Tag Archives: Kyrie Irving

NBA Finals Preview: The Cleveland Underdogs

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Vince Lombardi

I generally don’t consider myself a brilliant writer or anything. I enjoy writing and a couple people have told me that I’m not terrible at it, so that helps. But every once in a while I stumble upon something that even I think is kind of smart.

That is how I feel about the post I wrote ahead of the Eastern Conference Finals. The point of the piece was that this Cavaliers team, beat up and broken and with some unexpected pieces playing major roles, is the exact team that both Cleveland as a city and LeBron James as a player deserve.

The common narrative going into the Hawks series (which continued even during and after) was the idea that it was a matchup of the “team” (the Hawks) against the “individual” (LeBron). And while LeBron was clearly the best player in that series dismantling (averaging nearly a triple double) what bore out through those four games is that this Cavaliers squad is more than just one player. They really are a team. It takes a team to pick up the slack when you are without two All-Star players. It takes a team to play stifling defense and shut down the “machine” that the Atlanta offense was up until they ran into the Cavs. It takes a team to be tougher both mentally and physically than your opponent. It takes a team to sweep a conference finals series.

Cleveland, as a city, is never the favorite for anything. Put aside for a moment that we haven’t won a major sports championship in 51 years. Cleveland from an economic, cultural, political, and societal standpoint is an underdog. About the only thing we’re really good at is being cheaper than other cities for The Avengers to set up shop, destroy, and pretend that they’re saving New York City.

It’s only fitting then that going into the Finals, against a very formidable foe in Golden State, the Cavs actually are the underdogs. As if any team heading into the championship of their given sport—let alone a LeBron-lead one—needs an added incentive to play great, it never hurts to be the betting underdog in Vegas. The Warriors are greater than 2/1 odds to win the championship…which is just fine. Because these Cavaliers were born to be underdogs.

The underdog role suits Cleveland and suits those who call it home. It’s an interesting paradox that the most famous person who calls Northeast Ohio “home” is the one person who is the opposite of an underdog. From the time people began to learn the name LeBron James he was expected to be great. And more than probably any other person with lofty expectations placed on them from an early age, LeBron has met and exceeded them all. And yet, LeBron loves to play the underdog role, and it’s a large part of what makes him great. (That and the fact that God made him 6’8”, 250 pounds with absurd speed, strength, and quickness.)

LeBron’s humble beginnings in the projects of Akron with a single mother struggling to makes ends meet is well documented. The hard work and determination and need to rely on others for help is what LeBron has credited driving his great success. He’s the athlete that you would create in a lab, made to physically dominate all on-comers, and yet he understands what Lombardi was talking about in that quote I used as the intro to this post: it takes a team to win. LeBron didn’t have a team around him when all was said and done a year ago in the Finals as his Heat teammates crumbled under the pressure of the what was the epitome of a team in the 2014 Spurs. LeBron recognized it early on with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (RIP) and pushed the individuals on the team to work as one unit. LeBron has done for and with Iman Shumpert and JR Smith was Carmelo Anthony never could—he’s made them part of something bigger than their individual talents. This Cavaliers team has played this postseason with the tenacity and teamwork of an underdog. And the fact is, the individuals who make up the team are underdogs in their own way.

We’ve already covered how LeBron is (and also is not) an underdog. Kyrie is probably the least uderdoggy player on the team outside of LeBron because of his immense skill and everything he’s already accomplished in his young career. But put up against Steph Curry? That’s a different story. Especially given his injuries struggles Kyrie will have a really hard time matching up with Curry defensively, let alone trying to match is scoring production on the other end.

Tristan Thompson, for starters, is from Canada (and no pun was intended equating “Starters” and “Canada” I swear—Pew! Pew!) and no offense to the great white north but it hasn’t exactly been hoops hotbed for very long. Add that to the fact that he’s not super skilled, relies heavily on his energy and hard work, and only recently discovered he’d been shooting with the wrong hand his whole life, and Tristan is the prototypical underdog on the team…if it weren’t for a certain Aussie.

Matthew Dellavedova is from another country (also a place not known for pumping out ballers), went to St. Mary’s, went undrafted, and has only barely held onto a roster spot on this team if you believe Twitter during the regular season. Like Tristan, Delly also has to bust his butt for everything he gets. Only that character quality has been sullied by people who aren’t willing to work as hard and want to call what he does “dirty” which remains the stupidest thing I’ve heard these entire playoffs and I’ve had to listen to a lot of Reggie Miller, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson so that’s saying something.

Shumpert and JR were midseason cast-offs from one of the worst teams in the NBA. The Knicks considered them sunk costs and only got back cuttable contracts and a second round draft pick in return—so basically nothing. Shump and JR were considered essentially worthless to the largest market team in the NBA, but have proved to be invaluable to one of the smallest. The two shooting guards have done nothing but thrive since they’ve come to Cleveland and have been (and will continue to be) huge parts of the Cavs’ success this postseason.

Timofey Mozgov is still best known for having his last name turned into an action verb by Blake Griffin. And despite recently being buried on the center depth chart in Denver behind JaVale McGee of all people, Mozgov has looked like the missing piece to the Cavs defense. He’s the anchor. The rock. And with Tristan he makes up part of a terrifying duo on the boards. Don’t sleep on him in those pick and rolls either.

And then, just like everyone expected when they signed him for the minimum this past summer, there’s James Jones. I, like many other NBA fans I expect, was a little surprised to learn after the close of the sweep of the Hawks that Jones, along with LeBron of course, was also headed to his fifth straight NBA Finals. Given that he never saw the court the past several seasons in Miami I had no idea he was still on those teams. You could have told me he’d been cut two years ago off that team I never would have known the difference. He couldn’t get on the court for those teams and even with this Cavs team they clearly signed Shawn Marion and Mike Miller to play bigger roles. And yet, there’s James Jones, still firmly in the Cavs rotation this late in the Playoffs and still knocking down shots. Jones won’t play a huge role in these Finals I don’t think, as he’ll probably only get single digits in minutes per game. But to call the fact that Jones has ANY role in these Finals “unexpected” coming into the season would be an understatement.

No discussion of underdogs or people who were not expected to be here would be incomplete without including the Cavs coach, David Blatt. Never mind that he’d only ever coached overseas before this season and that he had to deal with a constantly developing roster throughout the season…if you believed the national and local media this guy was supposed to have gotten canned back on New Year’s. Only that never happened. And all Blatt has done since is lead this team to play extremely well since mid-January all the way into the NBA Finals. On his way to the Finals Blatt’s team has swept Brad Stevens (who finished 4th in Coach of the Year voting this season), dismantled Tom Thibodeau (finish 7th this season and won COY in 2011), and also swept this season’s COY Mike Budenholzer. All those great coaches combined to only with two games over Blatt’s team. He know has a shot at Steve Kerr who finished a close second.

Throughout this postseason Blatt has made the right decisions with the rotation and matchups. He held out Kyrie when he was ailing, knowing that the team would be fine without him. He put the ball in the hands of his best player and surrounded him with shooters. He’s opted for defense at almost every turn, knowing that is the true key to success in the playoffs. Every series he has out-coached guys that finished ahead of him in the Coach of the Year voting. Go ahead and keep discounting his coaching ability though. Something tells me that Blatt enjoys being the underdog as well.

  
These moments don’t come around all the time, as we well know. It’s been eight years since that magical 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit when LeBron led the underdog Cavs to beat the Pistons almost entirely by himself (with the help of some Boobie Gibson threes). That team wasn’t supposed to make the Finals. The 2009 and 2010 Cavs, however, were…and didn’t. Nothing is given, as LeBron reminded us this summer. You work for everything you have.

So I’m going to enjoy this moment. Cleveland is in the spotlight. It’s a great time to be someone who calls Ohio “home” (even while currently living 500 miles away).

Cleveland has always been an underdog city. Why should that change for these Finals? Own it. Embrace it. Cleveland pride.

Bring it home, boys.

Cavs in six.

Believeland.

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Cavaliers Victory Over Thunder could be the Turning Point in the Season

There are moments where seasons turn for better or worse. Sometimes it’s difficult to spot them in the moment and sometimes it isn’t. There are times where a team comes through and wins a game and you just get that sense where that specific victory means way more than one single game in an entire season.

For the 2013 Cleveland Indians that game was September 24th against the White Sox. Chris Perez blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth by giving up two home runs to put the Tribe down by one going into the bottom of the inning. Late in the season with the club embroiled in a fierce fight for the Wild Card this just felt like a defeating blow. Every game was crucial at this point.

Then, with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Michael Brantley on second representing the tying run, old man Jason Giambi turned on a 1-1 pitch from Addison Reed and sent the game-winning and season-saving homer into the night.

