Tag Archives: David Blatt

Another January Rebirth for the Cavaliers

Four games, four wins, and an average margin of victory of almost 13 points.

This was the week of basketball provided by our Cleveland Cavaliers under the direction of their new head coach Tyronn Lue. Sure, Lue’s first game last Saturday, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, was likely to give GM David Griffin a small jolt of buyer’s remorse, but these last four games have most certainly solidified his confidence in the decision to replace David Blatt.

I think that it is safe to say that the way this team plays now is notably different from the previous regime. Its the same cast of characters but as a whole, it is a very different narrative.

One of my favorite decisions that Lue made right away is moving Tristan Thompson back into a starting role. If you look at the level of talent that he brings to the court, coupled with the amount of money we invested in him just before the start of the season, having him in the starting lineup just makes good basketball sense.

I know that I have been hard on Timofey Mozgov this season and most of it can be backed up with hard evidence. Having said that, I have not seen him play more consistently than I have in his role coming off of the bench this week.

Thompson and Mozgov are where they now belong in the rotation and I don’t anticipate that changing unless the very healthy and reliable Thompson goes down with an injury. As a Cleveland sports fan it is impossible to not have thoughts of an injury in the back of your mind considering the storied history of maladies that our sports figures have endured that end of derailing our championship hopes and dreams.

Here is an example of just that type of mindset. During our 117-103 victory of the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had a moment where he seemed to fall awkwardly on his knees and just played there for a moment.

Of course, ABC decided it was a perfect time to take a commercial break without addressing or showing whether Irving stood back up and appeared to be fine. The entire commercial break I was fidgeting in my seat while praying that I would not see an image of trainers working on Irving as soon as the broadcast returned.

Thankfully, I did not see that and there was never any mention of Irving getting up slowly or asking to be subbed out. Did I invent this entire scenario in my own mind or did I simply interpret things incorrectly?

Regardless, all is well in Cavalier country as our team has seemed to reinvent itself again in January. Some of my readers may wonder why I do not go more in depth about Lebron James’ role and accomplishments with this team.

James is the heart of this team and of course we would not be able to compete at the same level without him. Everyone knows that we can rely on him for scoring, defense and leadership.

From last year’s Finals we know that Lebron is not enough singularly to win us an NBA title. The contributions of Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert are what will determine our eventual success level.

I would like to go player by player and give my opinion of each of those player’s role as it stands today.

Kevin Love – Love must continue to be a threat both inside the paint and outside the arc. He is getting more lift under his three point shots and we have seen a higher percentage of them being made. Under Coach Lue, he has been asked to produce more under the hoop and has not disappointed.

Kyrie Irving – I’ve said it before and I will say it as many times as it is deemed necessary. Irving is the best finisher in the NBA. His penetration under the basket causes defenders to leave their assignments which provides Smith, Love, Shumpert, James or Dellevedova enough space outside the arc to get off a clean, calculated shot when he kicks it out. Irving has been both hot and cold from long distance but any of those others have the potential to knock those down when called upon. Kyrie is a master facilitator in that respect.

Matthew Dellavedova – Delly has been able to not only find the player that we all cheered for against Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but to improve upon that player as well! He is no longer afraid to drive to the hoop and has shown an amazing increase in his three point percentage. He is a part of this team that could not be easily replaced if we lost him.

Tristan Thompson – His presence in the starting lineup is essential to our success. When matched up against the current King of NBA rebounding Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Thompson out rebounded him 14 to 8! This is an example that Cavs fans will do well to remember as we go up against more of the elite teams in this league.

J.R. Smith – Swish, as they call him, has become a much more important part of this team as the year has progressed. He is not only scoring fairly consistently for us but he is starting to contribute in other areas such as steals that are worth just as much as a basket because it takes potential points off of the board for our opponents.

Iman Shumpert – While Shumpert isn’t getting the minutes of J.R. most games, he is still putting forth his best effort with the minutes that he does get. I always look forward to opponents getting “Shumped” when he is on the floor. He is a true student of his adversaries and likely knows things about their tendencies that they may not even be aware of. This leads to a bevy of great defensive work from him.

We are about to embark on our February journey in the NBA. February brings the All Star Break and an opportunity to not only obtain a status report of the respective teams at the half way point of the season, but to remember why they all started playing the game in the first place; their love for it.

In Cleveland, January has been a month of transition for the second year in a row. I have high hopes of what this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers has in store for us in the months ahead.

David Griffin ushers in a Lue era in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers have set another record this week, though it remains to be seen whether it is one to be proud of or sorry for.

David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Around 3:55pm on Friday, the Cleveland sports world let out a collective gasp when it was broken by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the sports world’s premier NBA insider, that the Cavaliers organization had terminated Head Coach David Blatt. Not only was this news shocking and puzzling but it was simultaneously reported that Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue was being promoted to the position of Head Coach.

