Anderson Varejao
02:01:00 AM Taj Gibson defensive rebound 28-16
01:44:00 AM Bulls defensive team rebound 28-16
00:34:00 AM Taj Gibson defensive rebound 30-16
00:01:00 AM Taj Gibson defensive rebound 30-16
12:00:00 AM Kirk Hinrich makes layup (Taj Gibson assists ) 32-16
11:21:00 AM 32-16 Luke Walton misses 19-foot jumper
11:02:00 AM 32-16 Luke Walton personal foul (Taj Gibson draws the foul )
10:45:00 AM Taj Gibson makes 1-foot two point shot (Nate Robinson assists ) 34-16
10:33:00 AM 34-16 Daniel Gibson shooting foul (Taj Gibson draws the foul )
10:33:00 AM Taj Gibson makes free throw 1 of 2 35-16
10:18:00 AM Taj Gibson makes free throw 2 of 2 36-16
09:45:00 AM 39-16 Luke Walton misses 25-foot three point jumper
09:37:00 AM 39-16 Luke Walton shooting foul (Taj Gibson draws the foul )
09:37:00 AM Taj Gibson misses free throw 1 of 2 39-16
09:37:00 AM Bulls offensive team rebound 39-16
39-16 Tristan Thompson enters the game for Luke Walton
09:37:00 AM Taj Gibson misses free throw 2 of 2 39-16

So, a 4:23 stretch leads to an 11-0 run. Taj Gibson draws 2 fouls, gets 4 rebounds, 5 points and a dime, and a 12 point deficit extends into an unwinnable game.  And let’s be honest.  Taj could’ve had 6 more points.  When the Cavs first put Walton in, I think the Bulls didn’t pass to him because they didn’t want Scott to pull Walton too soon.  When I say that the Cavs sometimes play and are coached like they’re trying to lose, this is what I mean.  In keeping with Hanlon’s Razor, this is either a ploy to lose games or incompetent coaching.

Anyway… I’m glad the Cavs got their behinds handed to them.  The ridiculous bench rotations, the sloppy starter play, and the general cluelessness needed to stop.  Kyrie played passably on offense, and shot well.   But he and Gee’s 7 combined turnovers were brutal for the first unit.  Boobie Gibson (not) running of the offense for the second unit wasn’t much better.   Gee did crossover to the left for possibly the first time in his pro career, and drew two freethrows on an attempted left hand finish, which was nice to see.  Varajao was his usual brilliant self on the pick and roll, and had several whirling finishes, but also some completely ill advised jump shots.  Thompson was competent and played the least bad on defense of everyone on the team, but given the lack of depth at PF, he’s going to have to play more than 24 minutes a night.  Everyone looked frustrated with the lack of execution, and broke out of the offense to the delight of the Bulls.

Austin Carr has improved as an announcer, and he had a very good point about the Bulls being more balanced without Rose than they were with him, and they certainly were tonight.  They looked like a machine on offense and defense, though the Cavs looked like Tuesday night’s Washington Generals.  Richard Hamilton played like it was 2006, and had a 7-7 3rd quarter all scored off of the baseline and elbow screens away from the ball.  The good guys had zero answer.  The guards for the Cavs looked generally helpless on defense.  Hamilton, Heinrich, and Nate Robinson (the non-garbage time guards) had a combined 44 points, 9 rebounds, and 20 assists on 18-25 shooting, with only 5 turnovers.  Wow.

So garbage time started about 4 minutes into the 4th, and there were some silver linings.  Unlike Luke Walton, Smardo Samuels looked like someone who could actually play power forward in the NBA, and actually wanted to rebound and box out, as did Jon Leuer.  Zeller needs to go on Mass Gainer 3000, but he looked adept at finishing quickly around the basket with both hands.  Casspi got some deserved run, looked like the guy who was the Cavs’ best preseason player, and hopefully gets more run.  Donald Sloan actually settled down and looked competent running an offense, dishing 5 dimes, though at that point the Bulls Psycho-D had been toned down.

Speaking of the Bulls, Thibodeau is awesome.  He had two plays that exemplified The Bulls’ attitude.  First Alonzo Gee makes a steal and and layup at 5:28 to go in the 2nd to cut the lead to 44-24, and Thibs calls a timeout immediately, in essence saying, “there will be no run.”  Second, 10:45 left in the 3rd, and the Bulls are up 63-37.  Deng goes way under a pick and roll and allows Waiters to hit a 19 footer, cutting the lead to 24.  A pissed off Thibodeau calls time out and lays into Deng, and if my lipreading is good says, “What the hell were you doing on that play?”  Let’s just say that the Cavs might be currently lacking that sort of attention to detail.