Now maybe that one game didn’t “turn” the season for the Tribe necessarily. It was late in the year and they’d already had a slew of dramatic walk-off wins throughout the season. But given the stakes and what they were up against, that single win is without a doubt the most memorable game of the season for any Tribe fan. It saved a chance at the playoffs and ultimately powered the club through the rest of their ten-game win streak to end the season and got them to the post season.

Wednesday night’s win in Oklahoma City for the Cavaliers is one of those games that really just felt like it meant more than just one game in 82. Ultimately we might look back on the season and see the firing of general manager Chris Grant as the turning point. After all the Cavs went on a six-game winning streak following the instillation of David Griffin.

But after three straight losses against Eastern Conference playoff teams it seemed like what slim chance the Cavs had of sneaking into the playoffs was slipping away. The team was getting almost no production from the bench with the injuries to Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, and CJ Miles. They were working hard and battling every minute in those games (unlike the first half of the season) but it just didn’t seem like they had enough.

After losing Tuesday night in frustrating fashion because of some really crappy questionable officiating the team plane arrived in Oklahoma City at 2:00 AM Wednesday morning to play the best team in the Western Conference later that evening. Now mind you, entering the game the Cavs had only won eight road games on the season. The Thunder, on the other hand, had only lost eight games at home this season. This was not a game that anyone expected the Cavs to win.

Except that the Cavaliers DID win.

In a hard fought game that saw Cleveland go down by 12 early in the third quarter before battling back to bring it close, the Cavs played phenomenal basketball in the fourth quarter to the tune of 42 points to win the game 114-104. Maybe it didn’t have a dramatic finish like the Giambi game for the Tribe. But it was a game where the season appeared to slipping away for good and there wasn’t much chance to right the ship again only for it to turn right again.

It’s worth noting that this was the third straight home loss for the Thunder, their first three-game home losing streak in five years…since back when they were bad, basically. However, it’s not like those previous two losses where against fluff competition: Heat and Clippers. So OKC isn’t really in the midst of a tailspin per se and they had been off since Sunday while the Cavs had played the previous night. So again, there was no reason why the Cavs should have won that game.

But they DID win. And they did so by not giving up when they got down early in the second half…like they’ve done so many times in the past. They won by playing team basketball, moving and passing to get the best shot. They won because everyone contributed—including the bench. And maybe most importantly they won because Kyrie Irving played like he was the best player on the court…which is saying something considering Kevin Durant was playing for the other side.

And maybe more than anything else they won because they knew that they needed to win that game. With their backs against the wall they pushed back and refused to just roll over and be defeated.

With all that said, this wasn’t just some gritty or plucky win. They played really good basketball and BEAT the Thunder. They actually have been playing much better recently, in spite of the three-game slide they just snapped. Even with the injuries to what is probably three of their six or seven best players they are playing much better post-Grant firing. The addition of Spencer Hawes has a lot to do with that.

He’s been a really nice complement with both Kyrie and Tristan Thompson (like I wrote about here and we talked about on our podcast here). It’s a very small sample-size of only four games obviously but Hawes is having an undeniably positive effect on both ends of the court. Let me hit you with a couple stat facts…

  • The duo of Hawes and Thompson has the highest +/- of any two Cavs players for the whole season at +4.0.
  • Hawes is a member of four of the top five duos of Cavs teammates (Jack, +3.0; Deng, +2.5; Irving, +2.3).
  • The current starting lineup of Irving, Jack, Deng, Thompson, and Hawes is +4.5—far and away the best five-man unit that’s played more than ten minutes together.

If/when Varejao comes back I actually hope that Mike Brown keeps Hawes in the starting lineup because that unit is working so well together. And it’s worth noting how well the Cavs have been with Hawes on the court considering they’ve lost three of the four games since he joined the team.

Also, Varejao statistically works really well with the bench guys like Waiters, Miles, and Dellavedova. In fact, the Cavs top three-man unit is Delly/Waiters/Miles at +6.5 and the second is Delly/Waiters/Varejao at +4.8. And while we’re on the topic of three-man units, Hawes is present in each of Nos. 4-8 on that list. Third best, though with not a lot of floor time together, is Miles/Varejao/Zeller, which only furthers the notion that Vareajo belongs with the bench crew—and Zeller should probably nudge Anthony Bennett out for the fourth big man in the rotation.

The rest of the Cavaliers schedule this season is still really tough. They have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the East. They won’t be able to keep up their current level of play if Varejao, Waiters, and Miles don’t come back soon. The starters have played really heavy minutes the past two games and it won’t be long before they break down unless they start getting some help from the bench.

And even if those three guys come back it’s still a long shot for the Cavs to make the playoffs. But they are trending in the right direction. They’ve won 7 of 10—the only non-playoff team in the East with a winning record in the past ten games—and the current 8th seeded Hawks are in a tailspin having lost 10 of 11. The Cavs sit four games back of the Hawks and five back in the loss column with the Pistons in between a half game better. Cleveland only has 23 games left to play so it’s still not very likely that they get there. According to Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds on ESPN.com the Cavs only have a 7.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. According to Sports Club Stats they need to finish out the season 14-9 to have a greater than 50% chance of making the playoffs (62.2%).

If the Cavs do pull off the improbable and edge into that final playoff spot, I guarantee we’ll all look back on Wednesday night, February 26th as being the game that changed the season. Because beating the Thunder wasn’t just one win in an 82-game season. It was a win that wasn’t supposed to happen because this team wasn’t good enough. But on that night the Cavaliers showed their true potential.

I look forward to seeing if they carry it through the rest of the way.

GO CAVS!!!

The Cavaliers find a New Low Point: Mike Brown might need to be fired

If the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers hadn’t already reached the level of being embarrassing to their fans, they sure did yesterday. I sent out this tweet prior to the game…

Jordan Farmer, Steve Blake, Robert Sacre, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, and Kendall Marshall. Those eight players combined to beat down the Cavs on their home court and hand them their sixth loss in a row.

It was a bizarre and crazy game that saw Lakers players laying on the bench because of all the space for a lack of healthy players, a guy dropping a triple double with ruptured ear drum, and a fouled out player being allowed to stay in the game. Once you strip away all of that you realize that a team which said from the start that they would be in the playoffs is now a game back from the Boston Celtics who aren’t even trying to win basketball games.

I don’t even know where to start with this pathetic waste of a team. I’ve written multiple times this season that I like the talent that’s been amassed on the roster. It’s a team that should be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. But a combination of bad coaching, bad defense, and selfish, lazy players has served to completely submarine this season. I would love to sit here and say that they should just fire Mike Brown and that would solve all the problems. But I don’t believe that it would and I wouldn’t want to reward this lazy anarchist group of players for quitting on their coach. In the same vein I’d like to trade away half of these guys to send a message. But unfortunately that’s probably what they want. They appear to all hate each other and hate the coaching staff. Well good news, guys, the fans are starting to hate all of you too.

The fans of Cleveland deserve so much better than what this team is giving. After sitting through watching this team lose on purpose for the past three years, accepting that it was all just part of the plan, this was supposed to be when things changed. Yet this feels worse than that 2010-11 team that lost 26 games in a row. After all we’ve been through as a fanbase, this is what we get? I hate this team.

Kyrie Irving is the star player on the team and many in the national media seem to feel sorry for him that he’s stuck on this dysfunctional Cavs team. Well here’s a news flash…he’s just as much a part of the problem. He plays no defense and appears to have no heart and drive to win. A great player doesn’t sit around and let this kind of a losing streak happen. A great player doesn’t get benched for the entire fourth quarter and most of the second half against a team that is picking up point guards off the street. You’re the number one freaking pick in the draft!!! A two-time All-Star!!! But you’re getting diced up by Jordan Farmar who hadn’t played in a month and has started a TOTAL of 30 games in his NBA career. It’s completely and utterly inexcusable. Can’t wait to watch this kid “represent” Cleveland at the All-Star game in a couple weeks.

I kinda actually feel bad for Chris Grant a little. He’s taking quite a bit of heat for the current state of the team and word around the league is that he’ll be fired at the end of the season. His moves aren’t perfect but they’re all defensible to some extent as I’ve written before. The idea behind building this team was that you go out and collect talent then hope either those player coalesce into a great team or you flip those talented players for one or two great players down the road. It’s not a perfect model but it’s worked before in places like Oklahoma City, Houston, LA (Clippers), and Boston.[1] The problem for Grant and the Cavs is that the players he’s acquired seem to be totally deprived of anything resembling heart, leadership, or a desire to win. And furthering the problem, a superstar player hasn’t become available to trade for as they would have hoped. And that’s the crazy thing. As bad as this team is right now, if they were to trade something like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and some picks for another legitimate star player we’d be back to talking playoffs again. But no player like that is available right now. And so we’re stuck. And it’s not like other teams probably even want any of the players on this roster given what they’re watching this season.[2]

It’s been said of this team that “this is what happens when you spend three years tanking…players don’t know how to win!” That seems logical I guess on the surface but it’s not actually rooted in fact. Only Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee have been on the team for the previous three years of losing on purpose. Irving and Thompson are the only other players who have even been on the team for two years of losing. So that means that 11 of the 15 players on this team haven’t been with the franchise for multiple years of losing. Furthermore, guys like Varejao, Luol Deng, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, and CJ Miles have substantial playoff experience. So there are actually guys on the team who, by definition, “know how win.”