Lue would not assume the title of Interim Coach as is the traditional procedure when a coach is unexpectedly fired. He was immediately given the moniker of Head Coach with even some rumors of a two to three year deal already having been negotiated.

The aforementioned record that was set, is that Blatt is the first coach, since the league separated into two conferences, to ever be terminated when his team had the best win/loss record in their conference. That is not exactly what I would have hoped for in terms of a ground breaking statement, but the effectiveness of this strategy is yet to be determined.

Cavs General Manager David Griffin held a press conference Friday and alluded to the team not showing an inability to “galvanize” under Blatt’s leadership. He felt that the team was at a crossroads in terms of fixing this problem and a change needed to be made in order to continue moving towards their common goal of bringing an NBA championship to the City of Cleveland.

The primary and obvious speculation is that the decision, as many have been in the past two seasons, was influenced directly by Lebron James. Both Griffin and James have denied publicly that James had any say or that he was consulted on the final decision.

Do I think James went to Griffin and “suggested” that Lue be promoted and Blatt let go? No, I do not.

Do I think that James has had ups and downs with Blatt in terms of their coach/player relationship and that he may have known in the back of his head that this would be the end result someday? Absolutely, 100%.

It is important to note that the decision of who to name as the head coach of the Cavaliers was made BEFORE James announced his intent to return to Cleveland in July of 2014, and that while Griffin favored Lue to receive the position, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert preferred Blatt. This must have spawned an interesting conversation over at Quicken Loans Arena when the Sports Illustrated cover was revealed.

OK, Blatt is out and Lue is now the head coach of our team. The next question is, how will the team’s strategy and performance change with a coach that is rumored to be more “in touch” with the players?

Our first test of Lue’s coaching prowess would be against our Eastern Conference rival, the Chicago Bulls, on our home court. The team can only improve if Blatt was such a hinderance to their success, correct?

The final score from our matchup against the Bulls at home? A 96-83 loss where the Cavaliers looked listless and unable to execute.

Now this could be explained by the suddenness of the coaching change or from some apparent shifts in substitution patterns that Lue put into place. Whatever the reason, this team should never lose on their home court when they hold their opponent under 100 points.

All they could muster on the offensive end over 4 quarters was 83 points?!? In this particular game the lack of offense was the fault of several factors.

As a collective group, our bench players shot 3/14 for 8 points. Obviously, that is not a typical set of stats for Dellavedova, Shumpert and Tristan Thompson but this certainly contributed to the lack of scoring overall.

The second factor was that we shot just under 41% (9 for 22) from the free throw line. Essentially, the Cavaliers contracted out all of their free throw shooting for the night to Clippers forward Deandre Jordan; quite an embarrassment in my eyes.

The last factor, in my estimation, relates to offensive strategy. The Cavs took 24 three point shots against Chicago and were only able to make four.

This abysmal 16.7% from downtown means that even though we were showing that the long range shots were not going down, we still continued to take them. Is this just an example of the new coaching staff urging the players to “shoot through” their cold streak?

Listen, I was as shocked as anyone to hear of Blatt’s firing. Too often, there is a Twitter explosion (which I engaged in on a small scale right as it happened) and a rush to be the first to write an opinion piece on whether Griffin is a hero or a zero for this.

I knew that I needed time to process everything, hear all sides of the story, and even see our newly appointed coach in action for the first time before I could give my honest opinion on the matter. Now that most of that has occurred I am ready to levy a judgment!

My feeling is that the Cleveland Cavaliers, while possessing the title of best team in the East, showed that under David Blatt’s coaching, that they could not compete consistently against the best teams in the West. Seeing as the goal of management is acquiring a championship, a change needed to be made.

I applaud our GM as he has put himself into the position of being called either a genius or a goat when it is all said and done. He has certainly volunteered to put this team on the back of his decisions, as great leaders should.

Griffin’s legacy in this city is at stake now more than ever. To me, that is the very definition of ALL IN.

Cleveland Cavaliers Fire David Blatt, Hire Tyronn Lue

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Cleveland Cavaliers have fired Head Coach David Blatt and have promoted Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue to the role.

Obviously this move comes as a shock. Under Blatt, the Cavs had a an 83-40 record plus he was 14-6 in the playoffs ultimately where the Cavaliers lost the NBA Finals. I am speechless at this move. It doesn’t make any sense to do this right now. However, it is not the best kept secret that the players seemed to favor Tyronn Lue more than Blatt. Now for the second year in a row, the Cavaliers will have a rookie head coach trying to win the NBA Finals. 

Stay tuned to Cleveland.morethanafan.net for continuing coverage on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers dreams turn into a nightmare

Well, that was unpleasant.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

In the wake of the 132-98 beat down that the Warriors handed the Cavaliers on MLK Day, I have a few dreams too for my hometown basketball team. If my dreams can have one tenth of the impact that Dr. King’s did, we might just be ok.

Let me set the stage for last night. I was in my favorite chair, with a full belly, watching the national sports media reporting from all of the places I recognize in my city.