As for Waiters, the loss was not his fault (though his lessons on how to fight through baseline screens are hopefully well heeded), and he looked like he could get to the basket even against the Bulls, especially on a sweet reverse that schooled three Chicagoans in garbage time.  And even C.J. Miles started to find his stroke toward the end.

Ultimately though, the Bulls are a team assembled and coached in a manner designed to win basketball games.  The Cavs?  Not so much.

Thoughts on James Harden: Part I: The Collective (the part that doesn’t really talk about James Harden)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

CavsTheBlog is a collective: a hive mind of disparate thinkers: literary scholars, technicians, high school students, college dropouts, fanboys, video gamers, drinkers, tea-totallers, wizards, trolls, engineers, saints, sinners, idiots, and savants coalescing into a chorus of the blog: readers, writers, editors, commenters — oh,  the glory of the feedback loop.

Ruminating in the guts of the collective is the current crisis of our favorite intellectual opiate: are we (the collective royal we) winners or losers?  Will we be winners or losers?  The first game back from our basketball exodus revealed beautiful highlights and ugly flaws.  The players we call the core, Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, and Tristan Thompson all played well.  The players on the periphery of that core: Daniel Gibson, Alonzo Gee, and Darius Miles played with varying degrees of success, and the rest of the team played poorly or did not even play at all, forcing us to question whether those players are fixtures or placeholders for future athlete entertainers.  This forces the crisis: should the Cavs do everything now to win in the immediate future, or should they do just enough to develop the “core” and sacrifice winning now to exchange those place holders for better fixtures?

The “we” here is reflexive, as we at once identify with the team, the sport, the brand, the city and speak with assumed authority on it, yet have no direct influence on the players on the court, the plays they run, the employ of their coaches, the direction of them and their future teammates, and whether or not the ball goes or doesn’t go in the basket as often as we’d like.  All “we” can influence is our voices.  We can only make our chorus part of the larger chorus of general fandom, and hope the truth or farce of our words filters somehow back to the power brokers of the team: the owners, the managers, the coaches, and the players.  Oh, the glory of the feedback loop.

Many of the collective want the Cavaliers to win now: to go for a playoff spot: to establish a “culture of winning.”  But what many fear is the curse of mediocrity.  In the NBA, the popular notion is that a team now needs three “stars” to win a championship.  If a team is just good enough to make or miss the playoffs, they’ll lose early, and then never get the players they need to improve.  Trapped in this cycle over the last several years seemed to be the Golden State Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, the pre-destruction Charlotte Hornets, the Magic, the Hornets, The Bucks, Nuggets, Rockets, and Cavaliers.  Conversely, some teams live at the bottom, consistently make bad decisions, and fester with incompetence.  The Sacramento Kings: a team of lunatics would be an example.  This is a crisis of two different fears: the fear of never being good enough to win more than honorary mention and the fear of developing “a culture of never really trying.”

On a recent podcast with Bill Simmons, Brian Scalabrine, NBA journeyman talked about “culture changers.”  The White Mamba noted that Jason Kidd , Kevin Garnett, and Tom Thibodeau were culture changers: players and coaches whose presence and influence changed every aspect of the culture of their organization from the weight rooms, to the locker room, to shootarounds, to games.  Kidd, whom Scalabrine playedwith  on New Jersey’s finals teams in the early 2000s, changed the culture of the Nets with his knowledge of the game and how to do the little things to make himself and the team better.  KG changed it with his unabashed intensity and desire to win and cement a legacy.  Tom Thibodeau changed the culture with his work ethic, and his preparation.  It led me to the question: do the Cavs have a culture changer?  Do they need a culture changer?

Sometimes a culture changer is talent.  Sometimes a player is so talented that he changes the expectations and vision of everyone involved with the team.  LeBron James was such a player.  Kyrie Irving could be that kind of player.  But for every LeBron James, there’s a Keith Van Horn.  Keith Van Horn was perceived as so talented that he’d change the culture in New Jersey, but he wasn’t nearly that gifted… or driven.  But maybe he changed the expectations:  and the subtle culture change led to eventually trading for Jason Kidd and Chris Carter, which led them to the finals (coached by the current Cavs Coach).   So what does a “culture changer” even mean?  A team is a hive mind too:  a collection of individuals working together towards a higher goal.  Maybe the culture of winning revolves around an organization who individually all want to win: every game, every practice, every rebound.  Working every day to do every little thing it takes to win like that is a learned process and an emulated process.  If the leaders and the most talented people in the organization don’t believe in that, then the individual players, trainers, coaches and ball boys cannot emulate it, because they don’t see it.  Do we have the players, coaches, and managers on this team to create this culture?  Can we conjure it when we reach the tipping point of contention?  Will it require an outside force?  Will a new coach or player be the catalyst?