And beyond that, we’ve seen teams be “losers” for multiple seasons with young rosters and then be able to turn it around to become a winner again.

The Pacers held a losing record for four seasons before making the playoffs (even with a losing record) in 2010-11. They have progressed from losing in the first round, to losing in the semi’s, to losing in the conference finals, to this season where they hold the best record in the East.

The Warriors experienced Cavs-like levels of losing for four years with win totals of 29, 26, 36, and 23 from 2008-2012. Then they jumped up to 47 wins and a trip to the Western Conference Semifinals last season.

The Thunder, going back even to their Supersonics days, had their own four-year losing stretch in which they won only 35, 31, 20, and 23 games. After that stretch they won 50 in 2009-10 and you know where they’ve gone from there.

And then there’s the LA Clippers, losers for decades. From 2007-2011 they amasses win totals of 23, 19, 29, and 32. They followed that run of futility with what will likely be three straight trips to the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

So maybe what we’ve learned from all this isn’t necessarily that you can go from being a perennial loser to the playoffs so much as that maybe we just need that fourth year of losing. But the point remains, the theory that if you lose for a few years the guys won’t know how to win is simply false. Which leads us back to the Cavs…

And no matter how much I try to find fault elsewhere I keep coming back to Mike Brown. He’s supposed to be a strong leader and a defensive genius. Yet the team is mutinying against him, showing a lack of leadership. And despite spending considerable time in the preseason bragging about how he coached great defensive teams with liabilities like Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, this year’s team ranks 23rd in opponent points/game, 21st in opponent field goal percentage, and 27th in point differential. I bought into the idea of Mike Brown coming back because I believed in his ability to teach defense. It’s hard to say whether he’s failing with this team because he can’t figure it out or if the guys just aren’t trying. But Brown certainly doesn’t appear to be helping anything. Everyone looks worse under Brown this year than they have in the past. Kyrie has taken a step back from where he was last year. Dion hasn’t progressed much. Anthony Bennett was handled about as poorly as possible. Varejao isn’t producing as well as he did last year prior to his injury when he when he was putting up All-Star numbers. Deng hasn’t been particularly good either since coming over from Chicago, seeing a dip in both points and shooting percentage.[3]

Brown keeps talking about and making lineup and rotation changes, including benching most of the starters for the entire fourth quarter against the Lakers. But all this seems to be about as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Nothing Brown is doing is working and what’s more worrisome is that the team is getting worse, not better…and it’s happening fast. The Cavs have only 16 wins this season and only three of those have come against teams with winning records. Two of those were against the Nuggets who are only a game over .500. The Clippers were the other team. And they’ve had atrocious losses to bad teams like last night against the Lakers and the 44-point loss in Sacramento.

I don’t know what else can be done short of firing the head coach. I don’t know who you can trade to get anything even close to equal value. I don’t understand how firing the GM will really help. Above everything else it appears with this team that, despite what the players are saying, they have no desire to play for Mike Brown. And if that’s the case then he probably has to go. The season is a loss at this point. They can stop thinking about the playoffs. It’s not happening. I’d settle for them to just be watchable again.

Brown doesn’t appear to be working with this team. And if it’s not going to work then you might as well cut bait and move on. Because if this keeps up any longer Dan Gilbert is going to lose what little faithful Cavaliers fans he has left.


[1] People forget that before they won the title in 2008 the Celtics were a terrible basketball team in spite of having All-Star Paul Pierce still on the roster. They won 33 and 24 games in the two seasons prior to the title. After amassing all those losses and collecting assets they were able to flip all those miss-matching pieces for Kevin Garnet and Ray Allen.

[2] Turns out it’s actually hard to build a winning team in the NBA. Who knew?

[3] Deng isn’t a good three point shooter, only .331 for his career. Yet, for some reason he’s putting up 3.1 per game since coming to Cleveland. He shot only 62 in 23 games with the Bulls and he’s already shot 43 in 14 games with the Cavs. Here’s an idea…stop shooting so many three pointers.

The Beyond Disappointing Cleveland Cavaliers are Running out of Answers

I’ve been putting off writing this column for a while now because I keep waiting for things to turn around with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. But the longer I wait, the worse things get. And every time it feels like they’ve hit rock bottom they bust through that rock and find a new low. So here we are.

I had very high hopes for this team coming into the season. I talked myself into Mike Brown coming back to Cleveland because I thought he would instill a strong defensive mentality and make that the identity of the team. I rested my hat on the fact that despite how things ended for Coach Brown in LA, he’s never had a losing season and five of his six teams played at a 50+ win pace.[1] To this point he’s shown that he can get a team to play tough hard-nosed defense.

My other reason for optimism was my belief that Kyrie Irving would make the third-year jump to a superstar that we’ve seen from recent stars like Derrick Rose who won the MVP in his third season. All the factors and comparables were there to suggest that Kyrie would play like an All-NBA type player this season.

And added to those I liked the team around Irving. I love Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao. I like Tristan Thompson and CJ Miles a lot. And when you throw Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng into the mix…what’s not to like?

Everything.

Frankly, there’s nothing to like about this team. My buddy Nick said during the latest atrocity of a basketball performance last night “I could not possibly hate this Cavs team more.” I’ve been masking it for a while now but I feel the same way. The way they have played through the first half of the season has been nothing short of embarrassing and downright disrespectful to the fans who love this franchise. And notice that said “franchise”…not “team.” This team has done nothing to earn any love from the fans. It’s not a perfect collection of pieces I’ll give you that and we’ll get into that more in a minute. But they are all talented players. You can’t use the excuse of youth anymore. The rookies hardly play, Kyrie and Tristan are in their third year. Dion and Zeller, while still young being a year and a half into their careers have logged a ton of minutes thus far for how long they’ve been in the league. Those “young guys” are supplemented with a bevy of veteran players in Varejao, Jack, Deng, Miles, and even Earl Clark—all of whom have been in the league for at least five years.

The problem isn’t the roster. Sure, it’s not built to win a championship but that was never an expectation. But there are plenty of teams currently in the place to make the playoffs in the putrid Eastern Conference whose talent pales in comparison to what Cleveland has. Have you looked at the Bobcats roster? There’s only player on that whole team who could even start on the Cavs and that would be Al Jefferson at center. Then go up the list…Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn…it’s not like the Cavs are competing in the stacked Western Conference. All these East teams suck. But there’s only one team who is doing far less with more than anyone else, and that would be the Cavs.

I can’t pinpoint what the problem is exactly apart from what everyone including Coach Brown and Chris Grant have stated over the past couple days and that’s that this group of players just isn’t competing. That sure has seemed to be the case lately and was certainly the case last night as the guys in Wine jerseys stood around all night and watched the Knicks put on a dunk show for the MSG crowd on national television. Not competing is something that just doesn’t make sense to me. I was a crap player as an athlete in high school. I was no good. But I’d punch anybody in the face if they ever questioned my effort and dedication to the team. The idea that someone who seemingly has had to work hard to get themselves to the place where they are playing professional sports can step onto the field of play and not hardly try is infuriating. I realize that playing in the NBA is a job to these guys and all that. But the levels that this team has sunk to with their lack of effort on a nightly basis goes so far beyond just your typical “bad day at work” narrative. We’ve all had work days were we can’t say we gave everything we’ve had at our jobs…but three months of slacking off???

The problem on the surface I guess is probably just that very thing: they aren’t working hard. But there has to be something going on behind the scenes that is leading to this. The players keep saying all the right things about how they’re working hard for each other and how they support Coach Brown and all that. But it certainly doesn’t look or feel that way.

It might be just as simple as that the players on this team don’t like each other.

Remember those last couple years of LeBron and the camaraderie that team had? They would have all these elaborate dap sessions going around. They were constantly dancing and chest-pumping. Taking faux pregame team photos. Even when LeBron brought up the entire team to accept the MVP with him. You genuinely believed watching that team that they loved each other. You got the sense that no matter what came up in their way that they would have each other’s back.[2] This team feels completely the opposite. This team feels like a bunch of disgruntled union factory workers who only come to their job to punch a ticket and go home in eight hours when their shift is done. They seem to derive no joy from playing the sport of basketball.

Much of the blame for this season rightfully should fall on the two individuals I mentioned at the outset: Coach Brown and Kyrie.

Mike Brown has done an awful job with this team. His handling of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett has been puzzling at best, insane at worst. Why it took them three months into the season to come to the realization that the guy needed to get minutes to get himself into shape to be able to contribute is beyond me. I wrote this very thing all the way back on November 20th. He’s jerked around his minutes and his position and has never allowed Bennett to get into any sort of a rhythm in his rookie season.