It always feels good when my city is featured on this scale. It is a city that has a less than stellar reputation, however, most visitors that I meet are pleasantly surprised with all that it has to offer.

So there I am in my chair, and I see that Mozgov is starting. This is puzzling to me until I am reminded that he has traditionally guarded Andrew Bogut very well.

I am willing to trust my coach and even though Golden State jumps out to a quick 10-2 lead, I am pleased with Mozgov’s play in the first quarter. He looked like a composed, calculating NBA center.

As we proceed though, the rest of our team looks downright awful. They appear to be woefully unprepared for a challenge of this magnitude.

Our team is unable to get stops on the Warriors, nor score on the offensive end. This causes not only the lead to balloon up but also the Cavalier’s frustration level.

At one point, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference was losing by 43 points to the best from the West. This leads me to one of my dreams.

I dream of a day when the Eastern Conference is treated as if it is one half of a professional league and not the minor leagues of the Western Conference.

I get the impression that players from the West truly think that East teams are a joke and do not really belong on the same grand stage as they do. Sadly, this narrative is perpetuated by the national sports media also.

We certainly did nothing to dispute that notion last night. It angers me that this memory of the Cavaliers will be the one that sticks in everyone’s mind and not the 5-1 record we amassed over the road trip against top teams from the West.

If the Cavs can ascend the mountain again in the East and make it back to the Finals, that would be our next opportunity to play the Warriors (provided they successfully maneuver the West gauntlet). This terrible performance will be the first example given when comparing the teams.

The Warriors are the reigning NBA champs so they deserve to be the measuring stick for all teams and I would not deny them that. I would, however, deny the idea that the Cavaliers do not possess the talent to achieve my ultimate dream of hoisting that banner into the ceiling of The Q someday.

The Cavaliers themselves were poised in defeat last night. Coach Blatt took responsibility for the loss and Kevin Love said that the changes need to come from the leadership of the team, though it is unclear whether he was referring to James or Blatt.

Kyrie Irving was essentially a no show last night in his performance. He finished with eight points and five rebounds on 3/11 shooting while Love was also quiet with only three points on 1/5 shooting.

With that depressing of a showing, I would hope that Love would take more responsibility rather than point the finger up the bench. Perhaps he feels that he is not being used in the proper capacity.

Love was certainly more effective earlier in the season when he was being fed the ball in the low post more often. Since the return of Irving and Iman Shumpert, I have noticed him spending more time setting picks and staying outside the three point line.

This strategy with Love is what contributed to a 19-20 record about this time last season. It seems that January is a tenuous month for this iteration of the team, though we have had many more successes overall than 2015.

I am supremely dejected after this loss, though I will not be one of those fans that declares that our dreams of a title are vanquished. The feeling of defeat is one that this city is not only very familiar with experiencing but also very adept at overcoming.

As fans, we need to realize that a defeat of this nature can be used to motivate our guys in the future. The sick feeling in our stomachs can be converted into fuel reserves that can be accessed when we need it the most in the playoffs.

That is the most constructive way to process last night’s result. Otherwise, that sick feeling will encompass us and create doubt in our minds.

The Wine and Gold Nation must do their part and not allow this to happen.

Getting to know: Sasha Kaun

Casual Cavalier fans know and recognize names like James, Irving, Love and even Dellevadova. Today my goal is to introduce a name into the conversation that otherwise has been left out: Kaun

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Sasha Kaun is a 6’11”, 250 pound center from Russia that signed with the Cavs late in the summer of 2015. He most recently played for CSKA Moscow winning five championships with them.

He has other connections to this team as well. He played for Coach David Blatt in the 2012 London Olympics where they finished with the bronze in basketball.

The casual fans are now thinking “I know that guy! He is tall and doesn’t talk a lot and rides a bear in that commercial!” Sorry, we are talking about the other Cavs center from Russia this time.

The primary reason you have not heard of Kaun is because he has only played in a handful of games during this regular season. He DID get some regular playing time in the preseason but that feels like a lifetime ago at this point.

After playing several years overseas, there are aspects of the NBA game that Kaun has struggled with adjusting to. Certainly the speed and size of the opponents are enough to throw off anyone coming from the European style of competition, but even things such as the size of the court (which is wider in the NBA than Euroleague) and the fact that the three point line is further from the basket, have frustrated the near seven footer.

Kaun is accustomed to running the pick and roll from his previous team but he has acknowledged that he is used to being closer to the basket after setting his pick and has had to retrain his brain to match the required timing of the new distance.

At the start of the season, Timofey Mozgov (the aforementioned bear jockey) was the starting center for the team. He has not been sharp and reliable since that time and has been replaced, rightfully so in my book, by the more versatile Tristan Thompson.

Mozgov is losing value nearly every time he steps on the court. I think it would be wise to give those minutes to Kaun, if only to see what you’ve got to work with.