This is our problem with the Cavs: they’re not designed to win.  They’re designed to win… eventually.  “Greatness” in sport is a term reserved for players who win, and in order to win, one must play like there is no tomorrow.  Jack Youngblood played in playoffs with a broken leg.  Ronnie Lott cut his finger off.  Michael Jordan played with the flu.  Emmitt Smith played with a separated shoulderVincent Freeman saved nothing for the swim back to shore.  And for every success, there are forgotten failures, like Brandon Roy, who may have ruined his career by playing in the playoffs on a just repaired knee.  The Cavs aren’t at these win or die trying straits yet.  That is what so frustrates elements of the CtB collective.  We know that this will must be cultivated.  It cannot be called upon at a moments’ notice.

When you consider Baron Davis’s amnestied contract, the Cavaliers have the lowest payroll in the league.   They are only paying $46 million* in active player salaries: approximately tying them with Houston.  When looking around the league it is a little bit maddening to look at the players who were affordably available, or could be traded for, one realizes that hey, we could have signed Aaron Brooks, re-signed Ramon Sessions, or traded for Devin Harris.  Leandro Barbosa was available on the cheap.  We did not have to be playing Donald Sloan and Luke Walton together for extended minutes.  Let us realize that the Cavs are not trying to win.  They’re not trying to lose, mind you, but the Cavs are walking the fine line between fan expectations for improvement and the NBA draft lottery: a system that rewards on-court incompetence.  Take, for instance, the Luis Scola amnesty claim.  We bid less than $4.5 million for a player who averages 14 and 7 and shot 50% from the field at power forward – someone who at the  least would have been a very competent bench player.  Because of fan expectations for improvement, the Cavs couldn’t not bid, so they put in a bid they knew would probably lose.  It can seem like they’re not really trying.

A lack of effort seems especially apparent when we watch Luke Walton point power forward for 12 minutes and garner 1 rebound and no assists.   There must be method to the madness.  Scott must be a master, not a hack.  Right?  He knew he had time to try something, and there were no dire consequences if it didn’t work out.  Against the NBA’s worst team, he knew he could try to teach the team to play through adversity.  And when that failed, he knew he could teach the starters a lesson in rescuing a game from the bench.  One thing I like about Scott is that he never looks like he’s panicking.  He always looks like he knows what is going on and that he has a plan.  Sometimes I watch the product on the court, and I don’t believe it, but his stoic resignation assures me.  So when watching games, I ask the congregation to treat the games like the construction of a cathedral or a great painting.  Because that’s what we’re going for here.  It’s going to take years.  There are going to be setbacks.  We’re going to question our sanity.  But many great arts and endeavors live on the edge of faith, confidence, and sanity.  Trust the process.  Say your prayers to Saint Weirdo.

I am trying to keep the faith in the painter.   Anything that is a collection of lesser things is going to look like crap at more than one point before it’s done.  Aesthetically, it can be breathtaking to watch the drama inherent in greatness.  It can be the height of frustration watching the drama inherent in creating greatness.

I'm sure this thing looked like crap before Seurat was finished.

Another thing I ask, is that when I talk of what I believe the Cavs’ goals are, the collective doesn’t assign my perception of those goals and how the organization is operating to what they perceive are my goals and my preferred methods of operation.  (We’re getting very meta here).   For the one thing that most exacerbates our crisis, is that the Cavaliers seem to have no clearly articulated goals.  No talk is forthcoming from the organization of a desire to “make the playoffs.”  We must read Chris Grant like a text.  In the age of new media, we’re supposed to interpret the text through the silence of the waiver wire, the persistence of the D-League backups, the tantalizing trade teasers.  The goal is implied: player and roster improvement: we will get better, but not until it is conducive to putting the Cavaliers in position to contend for a championship.  We do not aspire to be lovable losers: entertainingly mediocre.  We’ve been gouged before.  Until that undetermined time, enjoy player development, frustrating bench play, and entertaining losses. The worry for collective: is the text we’re reading a thesis in strategy or an organizational farce?  Will the Cavs have their Daryl Morey/James Harden moment, or will we be like the Browns: in year 13 of the 5 year plan?  Are we reading Machiavelli’s The Prince or Heller’s Catch 22?

*Corrections: The article originally listed the Cavs’ active salary number at $40 million.  Thanks to CtB commenter, JAG for the correction.