Brown’s general dealing with the roster as a whole has been puzzling. Trying to play Earl Clark at small forward was a doomed experiment from the start. Then after switching him back to power forward and the bench and watching him actually play well for a stretch, it was back to the three and more futility.

Brown spent a lot of time at the beginning of the season talking about how Dion was a shooting guard and that he was definitely a starter. It wasn’t long into the season though before Waiters was coming off the bench where he has at times basically been the point man with Jack playing off the ball.

Brown’s dealing with the rotation on a game-to-game basis has bordered on completely random. I noted on Twitter during the Pelicans game on Tuesday night some of the oddities. Bennett had been completely out of the rotation for almost three weeks, then with Andy out and Zeller starting, the rook became a part of the rotation again. Only he wasn’t just back in the rotation, he was the only backup big in said rotation. Clark was completely cut out. Even more puzzling was what Brown did to “rotate” his bigs in the first half. Tristan and Zeller started. Then Bennett came in for Zeller. When Tristan came out Zeller came in. Now the logical thing to do when Tristan re-entered the game would be for Bennett to come out. That’s how a “rotation” works. But nevermind logic of course, Zeller came out instead and Bennett stayed. The ten first half minutes for Bennett were twice as many as he’d had total in the previous seven games combined. They also represented the most minutes he’d played in a game in almost a month. And mind you this was just in the first half. He would go on to play 31 minutes total, 11 more than he’d ever played in an NBA game to that point. And this is just one example of the seeming randomness at which Brown rotates his players in and out of games and how there seems to be no consistency on a nightly basis.

I could write a whole post about how CJ Miles is one of the most important players on the Cavs. From an advanced metrics standpoint it could be argued that he’s the second most important player on the team behind Andy. Yet Miles’ minutes get jerked around more than anybody’s. I’m gonna run back the past month for how many minutes Miles has played in each game: 28, 31, 37, 31, 24, 25, 15, 12, 38, 27, 20, 15, 20, 12, 13. He went from getting in the 25-30 minute range all the way down to 15 in one game. Then two games later it was all the way up to 38. Three games after that it’s all the way down to 15 again. Does this make sense to anyone? Is it just me? I can’t be the only who finds it odd when Miles will play only like five minutes in the second half of games.

Then there’s the new addition, All-Star small forward Luol Deng…the guy who was supposed to solve so many of the defensive and wing issues that have plagued this team. And yet, a guy who has had success in this league as a slasher and working out of the post and actually doing things on the offensive end, Deng has basically been relegated to a spot-up shooter. And the team defense as a whole hasn’t improved since he joined the team either.

And of course the defense. Brown bragged over the summer about how he’d had a top defense with guys like Damon Jones, Mo Williams, and Donyell Marshall. Yet now he has a team with similar pieces and even some fine to very good defenders in Deng, Thompson, and Varejao and yet the team coached by a supposed “defensive genius” is in the bottom half of the league. You can live with crappy offense if you have a dominant defense. But when your defense sucks it makes the lack of offense even more glaring.

But the biggest issue to me is the lack of leadership. At some point the lack of effort of the players has to fall back on the coach. If the players aren’t working hard and competing then the coach needs to find a way to motivate his players to do so. But instead of motivating them to play harder and better it appears from watching them play that they’ve gone the other way instead. As soon as a game starts to turn they just give up. I wish that instead of benching all the starters late in these blowouts that Brown would keep them all out there so that they have to play out and fully experience the mess they’ve made of this team and these games.

Remember the botched execution scene from The Green Mile where Percy didn’t wet the sponge and it led to one of the most gruesome scenes where the criminal being electrocuted just screamed and fried for several minutes to the horror of everyone watching? (You can watch it on YouTube here if you can stomach it.) Tom Hanks’ character grabbed Percy and made him watch what he had done. He made sure that the reality of his devilish behavior truly sunk into Percy. That’s what I want Coach Brown to do. Make these guys experience the pain of being a laughing stock of the league. Read them every negative quote writers are penning about them. Play them the audio of every one of these broadcasts and let them hear how the commentators are lambasting their effort. But especially make them play out the string in this pathetic losses instead of allowing them to go sit at the end of the bench with towels on their heads. Make sure the bitter taste of losing really sinks in.

From the outside it looks like they’ve completely tuned the coach out. And it certainly doesn’t help that the top culprit is also the most talented player on the team…

Kyrie is a phenomenally talented player. He’s a star. Anyone who denies that isn’t paying attention. But he’s a star only so far as that he’s crazy talented and super popular (voted in as an All-Star starter) because he’s a dazzling player to watch. Every night he provides highlight worthy plays on offense. He can shoot, drive, dish, finish at the rim…he can do everything you would want on offense. But he doesn’t play defense. After showing some improvement to start the season he’s reverted of late to his lazy play on the non-offensive side of the court. I call it that because I’m pretty sure that’s how Kyrie views it. Defense is just that part of the game in between offensive sets where he can showcase his skills. I don’t know that Kyrie is a selfish player necessarily but he certainly has a long way to go to be a true “team player.” I’ve been willfully blind to the notion that Kyrie basically freezes out Dion when they’re on the court together. But it’s becoming more and more obvious and increasingly difficult to ignore how Kyrie would rather do everything on offense himself than allow his backcourt mate to help out from time to time. Dion isn’t as talented as Kyrie. That much is obvious. But we’ve seen plenty of times this season where Dion has taken over games and shown that he’s certainly capable of carrying the team offensively. He also works a heck of a lot harder than Kyrie most of the time and sure seems to care more about winning and losing. A lot of that might be just their personalities, but I can’t get over the thought in my mind that if Kyrie had Dion’s passion he’d be a much better player.

Whether he likes it or not, the Cavs need Kyrie to be a leader. In the NBA that’s how it works. The star player on the team is the de facto leader. It took LeBron a while to buy into that fact. Incidentally it was under Coach Brown that LeBron finally realized not just his defensive potential but also his leadership potential as well. But for Kyrie it seems like he’s resisting his coach rather than embracing his teaching. Kyrie still says all the right things and talks about being a leader. But none of that manifests itself on the court. Instead Kyrie mopes around when he’s playing poorly, looks pissed when his teammates miss shots (especially when he’s passed them the ball), and often looks disinterested during team huddles. I think we all keep waiting for the switch to flip and for Kyrie to start being a leader. But it just isn’t happening. I’m not saying he can’t grow into that role. But nothing we’ve seen from him to this point has given us any reason to believe that he even cares about being a leader. Evidently being a team leader won’t boost the Kyrie Irving brand enough to be worth the trouble.

I think I’ve run out of energy lambasting this team. I can’t fully express how much of a disappointment they are. I had reasonably high expectations for them. Given how terrible the rest of the East is there’s no reason why shouldn’t be in the thick of the playoff race. I’d even go as far as to say that if they fully reached their potential that they could be as high as third in the conference. But they’re not just coming short of their potential they’re going completely the opposite reaction.

It is often said of great teams that they are greater together than the sum of their individual parts. This Cavaliers team is the complete antithesis of that idea. Instead of working together to make themselves great as a whole unit they seem to be fighting against each other and bringing each other down. It’s sad really.

But it’s mostly sad for the dedicated fans who have stuck with this team and supported them through the past three years of tanking losing because of a lack of talent. The fans deserve better than what the players are giving. I’ll even go as far as to say the players don’t deserve how great the fans have been.

I’m generally not a fan of booing your own players because typically it stems out of frustration for them just being bad. I never understood why Browns fans would mercilessly boo Brandon Weeden. It wasn’t like the guy was sucking on purpose. He worked hard, but his shortcomings as a player kept him from being a good QB. Booing him certainly didn’t help anything either. I’m pretty sure he already knew he wasn’t any good. He had a fragile enough psyche as it was that the booing seemed to make him play worse. I never understand booing players who are actually trying.

But in the case of the Cavs? I fully endorse it. If I was going to be at The Q when they come home next Wednesday I’d boo them with every fiber of my being during the pregame introductions and all throughout the game till my voice gave out. This group of players doesn’t deserve the support of the fans until they actually start working hard and coming within a mile of reaching their potential.

I don’t know exactly what needs to change. I don’t know if they need to start benching guys, trading them, cutting them…I’m at a loss. Like I said at the beginning: I just keep waiting for them to click and figure it out. But it’s not getting any better…it’s just getting worse every game.

“Disappointment” doesn’t even begin to quantify how I feel about this Cavs team.


[1] The lockout season Lakers only won 41 games but their pace was 50+ if it would have been a full season.

[2] Anecdotally this is also what made LeBron leaving such a bitter pill to swallow. I really believed that he loved his teammates and looked at them like brothers. But a brother wouldn’t do what LeBron did to his teammates.