I’m sure he is getting plenty of reps at the training facility in Independence, but I also think that we can agree that playing in an actual game is much more telling of a players potential. Like Mozgov, I am sure that Kaun is benefitting from some mentorship from former Cavalier big, Vitaly Potopenko.

Perhaps it is time to shift some of Potopenko’s focus to Kaun in lieu of Mozgov. Kaun was signed to a fairly meager deal compared to the rest of the roster so what do we have to lose?

I hope that Blatt can look past the adjustments that Kaun needs to make and see that over many seasons in Russia he shot 70.4 percent and even in the meager amount of minutes and opportunities during this season he has shot 60 percent.

Kaun may never be a starter in this league but I think he can be a solid contributor off of the bench after he works out some of the kinks. Here’s hoping the Cavaliers invest some minutes in the big man and try to get a good return on their investment.

Can The Cavaliers Overcome Injuries Again?

If you have followed Cleveland sports for as long as I have, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see one of our star players writhing in pain on the court or field. Your first thought is “Oh God No! Not again!” No sports franchise is immune to injuries, but knowing that never seems to help.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers get set to check in to the game against the Utah Jazz on November 10, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers get set to check in to the game against the Utah Jazz on November 10, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

I got that old fashioned feeling Tuesday night when Kevin Love landed wrong on his ankle. I stood up from my couch with my hands on my head verbally pleading for the sports gods to give us a pass. After all, Love has been the heart of our production this year with Lebron’s play being less relied upon and his minutes being managed.

I immediately was taken back to several similar instances from the past. Names like LeCharles Bentley come to mind. Bentley was a hometown boy who was a Pro Bowler in New Orleans and just wanted to come back to Cleveland and help the Browns be a contender. Sadly, his dreams were dashed in the most abrupt and immediate fashion I have ever heard of. Bentley sustained a career ending injury on literally the FIRST snap of TRAINING CAMP! “Only in Cleveland”, we said.

I also think of Brian Hoyer, who even though he is no longer here, was setting this town on fire with the chemistry he was showing with his receivers in the early part of the 2013 Browns season only to be felled by an ACL tear in his 3rd start.

The most relevant to the Cavs were the playoff injuries to both Love and Kyrie Irving. Love’s shoulder was severely damaged in the opening series against Boston by Kelly Olynyk, causing him to miss the rest of the playoffs.

Irving, the yin to Lebron’s yang all season, injured his knee in Game 1 of the Finals and had surgery to repair his kneecap. That injury will keep Kyrie off of the court until almost mid season of this campaign. There is no doubt that both of these injuries contributed to our eventual loss in the Finals to Golden State.

Most experts believe that if both Love and Irving were healthy, the Cavaliers could have triumphed over Steph Curry and company.

All of these thoughts went through my head when Love went down on Tuesday. I take some solace in the fact that our bench is much improved this year. If Love were to go down, I’m sure Tristan Thompson would be able to step in and fill his shoes. I feel as if Tristan’s offensive game is coming along but is, as it always has, lagging behind his defensive strengths.

Though Lebron had an amazing 4th quarter against Utah (17 points), the other 3 quarters were not played at his typical level. LBJ should not have to bear the burden of “saving” this team as he attempted to do in the Finals.

It seems to me that Coach David Blatt is managing the players minutes much more efficiently this season and the reason we are doing so well is that the team’s productivity doesn’t fall off much when the second unit is on the court. I believe that we could endure one or maybe two injuries to starters this season as a result. In the NBA, these things are often inevitable as the 82 game season, plus playoffs, last from late October until mid June sometimes. This is a long time to play such a physically grueling sport and managing players minutes is the best defense against not only injury but fatigue.

Even with all of that, I’m sure we will see one or more of our prominent players sidelined before the season is over. Selfishly, I don’t want it to happen this early in the season when the players are just starting to hit their stride and develop chemistry with their teammates.

Ultimately, Love had his ankle looked at and rejoined the game Tuesday continuing to play at the high level he had for the entire game. To me, this felt like a warning shot to all of the Cleveland fans about what could and likely will happen this season.

In the past, I have felt as if this team was a house of cards in the sense that any injury to a starter meant that we couldn’t win without them. So far I feel that this team is built with a strong enough foundation that even if we lose a big piece, we have the right players to fill it and continue on towards our ultimate goal of being known as the best team in basketball.

The Cavs Bench Is Vastly Improved

One of the biggest flaws in the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went to the NBA Finals last season was the poor bench play.

It was easy to see the bench was missing a legitimate scoring threat other than the streaky J.R. Smith. By the end of the Finals, both Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson were starting due to injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Shawn Marion was a poor shooter and had little left in the tank. Mike Miller and James Jones could not hit a shot. It ultimately led to the demise of the Cavs against the Golden State Warriors.

This offseason, the Cavs reloaded their bench after trading away Miller and Marion deciding to retire. To fill those replacements, the Cavs signed Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson.