Top 13 “Happenings” in Cleveland Sports in 2013

So 2013 wasn’t the year. We could sit here and bemoan the fact that we’re flipping the calendar again without a Cleveland sports championship, but what fun is that? Instead, we thought it would be fun to look back at all the good times we had this past year. These aren’t necessarily “moments” per se…more like “happenings” I guess. They stem the tide from individual moments, to developing stories, to things that blew up Twitter. I hope you enjoy it more than this championship-less year. Without any more blabbing on, here are the top 13 “happenings” in Cleveland sports for 2013…

Shout-out to the following events that didn’t make the list:

Jimmy Haslam Pilot-Flying J FBI scandal–Too dark and too fluid a situation to be included in such a happy column. Also I didn’t want to write about it. And it’s my own column…so you can’t make me.
Tribe bench mob–The four principle characters (Ryan Rayburn, Mike Aviles, Jan Gomes, and Jason Giambi) had such a profound impact on the Indians season that it’s tough to exclude them from this list. The Indians wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success they did without a huge hand from this group that by season’s end weren’t even really bench guys.

13. Re-Hiring of Mike Brown

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It hasn’t been all champagne and roses in the second stint from Mike Brown as the head coach of the Cavaliers. He’s had to deal with locker room confrontations, constant trade rumors, lazy players, rebellious players, players playing out of position, bad players, good players playing like bad players, and much much more. (We’ll get to some of these more in a minute.)

More than anything it’s just wild that we’re to a place where Brown is back coaching the team. When he was fired three years ago I didn’t think there was any chance we’d ever see him again on the Cavs bench. I mean, that stuff never happens, right? But this is Cleveland, where “that stuff never happens, right?” doesn’t exist. If you’re upset that Mike’s utterly atrocious approach to offense is back in Cleveland then the person you should probably blame most is Byron Scott, who did such a poor job of bringing along a young team and teaching them simple defensive concepts that he just had to get canned. In hindsight it might not have been all Scott’s fault. This collection of players might just be kinda dumb and generally bad at defense as even the guru himself, Coach Brown, hasn’t gotten consistently good work out of the guys on that end.

We still need to see a lot more of this season to know exactly how it’s going to play out and whether bringing back Brown was a good idea. I’m still going to rest and hope on the premise that Brown has never coached a team that by season’s end you could call “bad”. When allowed to finish a full season he has always had a winning record. That trend will be put to the greatest test this season because he doesn’t have LeBron or Kobe on this team.

12. Cavaliers Locker Room “Confrontation”

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Rumors about what happened in the Cavaliers players-only meeting spread like wildfire that weekend in mid-November. It all started when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote that things got “contentious” during a Cavs players-only meeting following a blow-out in Minnesota. News started spiraling on the Twitterverse that had Dion Waiters punching Kyrie Irving in the face breaking his nose which was why Kyrie was wearing a mask the next game. People were saying that Dion wanted out of the team and had gone AWOL all weekend. This then led to loads of trade scenarios and people speculating that Dion may never suite up for the Cavs again and that the better question would be if the Cavs would be able to deal him or if they would end up cutting him.

After seemingly like the whole season was going down in a flaming ball of fire that weekend things settled down pretty quickly after that. Dion came back to the team and denied that there was an altercation and said that he was just really, really sick. The Cavs as a team started playing better eventually and both Kyrie and Dion are keys to the team’s success this season. We may never know exactly what happened in that meeting but it certainly caused quite a stir there for a few days.

11. Andrew Bynum Sweepstakes

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I’m not sure if you can really call it a “sweepstakes” because the Cavs may have been the only team seriously interested, but the signing of Andrew Bynum was an interesting and fun story to follow this summer. The rumbles about signing the banged-up big man began early on in the summer and were fairly dormant for a while. There were obviously pretty huge concerns about the former All-Star center after he missed the entire 2012-13 season with various knee issues. It didn’t help that there had been reports out of Philadelphia that Bynum didn’t work hard on his rehab and that he wasn’t interested in being part of the team. Safe to say that the Philly media painted such a bad picture of Bynum that he’s universally hated in City of Brotherly Love maybe more than any other athlete.

This happening though for me was more about almost like the crescendo that happened on Twitter when it was reported that he was signing. We all remember #BynumWatch! There had been talks, then murmurs, then reports about being near a deal, then it was really happening, then it officially happened. It was thrilling and exciting and probably way more so than it should have been considering that we weren’t exactly sure whether or not he would ever be able to play again. What was best about the deal though is the way that Chris Grant constructed it in such a way that the team held all the cards. Bynum would be getting paid as long as he performed, thus minimizing the potential risk involved for the club.

Writer’s note: I wrote the following paragraph prior to this past weekend’s events:

The jury’s still out about whether or not this was actually a meaningful move. Bynum has looked great at times and certainly has made his presence felt defending the rim. But I’m still not sure if running the offense through the post is necessarily a good thing for this team, especially in Bynum’s current state. Sometimes it feels like they’re forcing things by trying to get Bynum the ball and that he clogs things up a little on offense. I always enjoy watching the offense better when Anderson Varejao is in at center in place of Bynum. We’ll see as the season goes how this shakes out and what the Cavs decide about what kind of team they want to be.

The fact that this all changed so quickly is just so Cleveland. I’m sorry, I have to say it but it’s true. The great thing about it though is at least from the opinions I’ve seen, no one really seems too shaken up about losing Bynum. Maybe it’s because we weren’t sure coming in exactly what we would get out of him or maybe it’s because, like me, most people didn’t love watching the offense go through him in the post. Even if he never plays another minute for the Cavs and they have to cut him I still maintain that it was a worthy risk for the Cavs. There wasn’t a whole lot else they were going to do with that cap space anyways. The potential upside of adding even the shell of Bynum’s former All-Star self at a manageable cost for the team was a healthy risk. And who knows, maybe they’ll be able to work a deal for him like the one that Brian Windhorst reported this morning about a potential swap for Pau Gasol. Regardless of what 2014 holds for Bynum and the Cavs, it was still a fun ride even if it was short lived.

10. Chris Perez Weed Arrest

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This was so great. Beyond the fact that if you had to pick out a guy on the Indians team to get arrested for possession of marijuana you’d need only one guess to get the right answer, the details of the incident are downright hilarious. First of all, Chris Perez allegedly had a package of weed mailed to his house. Now I didn’t grow up on the streets and I’ve never smoked weed and I didn’t have many friends who did either. So I’m not super versed on how you go about getting weed and such. But even I thought it would probably not be a good idea to get illegal substances—especially ones with a distinct aroma—mailed to my own home. But the best part of the story BY FAR is that the package was addressed to one Brody Braum. Who is Brody Braum, you ask? It’s no one. Brody is the name of the family dog and Braum is Perez’s wife’s maiden name.

Simply brilliant.

9. Terry Francona Wins Manager of the Year

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With the way coaching has gone recently in this town it’s almost unconscionable that a guy as professional and skilled at this job of leading of a team is actually employed in this town. I can’t say enough, and will probably in the end say too little, about what a great job Terry Francona has done of managing the Cleveland Indians. I will probably always have issues with some of his in-game decisions and the way that he uses his bullpen sometimes, but that doesn’t detract from the real greatness that Francona brings to a ball club.

It’s great that the name of his position is “Manager” because that’s exactly what describes Tito best. He did a masterful job of managing the Indians in 2013. Maybe he looked even better because his predecessor was so terrible at it, but in a season where many teams would have and could have simply folded midway when times got tough, Tito got this team to ride out the tough times and come out on the other end even stronger. It is so impressive that he maximized the talent on this team and got them into the playoffs, especially when you consider how many “better on paper” teams missed out. Sure, it would have been nice if the season had lasted a little loner than the one-game playoff. But I didn’t even know if we’d make it that far honestly. And the credit for that goes in large part to Francona, whose Manager of the Year award was well-deserved. And at a time when everything on the other side of town with the Browns seems like such a mess, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air to know that spring is around the corner and a competently led team is on its way again.

8. The Brian Hoyer Hype Job

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Ah yes, Mr. Adequately Mediocre himself.

If you’ve read me throughout the season you’ll know already that I’m not junior high girlishly in love with Brian Hoyer as many Browns fans are. I wasn’t blown away with his play in the two games. I thought he was fine. Good, not great. “Adequately mediocre” is the term I came up with to describe his play.

Look, everyone went nuts because he led a game-winning drive to get the victory in the Minnesota game. That’s wonderful, except that it got forgotten that it was Hoyer who turned the ball over three times which put the Browns in the situation where they needed a game-winning drive. Then in the Cincinnati win he didn’t really do much of anything because he didn’t have to as the defense dominated the game. Hoyer managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. Considering that the Bengals only put up six points he didn’t have to do much at all.

And then that was it for the local kid because he forgot how to slide and ended his season. And never mind that he did absolutely nothing in the Bills game but people are still crediting him with that win…championing him as going 3-0 as a starter. It’s possible that Hoyer, if given the chance, could wind up being something in the league. But there’s a reason he’s a career journeyman who was on four different teams in like a 13 month span. There’s also a reason he was No. 3 on the depth chart coming out of preseason, behind Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. If he was so good then why didn’t he look like it in camp and preseason? No one was clamoring for him to be the starter. But then after he came in and won a couple games that all of a sudden meant that the Browns coaches were idiots for having started Weeden over Hoyer in the first place. I kind of just got sick of the whole love-fest because I didn’t see a difference-maker. I saw just a guy who can win you a couple games if his defense plays dominant football—which they did in those two games by the way.

You can call me a hater, that’s fine. I don’t care. If he comes back next season and wins the starting job over whoever the team drafts and takes the Browns to the playoffs then I’ll gladly eat my bowl of crow. But that’s not going to happen. Hoyer was nothing more than a comet. He comes in for a little bit and it’s neat and cool to look at. Then he’s gone and you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

7. Cavaliers Win the Draft Lottery

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I almost hesitate to include this because the thought of going back to the lottery makes me sick to my stomach. But winning it for the second time in three years was undeniably fun in the moment (even if the prize wasn’t much in reality). The fact that the Cavs with Dan Gilbert rolled into that stuffy room of no-clapping and no-emotion allowed with an entourage of fans, local media personalities, and rap stars was just awesome. And having David Stern there with his snide disproving face on the whole time made it even more wonderful.

The moment of winning was one of unbridled brilliance that you couldn’t manufacture if you even tried as the card was flipped and Tony Rizzo went absolutely nuts shouting praise for Dan’s son as if he had actually done something to win the top pick. Again, what made it so great was that the whole reaction flew in the face of the the charade that the NBA wants that event to be. And while, yes, being at the lottery isn’t necessarily something that you should celebrate because it means you’re a loser, you might as well own it and have some fun while you’re there. I mean, what isn’t fun about winning the lottery after all?

6. The Shock of Drafting Anthony Bennett

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Any time a selection can elicit this kind of a reaction, you know it was a shocking move…

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This site was launched just before the Cavs won the lottery, so draft coverage dominated the early content of The GOAT. I spent a ton of time breaking down all the top prospects and weighing their respective places on the Cavs should they be the selection. I broke down the great debate between Nerlens Noel and Alex Len. We had seemingly covered every angle.

And then Chris Grant laughed as he pooped on all of our draft predictions. To say that almost no one had Anthony Bennett getting selected No. 1 overall would be an understatement. I was blown away and it cast me into such a fog for the whole night that I can hardly remember anything else that happened in that draft. I had broken down every one of the top players in depth except for Anthony Bennett. I just didn’t see how he fit on the Cavs.

Looks like I might have been right.

I understand why Grant decided on Bennett. If the criteria was “we’re going to take the most talented player and worry about fit later” then I understand how in a draft devoid of top-level talent that Bennett would qualify as “most talented”. Maybe the fit is just terrible and that’s why he’s looked so bad. Maybe he’s just out of shape. Or maybe he really is a tweener without a real position in the NBA. Whatever the reason it’s been about as rough a start for a No. 1 pick as there’s probably ever been for a top pick in any league ever. Bennett has shown some flashes of late that he might be starting to figure some things out so at least there’s hope. And if all else fails, and you really need some cheering up about the Cavs top pick, just go to YouTube and watch some his college highlights…

He really is a pretty talented player. Hopefully all he needs is for the calender to flip.

Speaking of flipping…

5.  The Weeden Flip

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It’s a moment that is forever etched in time, a statue that will commemorate everything that needs to be known about the Brandon Weeden era in Cleveland. There are quite a few things to like about Brandon Weeden as a quarterback. He led one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football before he made the jump to the NFL. He already knew about being a professional athlete having failed at played professional baseball before going to Oklahoma State to take up football. He’s always looking to make a big play and not settle for the check-down like previous disappointments Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. But Weeden’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly that he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

When he chooses to use it that is. You see, Weeden’s greatest weakness is that he seemingly doesn’t know how to read a defense which causes him to hold onto the ball too long, which forces him to scramble, which isn’t something he’s capable of doing, which leads to him doing things like under-hand flipping the ball ten yards forward and about 15 yards laterally in an effort to, as he calls it, “make a play”.

The Weeden Flip has been deemed the dumbest play in the history of football by some. I don’t know if I’d go that far necessarily but it’s certainly in the running for Top 10. I still maintain that even good QBs make really dumb throws from time to time (like this one from the great Andrew Luck).

But the best thing might be that Weeden went on to make underhand flips throws like two or three more times during the season. It was almost as if he was just trolling Cleveland fans at that point. I really wanted to make this the top moment of the year, but I chickened out and went with some more “happy” things instead.

4. The Rise of Kyrie Irving and Taking over All-Star Weekend

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So this one probably actually started before the calendar flipped to 2013 but I don’t care, I’m running it anyways. Kyrie Irving’s stardom really took off last season as the nation began to finally to take notice of what a great player he truly is. The late game heroics, the dazzling dribbling, the clutch shots…people who follow the NBA began to really take notice of the unique skills that this kid possesses. Among the contingent of those who own NBA League Pass subscriptions the Cavaliers, despite their lousy record, became appointment viewing during the fourth quarter because it seemed like every night Kyrie was doing something that was so awesome that you just had to witness it live. As a means of reminiscing, allow yourself to enjoy some GIF’s of the dazzling Kyrie Irving…

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An integral element in the rise of young Kyrie was his presence at All-Star Weekend. With all the great players gathered together and so many things to talk about, only one player had everyone buzzing…Kyrie.

He started off in the Rising Stars Challenge putting on a display that was capstoned by this ankle-breaking move on Brandon Knight…

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He followed that up on Saturday night by “getting buckets” and winning the 3-Point competition.

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And then came the grand finale: The All-Star Game. Despite only being in his second season and not even voted in as a starter, it was undeniable that Kyrie belonged on that court with all those great players. He wasn’t the best player in the game or even the best point guard. But he found ways to shine nevertheless.

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By the end of the weekend there was no denying who had “won the weekend”…it was only Kyrie Irving. The nation as a whole was getting their first long extended look at the young star and they liked what they saw.

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He still has some growing to do as a player and especially as a leader. But just about every night when the Cavs take the floor, with very few exceptions, the team from Cleveland has the best player in the house.

And everyone knows it now.

3. Jason Giambi Walk-Off Homer to Save the Season

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This moment to me meant so much more than actually going to the playoffs, because it was the moment when that dream actually started to turn into a reality.

It was everything that lead up to the moment that made it as great as it was. It was September 24 and the Indians were clinging to a one-game lead in the Wild Card race over the Rangers who were playing the hapless Astros at the time. So the Indians needed to win to keep their hold on the race.  With a 3-2 lead in the ninth over the White Sox, Chris Perez in all his all fat, sloppy, unkempt glory came out and promptly gave up two home runs and the lead. This had been just the latest in a string of terrible appearances for the troubled closer and his untimely collapse led to fans going absolutely nuts on Twitter. It was so depressing. It felt like the season was slipping through our hands like they’d been greased by Perez’s hair.

Then Jason Giambi happened.

There was just something special about the oldest man of the team, someone who by all normal statistical evaluations was having a terrible year, coming through in the biggest moment. Giambi was mostly bad this past season with the amazing exception that he did have two walk-off homers. This one late in the season meant more than anything else and gave him a place on this team and in the hearts of Tribe fans that won’t soon be forgotten.

It was the home run that brought so much hope to a city that had endured nothing but sports misery for several years now. It meant that the dream of the playoffs would likely become a reality. If there’s ever been a  “Believeland moment”, this was certainly one of the best.

2a. Rob Chudzinski’s Firing after only One Season

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I had to add this one in here at the last moment. I don’t want to spend too much time on it because it’s still so fresh and I just ranted about it wrote about it yesterday.

My buddy Slim, a Raiders fan, asked me on Sunday afternoon what was up with the Chud rumors and noted that canning him after only one season was “Raider like behavior”…ouch. As crazy, terrible, and dysfunctional as the Browns have been since 1999, firing the coach after only one season was a new one.

Whether you fall on the side of being in favor of the move or not, what is undeniable is that the brunt of the blame for this latest failure of a season has to fall on the front office and Joe Banner in particular. You can’t come in claiming to be smarter than everyone that’s come before you, promise that things will be different and better, promise that “the same old Browns” are gone, hire a new head coach that no one else interviewed, fire him after just one season, and not expect to get lambasted for it. The fact is that if not for No. 2b on this list the 2013 Browns season was a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and energy. They came in without a real answer at the most important position in sports, had a lack of depth because they were saving cap space, and traded assets that would have improved the team now for future help. Every move they made pointed to gearing up for 2014. So how can you possibly be shocked that the players tailed off late in the season? And how do you expect to attract a good coach when you’ve established that you’ll get canned if you end the season a bad stretch?