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

I was elated when the Cavs signed Williams for multiple reasons. First off, I know Mo wanted to win a championship here in Cleveland the first time he was here. It was why he was so hurt when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. He wanted to win here.

The Cavs decided to trade Williams to start their rebuilding process after James had left. In that trade, the Cavs netted Baron Davis, whom they amnestied, and a first round pick in which the Cavs used to take Kyrie Irving.

Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. Mo wanted to win here in Cleveland and this past offseason he got another chance. He signed a two-year contract with the Cavs and is already paying dividends.

He has been starting in place of the player he was essentially traded for in the first place, Kyrie. When Kyrie does come back, Mo will move back to coming off the bench and that gets me excited.

Through the first eight games, the 32-year-old point guard is averaging 14.7 PPG and 5.4 APG. He has had three 20-point games, including 29 points against the Utah Jazz last night. He provides consistent outside shooting off the bench, something the Cavs really needed last season.

Richard JeffersonWhen Richard Jefferson joined this team, I am willing to bet that he did not expect to be contributing as much as he is now. He was forced into this roll with Iman Shumpert being hurt and he is excelling at his role.

Jefferson is in his 15th season in the NBA and is with his fifth team in the past five years.  He signed a one-year deal with the Cavs at the league minimum this offseason. In the preseason, you could already tell that Jefferson would turn out to be a better fit with this Cavs team than Marion.

Jefferson has been a starter for a couple games but mainly being the guy that gives LeBron the rest he needs and is producing in that spot. He is averaging just under 10 points per game this season and is also hitting the outside shot. He will absolutely be a key player off the bench this season for the Cavs and will be what Marion was supposed to be last season.

Tristan Thompson is being Tristan Thompson. He is giving this Cavs team a near double-double off the bench, which is insane. But for $82 million, he better be doing something extraordinary like that.

It has been great to see the return of Anderson Varejao. I just hope he can stay healthy through the 82-game schedule and a long post-season run. His minutes seem to be being managed very closely and that will be important in the long run to stay healthy for the entire season.

Will we see Sasha Kaun play much this season? I highly doubt it unless someone gets hurt.

To me the biggest surprise has been the improvement of Dellavedova. I no longer cringe every time I see Delly take a shot. He has worked on his game tremendously during the offseason. The biggest question with Delly is where does he fit in when Kyrie and Shumpert return from injuries?

It is a good problem to have when everyone does get healthy. Coach David Blatt will have to find a way to manage the five guard rotation of Irving, Williams, Delly, Smith and Shumpert.

Jared Cunningham has been a nice addition to the Cavs team early this season. However, he and Joe Harris will find themselves on the outside looking in when Kyrie and Shumpert return from injury.

The Cavs’ backcourt is easily the deepest in the entire NBA and the depth in the front court is solid. The Cavs bench has been greatly improved from last season to this season. Hopefully this year, it will turn into what Cleveland has been wanting since 1964, a championship.

Big-Picture Cavs Will Absorb Loss of Shumpert

The good feelings and the revelry of Media Day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, to some, probably didn’t last long enough.

Within 24 hours of the press getting its first glance of the 2015-16 edition of the team, the Cavs announced that guard Iman Shumpert will have surgery to repair a ruptured extensor carpi ulnaris sheath on his right wrist. He suffered the rupture in the days leading up to training camp. Recovery time for this injury, according to doctors, will take 12 to 14 weeks.

Shumpert’s wrist is just the latest in injuries to the Cavaliers roster. Kevin Love is coming back from

 Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers .  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers . (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

a separated shoulder that was caused by Kelly Olynyk, which turned the Celtics player into Cleveland’s latest folk villain. Anderson Varejao is also back after mending from an Achilles injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

Add into that center Timofey Mozgov’s off-season knee surgery, plus the fact that Kyrie Irving was already going to be out until January because of his knee, and it all lays the groundwork for a huge fan freak-out.

But is there really that much cause for concern? Not really.

Love, Varejao and Mozgov have already started working out at training camp in non-contact drills, and it looks as if all three of them will be ready for the start of the regular season. Plus, general manager David Griffin added some insurance at the front, signing 2008 draft pick and Russian Leaguer Sasha Kaun, along with former Spurs forward Austin Daye. If nothing else, the move could provide some early-season rest for any of the main players.

And eventually, Tristan Thompson will be back with the team, so there should some added depth. It will just be a matter of when he signs and for how long at this point. Too bad it’s taken forever already.

Now that Shumpert is out of the picture in the short-term, the Cavs rotation at shooting guard will start with J.R. Smith, who took turns with his former Knicks teammate in the starting role. With Shumpert out for three months, Smith will now take the helm at the 2. Matthew Dellavedova will also probably see time at the shooting guard position. And maybe, just maybe, fans will see a little bit more of Joe Harris in the early part of the season before he takes his annual trip down to the Canton Charge.

Head coach David Blatt will probably spend the first part of this season working on the team’s depth, which proved to be the albatross around his neck that eventually came to haunt him during the NBA Finals. Even with most of last season’s squad back, Blatt was notorious for short rotations, which led to his stars running out of gas in the end. Playing around with the lineup while key players are out should fix that problem this time around.

And it may even give some training-camp signees some hope for playing time with the big team at the start. Along with Harris, who was the Cavs’ second rounder last season, free agents Jared Cunningham and Quinn Cook, who was part of Duke’s latest national championship team, will see if they have what it takes to stick around, at least in the short-team.

Most of all, it helps that the Cavaliers are in the Eastern Conference, which they are picked as the overwhelming favorite to win once again. The state of flux for most of their conference foes already gave the Cavs a sizeable advanatage, injuries or no injuries.

This helps when you have LeBron James on the roster.

So, while it seems like a short-staffed Cavs team could be staring down the barrel of another slow start like they say last season, it has always been the end of the road that has been the goal.

And with that in mind, it should keep fans from completely losing their minds.

Cavs Heroes in Games 4 and 5

The Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from reaching their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2008-09. It’s been six years, but it feels like a whole hell of a lot longer.

After the loss of Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs in round one; injuries by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Iman Shumpert; and the two-game suspension of J.R. Smith; the Cavs were able to #grit out wins in games two, four and five.

The series will head back to Chicago where the Bulls face elimination.

The Cavs seemed to be okay with ping-ponging series position with the Bulls since no team could get a string of two wins together. The Bulls had the only leads in the series after games one and three.

But the Cavs decided in games four and five that they would plant their flag in this series and force Chicago to win two straight of there own or go home and watch the Cavs face off between the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards.

With Kyrie noticeably hobbled, the Cavs had to find some way to win games four and five. LeBron needed to be more aggressive and needed some help on the offensive end. Thankfully, we’ve seen both at varying points.

While LeBron wasn’t terribly aggressive in game four, he almost came away with a triple double with 25 points (on 30[!!!] shots [only four free throw attempts]), 14 rebounds, and eight assists. He was sloppy with the ball in the first half, but was able to seal the game on a buzzer beating shot in the corner to even up the series once again.

For my money, game five was the best game LeBron’s had in the playoffs, and perhaps since he’s come back to Cleveland.

LeBron talked about how, with all the obstacles mentioned above, he needed to be more assertive even though his M.O. is to be efficient. In game five, he was both. And he was fantastic.

It’s no secret that LeBron fell in love with his jump shot a too much in this series. On Tuesday night, while he still put some up, he did so in a decisive fashion. There were less jab steps to create space/ball-hold and more quickness towards the rim.

In the first four games of this series, only 18.9% of LeBron’s shots came after holding the ball for less than two seconds. Most of his shots, 46.2% to be exact, came after holding the ball for more than six seconds. Not ideal.

In game five, there were more plays like this:

https://vine.co/v/eKZQpDhv562

LeBron took 25% of his shots when he held the ball for less than two seconds. The amount of shots he took when he held the ball for more than six seconds dropped to 37.5%. I think part of this definitely had to due with the fact that Jimmy Butler was in early foul trouble, but I also think LeBron just flat out wanted to make that adjustment (or at least I hope so).

Even from the naked eye, it seems LeBron is able to make more buckets when he’s in rhythm. Him receiving a pass and taking four jabs steps, holding the ball for seven seconds, and heaving a long 2-pointer just isn’t a good shot. This is especially true for him since he isn’t the purest shooter in the world.

LeBron’s efficiency/aggression combo showed up in the box score as well, to the tune of 38 points on 24 shots and 12 free throws, 12 rebounds, and six assists. And…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thankfully, LeBron had some help the last two games of this series.

Timofey Mozgov

Mozgov was pretty bad offensively in game five. He was 0-7 in just 23 minutes of play, committing three fouls and three turnovers. Three of his seven shots were from 10 feet or further away from the hoop. He did contribute a six rebounds and a block.

Mozgov made his positive impact in game four.

Part of this is due to an adjustment probably made by David Blatt/his staff.

In game one, Mozgov looked like a defensive liability. Part of his duty was to guard Pau Gasol, which just doesn’t suit his style. Gasol finished that night with 21 points on 10-16 shooting and a bazillion mid-range jumpers.

In games three and four, Mozgov was never on Gasol (who was out with a hamstring injury in games four and five). Mozgov was usually either on Noah or Taj Gibson, where they primarily make their offensive plays in the paint – or in Gibson’s case, more so than Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.

Mozgov played much better in this role and it really stood out in game four on Sunday. Even when Noah was setting high screens for the guards, Mozgov hung out in the paint, knowing Noah isn’t much of an offensive threat, even close to the basket.

This remains true when Noah receives the ball. Mozgov just stays back and baits Noah into these types of decisions

https://vine.co/v/eKmew2FP9lM

Shots like these and defense like Mozgov’s led Noah to shoot 4-12 in game four. Noah’s just not a good pick-and-roll player unless he keeps the ball moving.