Look, I realize that the firing is completely warranted given that the team lost ten of its last 11 games. You don’t get a pass even if you’re a first-year coach. But once it became clear that the team had no intention of developing Weeden the season was a wash for me. After that I was completely focused on the 2014 Draft and the hopes of getting a franchise quarterback. So the collapse of the season didn’t bother me one bit. Evidently Banner and Haslam have higher standards.

I didn’t love Chud but I didn’t really have any issues with him either. I didn’t see incompetence like I saw under Pat Shurmur. I’ll I saw was a guy coaching a team that didn’t have a real quarterback and after Weed 2 made a move that clearly said “we’re focused on next year already”. I don’t blame the guy for only winning four games is all I’m saying.

With the number of other, probably more appealing, head coach openings around the NFL, I sure hope that Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam know what they’re doing. I’m just going to leave the following tweet here without any further comment…

The reason I decided to keep the Chud firing out of the top spot is because we see coach firings in Cleveland all the time. These final two happenings, however, were/are especially unique.

2b. Josh Gordon Blowing Up the NFL

Josh Gordon, Aqib Talib

 

The fact that the closest thing that the Cleveland Browns have had to “star” player since their rebirth in ’99 is a left tackle and a kick returner really encapsulates the depths that this franchise has sunk to.

But not any more!!!

The Browns finally have a player that fantasy owners can get excited about. And even more importantly they finally someone that Browns fans can get excited about…as long as he stays off the drugs of course. It’s insane in retrospect that some people were willing to trade Josh Gordon for like a third round draft pick as if he was just some dude. Granted, not even his biggest supporters could have seen a record-breaking stretch that would catapult Gordon to become the NFL’s leading receiver (despite missing two games no less).

I could go on and on about how amazing it is to watch Flash Gordon play football. But let’s be honest, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’d rather watch GIF’s of amazing plays than read my prose. So here you have it…

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1. The Release of the Draft Day Trailer

Just kidding…

1. The Trent Richardson Trade

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I don’t even know where to start, so let’s just look at some of the Twitter reaction after the trade was made…

Colts owner Jim Irsay was a little excited about it…

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report was especially feisty about the trade…

And my favorite…

Going into the final week of the season Richardson is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Indy compared to 3.4 YPC that he had the first two games before the trade, which brings him to a cool 3.0 for the season. How about those “wide open running lanes”, Matt?

The best part was that even when it was clear that Richardson is shaping out to be a bust, there were still people defending him…like Peter King…

I haven’t heard anyone defend Richardson in a while, so it seems like everyone has finally come to their senses.

I’m wrong about a lot of things…like Brandon Weeden for instance. But I feel so thoroughly vindicated by the poor play of Richardson. I wasn’t a fan of him when the Browns drafted him. I was consistently critical of his poor running when he was in Cleveland. And I loved the trade. And I was RIGHT!!! So that’s why the Trent Richardson trade is the No. 1 happening in Cleveland sports for 2013!!!

Ok, that’s not really why I picked it. But there wasn’t a more polarizing moment for the sports fans in this city than that trade. And the best part is that no matter what side of the debate you fell on when it happened, we can all celebrate it now. And that’s what we should be doing going into the New Year: focusing on the positives…like how we made out like bandits in that Richardson deal!!!

So thank you, Trent, for giving us something to be excited about.

Only 128 days till the NFL Draft!!! Get excited, Cleveland!!!

2014 is going to be our year.

Believeland.

The Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving duo is starting to come together for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Outside of the inevitable debate over which college QB the Browns should select in this spring’s upcoming NFL Draft, the most widely debated sports topic in Cleveland will continue to be Dion Waiters and his place on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ever since being drafted No. 4 last year Waiters has had plenty of doubters (to put it lightly) in Cleveland. People didn’t like the fact that he didn’t start in college. People didn’t like his shot selection as a rookie. Now people are freaking out again because they can’t handle the fact that he’s not starting.

Just as it seemed like a lot of the noise was starting to die down a little, Bleacher Report came out with a story yesterday purporting that “Dion Waiters wants out of Cleveland”…a story Waiters refuted prior to the game yesterday. But the notion of trading Waiters, for beloved former Ohio State star Evan Turner no less, only got Cavs fans talking again. The theory has always been that Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving don’t “fit together” on this team…a theory which I believe is just plain lazy.

The reason I think it’s lazy is because the notion of trading away a guy because he doesn’t “fit” for a lesser talented player who does doesn’t jive well with me. I will always be of the belief that you find a way to make the pieces work together. Which, incidentally, is something that the Cavs are figuring out by sending Waiters to the bench. I would rather Dion be starting and so would he. I’m annoyed that this notion of him being “benched” has anything to do with his poor play. Rather, the decision to move Waiters to a reserve role was more an effort to maximize the talent on the team. And you can see that it’s having a positive effect lately.

Last night, for the second time in the past three games, Kyrie and Dion combined to score 50+ points. And for the second time it was Waiters who went on his own little personal scoring run to start the fourth quarter and ignite the team while Kyrie was on the bench. Now the detractors will point to the fact that Dion has been doing this without Kyrie on the court as further evidence that they don’t work well together. However, I believe that it only serves to show his value even more. We all know that when on the court Kyrie is going to dominate the ball. He’s the best player on the team and a point guard so that’s going to happen. But the kid has to rest. And when he does you’d like to have someone out there capable of picking up the slack. Lately Waiters has been doing just that and more.

In my mind you can’t undersell the value of having guys that create shots and score points. That’s the whole reason that they brought in Waiters in the first place. They didn’t want Kyrie to have to shoulder the load all himself and wanted to get another ball-handler on the team to ease the pressure on the young point guard. However, the perceived “problem” with the Kyrie/Dion duo is that they both need the ball to score and effect the game. While this may seem to be true it is more likely an out-growth of the fact that both players are still very young and are still learning how to play with each other. Good coaching should help them learn how to be better compatible together on the court.

When people talk about “fit” I assume they’re talking about this whole “can’t affect the game without the ball” thing. That notion, however, is falling apart this season. In Waiters rookie year he took a lot of ill-advised, off-dribble, pull-up jumpers which lead to a poor shooting percentage (.412), particularly from three (.310). Now in his second season Waiters is still trying to figure out how to better convert on dribble-drives at the rim.[1] However, what he is getting much better at is limiting his pull-up jumpers and instead shooting more out of spot-up opportunities—a skill that would “fit” quite nicely with Kyrie’s dribble-drive abilities I might add. This season Waiters is shooting .451 on spot-up three pointers, putting him in the same range as three-point specialists like Ryan Anderson (.452), Klay Thompson (.465), Damien Lillard (.455), Kevin Martin (.455), and Bradley Beal (.466). Now I will note that Dion isn’t taking as many spot-up threes as most of these guys at only 2.4 a game, compared to a guy like Thompson who shoots 6 a game—so the sample size is a little small.

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But what’s encouraging about those numbers is that it adds proof to what I thought I was seeing in games and that’s that Dion looks much better and more comfortable/confident shooting in spot-up opportunities. In fact, Waiters three-point percentage is much improved overall at .410 this season, likely because he’s shooting them more in spot-up situations as opposed to pull-ups. It’s also worth noting that at this early stage in the season that Dion is actually shooting better from three than the other guards in Kyrie (.331), Jarrett Jack (.390), and CJ Miles (.338). Only the great enigma Matthew Delevedova is shooting better at .458,[2] though with the fewest attempts of the bunch.[3]

Because of his improved shooting off spot-up threes that should make Waiters even more compatible with Kyrie. And I think the improved play that we’ve seen from the team these past several games has been in large because of the improved play of the young guards both alone and together. If they can put together more of those combined 50-point performances then the Cavs will be in really good shape going forward. The last thing they need to do is go out and make a panic trade of Dion for a ball-dominant, undersized, small forward who isn’t a good shooter and is in the final year of his contract which also so happens to be his first decently productive season of his career.[4]

What the Cavs and Mike Brown should be focusing on is continuing to work at making the current pieces fit together better.[5] The notion that just because Kyrie and Dion don’t have the on-court chemistry of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade after only one and a quarter seasons together to start their careers doesn’t mean that it can’t work. On the contrary, I think we’re seeing how it’s starting to come together. It’s not all the way there yet…but it’s getting better. In the NBA you build teams by amassing talent and then figuring it out from there because at the end of the day talent is what wins in this league. The Miami Heat are extreme example of this. Those pieces don’t fit together perfectly. But they’re so much more talented than everyone else and the coach has found a way to make them fit that they’ve won two straight titles. Worry about making the talent fit together instead of getting lesser that seemingly “fits better” together.

The Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters duo is only just getting started. The future is still very bright for these young guards in Cleveland.