Noah’s liability on offense let Mozgov stay in or near the paint at all costs. This helped the Cavs defense hold the Bulls to 37.9% (11-29) in the restricted area. Which, uh, isn’t good.

https://vine.co/v/eKm6b21nEO0

This block on Derrick Rose pretty much sums up how Mozgov was able to be effective. Noah had the ball between the elbow and the wing. Since there’s no reason to respect his shot, Mozgov sagged off. Once Rose got the ball and drove, Mozgov was in position to funnel him to the backside of the rim and had the athletic ability to block him from behind.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert

Even though the Cavs came up short, Smith was a clutch contributor in game three, hitting three of five shots in the fourth quarter – all 3-pointers. This came in his first game back from his two-game suspension.

In game four, he added three more 3’s, all of them coming in the fourth quarter. When the Cavs needed him the most, J.R. Smith showed up. J.R. Smith.

Smith was performing so well, he forced me to defend Blatt for possibly having LeBron inbound the ball on the last possession of game four. Had the Cavs been down and needed a bucket, Smith should’ve been the one to shoot it. He was doing that well; head and shoulders above his teammates.

It can’t be understated how important J.R. is to this team right now, especially if Kyrie’s foot bothers him like it did on Sunday. He looked much better on Tuesday night, but if it starts to act up, Smith will be the one the Cavs have to look for to get some points.

Shumpert has been just as important on the defensive end. And while he had his way with the mid-range jumpers in game five (4-4), it’s been his defensive ability that the Cavs have been able to lean on given Kyrie’s injury.

Even with Shumpert’s groin problem, the Cavs have asked a lot from him recently on the defensive end. He’s done everything from guarding Jimmy Butler at the start of games to defending Derrick Rose to switching on pick-and-rolls and playing tough in the post.

Since J.R.’s return to the lineup this series, in the last three games Shumpert has played some of his best defensive basketball for the Cavs, given the circumstances, and the numbers reflect that.

(Click to expand the image if it’s blurry)

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.28.01 AM

Above are Shumpert’s diff% numbers. It’s a small sample, just three games, but the numbers are pretty striking. He’s held his opponents to a worse percentage than normal in every area of the court.

This is huge because it gives the Cavs more options on to do with the defense. When Kyrie was hurting, they put him on Mike Dunleavy and Shumpert on Rose. When the Cavs wanted to switch on PnR’s, Shumpert’s shown he’s able to hold up on a guy like Mirotic in the post (which admittedly isn’t Niko’s forte).

The Cavs have been battered and bruised since game four of the first round. They’ve been able to gut out a few wins against the Bulls and are another away from meeting the Hawks or Wizards for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.

Did you just get chills? Well you should’ve.

All stats are courtesy of stats.nba.com (because it is really awesome) unless stated otherwise.

Thank You, David Griffin

A lot of people deserve credit for the turnaround the Cleveland Cavaliers organization has seen in the last 365 days.

Some people will say first and foremost that none of this happens without LeBron James making the decision choice to come back to Cleveland. He’s in the MVP conversation and the only thing that will probably hold him back from winning it is the first two months of the season. Since January 15, you’ll be hard pressed to find a player who has performed better.

Of course, it also helps that LeBron – as well as Kyrie Irving and others – had some new toys to play with once he came back from his two-week hiatus. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov will also get a varying amount of credit for sparking the Cavs.

Owner Dan Gilbert might also receive praise for his work this offseason, making amends with LeBron. He was also the driving force behind David Blatt being hired in Cleveland. Gilbert is also opening up his pocketbook to pay two coaches at the same time after firing Mike Brown with four years still left on his contract.

Then you have Kyrie, who’s taken the big step we all wished for. He single-handedly beat two powerhouse Western Conference teams in the Portland Trail Blazers and defending champion San Antonio Spurs. He’s also shooting the best he ever has from deep and at the rim.

And some people will even say David Blatt deserves the most credit of all, being able to make these players buy in. It may not have happened as soon as we all wanted it to, but these guys are clicking at the right time of the season. Lol, who am I kidding #FireBlatt

I’m not here to say who deserves more or less credit or that so-and-so doesn’t deserve any credit. When it comes to a conversation like this, variance is a must have. But I’ll be damned if first-year General Manager David Griffin doesn’t get his just dues.

In case you forgot or were understandably hiding from Cavaliers action, Griff took over as interim GM the night after the weirdest/worst game since my fandom started in 2002. After the Cavs were beaten by a four-man Lakers squad, Chris Grant was fired the next day.

The loss was just the tipping point for Grant. He made controversial and questionable picks such as Tristan Thompson (at the time), Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and Carrick Felix. He was also responsible for signing free agent busts Jarrett Jack (4 years, $25.2 million!!), Andrew Bynum, and Earl Clark – all in one offseason.

David Griffin Kvin Love intro presser

In his first trade deadline, in a surprising move, Griffin dealt for 76ers big man Spencer Hawes, sending Philly Clark and Henry Sims along with draft picks. Hawes became the Cavs’ best 3-point shooter at 44.8%. Though I was disappointed he wasn’t re-signed in the offseason, he’s now having arguably the worst season of his career.

Griffin went on to draft Andrew Wiggins and made the contentious decision to include him in a deal that brought in Kevin Love. And even though I didn’t have enough foresight to see the big picture, Griff did. And now, finally, so do I.

Griff and the Cavs were all in.

But the season started out rougher than expected. Some had anticipated a somewhat slow start for the Cavs, after all, this was a severely face lifted team from just a season ago. But not like this. Not a 19-20 start.

Before the Cavs went on a six-game losing streak, one without LeBron James at their service, Griffin decided to speak out publicly against the rumors about David Blatt’s job being in jeopardy. He also preached patience.

LeBron wasn’t healthy and the Cavs weren’t complete. Griff knew this, we didn’t.

The very next day, the Cavs dealt Dion Waiters for Smith, Shumpert, and a pick in a three-team deal.

Two days later the Griff worked some more magic and traded two first rounders to Denver for Mozgov. This was viewed by many as an overpay by the Cavs, but Griff had a plan and executed it. He saw both trades as one big deal, only having to give up Waiters, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and a first round pick for their three new players.

And it just so happens that the New Big 3 and the Cavs roster go together like Kevin Love and dreamy faces.

Shumpert has brought perimeter defense the Cavs needed but didn’t have, along with occasional floor spacing. Smith has brought exceptional floor spacing with more offensive ability and surprisingly good defense and effort. Mozgov, perhaps the most important of the acquisitions, filled a depleted center position that got even worse with the season-ending Achilles injury to Anderson Varejao.

And, most importantly…

J.R. and Timo have filled an emotional role that I desperately needed because my fandom for certain players is usually very inexplicable.

Griff was able to get guys that both fit with the team and provide entertainment. And while that might just be a coincidence, I’m not sold that Griffin didn’t do his due diligence on their characters. Of course, he was really taking a chance on J.R. Smith. But the odds of him acting out on a championship contending team has gone down significantly. Instead of him untying opponents’ shoelaces during free throws, he’s doing cartwheels during post-game interviews.

https://youtu.be/1THwZHJGpLk

This is just the type of team David Griffin talked about when he was named interim GM. Some laughed at the time, but a few days after Griffin was named acting GM, he said:

“I want to see us smile more,” he said. “I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes. I want guys to accept making one and then move on.”

Some dude most of us never even heard of talking about smiling more – he was now making the day-to-day decisions for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a professional basketball team.

But that’s just the kind of guy David Griffin is. He has a positive attitude and serendipity or not, this Cavs team has reflected it since January 15.

Some will say that he just fell into a great situation, which is partly true. Chris Grant did do a great job of acquiring assets (picks) to provide maneuverability. It wasn’t any skill of Griffin’s that helped the Cavs win the lottery and consequently get Love to Cleveland. He also wasn’t responsible for luring LeBron James coming back to the Cavs.

But he still had to pull the trigger on trading the number one pick in Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota. And if you think that’s no big deal, then you weren’t around for the hundreds of daily Twitter threads constantly debating whether the trade should’ve happened or not.

Griff also made a few deals that I think fly under the radar. Griffin may not have been a deciding factor that helped bring LeBron back, but he created the necessary cap space to sign him onto a max deal. He also created his own flexibility for moves in the future.

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers

First, Griffin was able to convince a team to take on Jarrett Jack’s behemoth of a contract. He, along with Sergey Karasev, were sent to Brooklyn, while Tyler Zeller and a first round pick were shipped to Boston. In return, the Cavs got a heavily protected pick from Boston that they will likely never see. Oh, and enough cap space to sign LeBron.

Griffin also dealt Carrick Felix (who is not currently in the NBA) and a second round pick to Utah for the unguaranteed contracts of John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, and Malcolm Thomas. These three players were then traded with Cavs 2015 second round pick Dwight Powell and two second round picks to Boston for Keith Bogans and two more heavily protected second round picks.

Bogans and a second round pick were then traded to Philadelphia for another protected second round selection. Trading Bogans gave the Cavs a ~$5.3 million trade exception, which was used to bring in… Timofey Mozgov.

These moves that Griffin initiated in the offseason enabled the Cavs to acquire the players that have made them look like one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

So if you think he’s been able to make this Cave team that we see before us just because of the cushion of picks that was leftover from Chris Grant, you are sorely mistaken.

David Griffin is enormously responsible for bringing together one of the more fun-inducing and talented teams we may ever see in Cleveland. And I thank him for that.

This is a man who has beaten cancer, twice. Not only has David Griffin put together what seems to be a perfectly fitting team, he did so in a manner that should be commended. He comes off as a leader in every sense of the word. He’s honest, knowledgeable, and just seems to love the game of basketball. He deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done so far and faith in what’s to come in the future.