[1] Getting some foul calls would be start.

[2] Delly can only best be described as an enigma. I had no idea he’d be this affective and this good of a shooter. More than anything though I’m impressed with his defense. I don’t know if he’s a guy you can count on to play big minutes, but I love him the role that Mike Brown is currently using him as a kind of spark-plug, igniter off the bench.

[3] This is just counting guards. Earl Clark is shooting a very impressive .434 this season. I love that we’ve found some worth for this guy.

[4] I’m talking about Evan Turner in case you didn’t pick that up.

[5] The biggest issue for the Cavs this season isn’t that Dion didn’t work as a starter. The biggest issue was early poor play of Kyrie. It seems like he’s breaking out of his funk finally which is coinciding with the team’s improved play. For the Cavs to make some noise in the East Kyrie is going to need to shoot better than .331 from three and .411 from the floor. I thought Kyrie had a shot at being a 50/40/90 guy this season and make a push to be an All-NBA player. Instead his terrible start has those splits sitting at 41/33/81. Furthering the problems is that Kyrie is only shooting .392 on dribble-drives which is actually worse than Dion’s .446. It truly is puzzling why his shots haven’t been falling this season like they did the last two. But again, hopefully he’s breaking out of that funk.

What I’m Thankful For with Cleveland Sports in 2013

When it comes to Cleveland sports there’s always so much negativity that can weigh us down and get us all depressed. Things like “Brandon Weeden is starting on Sunday” and “LeBron came home to crush us again last night” are painful realities that we’re all too familiar with. But this is the holiday season, and seeing that today is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a couple minutes to share some positivity about what in Cleveland sports I’m thankful for…

First of all, I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend one of the holidays back at home in northeast Ohio. Most people from here have an irrational love for this area that’s hard to quantify. But I’ve found that when you’ve moved away and been gone for a while you really get a profound appreciation for this area and you never stop calling it “home”. It’ll always be the place that I’m trying to get back to. I love the drive up here and seeing the Cleveland skyline on the horizon as I come in on I-90 and pass The Q and the Pro. I’m thankful that I can call Cleveland my home.

I’m thankful for the fantastic community of Cleveland sports bloggers who do just incredible work every day bringing original content about the teams in this city. I don’t know about the bloggers in other cities, but I can’t imagine them being better than what we have here.

I’m thankful that Mike Brown is back coaching in town. Let’s be honest, he’s going to give us stuff to talk about every day as long as he’s here. I may absolutely hate whatever those things he calls “offensive sets” but he sure as heck gives the best post-game pressers.

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I’m thankful for reigning Manager of the Year, Terry Francona. I was skeptical when he was hired because I thought he might just be coming here to hang with his buddies and just be part of a ball club again. I was worried that the friendly relationship with his front office would manifest itself in a lack of accountability and general laziness. Boy am I thankful that I was wrong. You can’t undersell what a fantastic job Tito did of “managing” this team and always keeping the guys believing. The 2013 Cleveland Indians were far-and-away the most over-achieving team in Major League baseball. I’m going to cherish having Francona manage my favorite baseball team for as long as it lasts and hope that he can work some magic and maybe get us a World Championship out of it. I don’t know if he can; but if anybody can, Tito can.

I’m thankful that we don’t already have overt reasons to hate Rob Chudzinski, which sets him apart from basically all the other head coaches the Cleveland Browns have had leading up until now. He’s made some bad coaching moves in games for sure and we were all disappointed in the effort that the team gave in the last two games. But somehow Chud has managed to skirt on the blame for any of the problems so far. It’s probably because by now we all realize that he doesn’t have a QB, so what can you expect from the guy? Whatever the case, I’m just thankful that we aren’t talking about firing him after his first season.

I’m thankful for the endless entertainment that is Brandon Weeden. I’ve run the full gamut of emotions with the old man. I started out as a believer, was forced to become a defender, then I reached the point where I realized there was no saving him, then I became embarrassed that I ever backed the guy, and now I’ve reached the point where I’m just embracing the fact that he’s a national punch line. We don’t have much at the QB spot in Cleveland in the way of actual good play, but at least we have some comedy.

Cleveland Browns v Green Bay Packers

I’m thankful that Weeden starting this Sunday won’t ruin my weekend, no matter what happens.

I’m thankful for the mythical hero Brian Hoyer, who burst upon the scene for two games and then was gone, leaving behind a legend that Paul Bunyan and Davey Crockett would be jealous of. The general Cleveland public has conveniently forgotten that in his first start he threw three picks which put the team in the situation where they needed him to deliver a game-winning drive. They also forget that he really didn’t do much of anything to beat the Bengals because the defense and special teams dominated. And despite that he played just two series against Buffalo and didn’t produce any points, that hasn’t stopped everyone from consistently running with the stat that the Browns are 3-0 when Hoyer starts and 1-7 with all other QBs, as if his mere presence starting that Thrusday night game spurred the team to victory. We haven’t had much in the way of QBs to get excited about in this town, so I’m at least thankful that I’ll always have “The Legend of Brian Hoyer” to tell my kids about.

I’m thankful for the Browns defense. Where would we be without them? We spend so much time agonizing over the QB position in this town that we don’t spend enough time really appreciating what a great group we have on defense this season. If they can ever get the offense figured out we know that we have a championship-level defense already to get us to the Super Bowl. And yes, you read that last sentence correctly.

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I’m thankful that there’s no possible way that Joe Banner is enough of a penny-pinching egomaniac that he won’t resign TJ Ward and Alex Mack. I mean, he can’t possibly be that crazy, right?

I’m thankful for new funky-looking video boards and new escalators coming to First Energy Stadium. But I’m more thankful that if they are going to this much trouble to fix up the stadium that they MUST be going nuts to improve the actual product on the field. There’s no way they could be totally tone-deaf to the real desires of the fans.

I’m thankful for trick-shot quarterbacks…and YouTube.

I’m thankful that we haven’t been in a situation yet where letting Phil Dawson walk turns around and bites us in the butt.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to root for Trent Richardson and his 2.8 yards per carry anymore. And even more I’m thankful that somehow the Colts were dumb enough to give us a first round pick for him.

In hindsight I’m thankful that Tom Heckert is no longer the Browns GM. It’s hard to imagine anyone blowing two first round picks in the same season so spectacularly that neither guy will be on the roster after two seasons. It’s really unbelievable when you think about it.

I’m thankful for Jason Giambi walk-off homers.

I’m thankful for Ryan Rayburn, Jan Gomes, and the bench mob.

I’m thankful for all the highly-entertaining Chris Perez weed jokes.

I’m thankful that somehow, someway, even when it seemed impossible, Ubaldo Jimenez turned into the Ace of the Indians pitching rotation…just in time for his free agency, but still.

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians

I’m thankful for everything Jason Kipnis does on a baseball field and reminding me why I loved the sport so much as a child and why it’s all I ever dreamed of doing when I grew up. In an age of prima-donna sports “heroes” it’s a breath of fresh air to root for a guy like Kipnis who plays the game with an old school, dirt-bag passion.

I’m thankful for Dion Waiters…everything about him. More than anyone else on this Cavaliers team, I love Dion Waiters. He has glaring flaws in his game, takes bad shots, has mental lapses on defense, may or may not have feuded with one or more teammates…but you can’t deny that the guy loves to play basketball and that’s all the really matters to him. He doesn’t tweet out pictures of fancy new clothes he bought, or hocking his endorsements…he tweets about the work he’s putting in to be a better player…and pictures of his adorable son. How can you not love this guy??? I’m thankful for Waiters stepping up last night and playing like a man and a leader on the team and then backing up his play with words that you would hear from a true leader. I believe in Dion Waiters more than probably anybody. I hope he doesn’t go anywhere for a long time. I just love that guy.

After all that…I am, in fact, thankful for the Uncle Drew commercials. I mean, really…what’s not to love about those things?

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I’m thankful that, for the losing we’ve endured, we at least got Kyrie Irving out of it. I wish we could have had better luck with the talent in the drafts, but you really can’t complain too much. I believe he’ll get things turned around here and be the superstar player that this Cavs team needs. So in spite of all the pain we’ve suffered and the rough start here we’ve endured, we can all be thankful that we have Kyrie.

I’m thankful for all the excitement of the offseason with the signing of Andrew Bynum that lead to that palpable intensity of him checking into the game on opening night and shocking everyone. I’m thankful for the Bynum experience for as long as it may last.

I’m thankful that Tristan Thompson finally figuring out that he’s right-handed.

I’m thankful that there’s no way that Anthony Bennett can possibly be this bad.

I’m thankful for Mike Brown…again…just because.

I’m thankful that someday “the process” will manifest itself in a championship.

I’m thankful that most of Cleveland truly believes that last sentence.

I’m thankful for Believeland.

I’m thankful for Cleveland sports. All of it.