Kyrie shines in Cavs’ Wine & Gold scrimmage

October 6, 2013

Editor’s note: Yes, this is the first post on this blog in two months. Yes, I hope to post more now that the season’s around the corner. And I’ll also concentrate more efforts on covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thanks for reading.

Kyrie Irving’s 17 points led Team Wine to a 46-38 victory over Team Gold in today’s abbreviated Wine & Gold scrimmage for military members and their families. Mike Brown called the game midway through the third quarter after Tyler Zeller sustained what appears to be a minor hip strain, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Schmitt Boyer.

THE TEAMS

Team Wine: Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao. Bench: Sergey Karasev, Henry Sims, Kenny Kadji, Elliot Williams.

Team Gold: Zeller, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, C.J. Miles, Anthony Bennett. Bench: Carrick Felix, Michael Lee, Matthew Dellavedova, DeSagana Diop, Jermaine Taylor.

* Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark changed teams after halftime.

THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME

* Jarrett Jack. I’m already happy to eat some of my concerns re: the Jack signing — that a 4-year, $25.2-million deal was too hefty a financial commitment. Jack wasn’t sensational today; he finished with 9 points and 6 assists. But it was clear from the opening tap he was the glue on the inferior Gold team. His playmaking ability, as a passer and scorer, has to be a welcome reprieve for Irving (say goodbye to the days of Dion running point!). GM Chris Grant mentioned on the broadcast that Jack often leads this Gold squad to victories in practice game against the Wine team, aka the temporary starters.

You can already tell his competitiveness will bring out the best in Kyrie, and the Dukie expended some serious energy on the defensive end against Jack. The question is how will Brown split playing time between Jack and Dion in the backcourt — and where does that leave C.J. Miles. Right now, based on his play and leadership ability, I’d expect Jack to see heavy fourth quarter minutes.

** Tyler Zeller. I’m not sure there’s a Cleveland player I’ve personally been harder on since Drew Gooden, but Zeller impressed today. Perhaps not to the extent of Dion, but his physique has been one of the storylines of training camp. (I’m not sure of his listed weight now vs. last year, but he does look — and play — stronger.) Zeller was the most impressive of Cleveland’s bigs, finishing with 13 points.

One play stands out: Zeller caught the ball in the paint with Tristan and another defender standing in front of the hoop. Instead of trying to finesse around them, he went straight to the rim looking to dunk and drew a foul on Thompson. Zeller’s competing with Thompson, AV, Bennett, Clark and eventually Andrew Bynum (hopefully) for frontcourt minutes. The mid-range jumper is there; Zeller needs to continue to finish strong, rebound the basketball and defend.

*** Kyrie Irving. Head and shoulders the best player on the court. Irving says he wants to be the NBA’s best player in Year No. 3, and he’s at least on his way to joining the conversation. Mr. Fourth Quarter finished with 17 points, made four of his six 3-point attempts, including about a 30-footer before the halftime horn, and displayed those filthy handles that Brandon Knight still has nightmares about. Kyrie had no problem splitting defenders at the top and finding the open teammate near the hoop with passes nobody should be able to make.

Perhaps of most importance: I liked Kyrie’s commitment on the defensive end. He was active, in passing lanes and even chasing rebounds. (I’d pay just about anything to see he and Jarrett Jack go at it 1-on-1; those two guys have crazy competitive spirits that already seem to be mutually beneficial.) The bottom line: Kyrie’s in midseason form, and I fear for anyone in his way.

3 RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

* Anthony Bennett was up and down. The No. 1 overall pick air-balled his first two jumpers; both times, he appeared to looking down toward his feet to make sure he was beyond the NBA 3-point line. Carr noticed that he appeared to be fading on his shot — a concern Dion Waiters addressed this summer, and one frequently mentioned on the broadcast.

Bennett was involved, one for the better and another for the worse, in two of the game’s highlight plays. The latter: on a secondary break, Gee crossed up the rookie before a lefty lay-in; the former: a Bennett facial on Gee. After a rocky start, Bennett, like many of the other guys, appeared to settle into a rhythm. Important to note: MB’s not likely to ask much of the rookie early this year.

** You’ve got to love Carrick Felix’s energy. He plays at one speed and expends as much effort as anyone else on the floor. He finished with 2 points on 2-4 from the FT line, but his highlight play came on the defensive end, where he flashed quick recovery speed to block an Elliot Williams perimeter jumper. I love his effort and athleticism as an outside defensive specialist.

But Felix has to learn to play smart. He had an open, left-corner 3-ball that he passed up to recklessly drive on Gee and Henry Sims to no avail. I also have concerns about his ball-handling ability. That said, he looks to be a lock to make the team and will have ample time to develop in practice, or perhaps with the D-League club in Canton.

*** It was a fairly quiet day for Thompson and Varejao, but we did see Thompson’s new and improved right-handed foul shot. He missed both of his attempts, but his form definitely looks cleaner. TT shot 78% on 37 attempts in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas this offseason, a 20-point improvement over his career average.

Note: You can watch the full scrimmage on Cavs.com.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Andrew Bynum to Cavs: All reward, no risk

July 12, 2013

Andrew Bynum is your newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The news of an incentive-laced 2-year, $24-million deal, first reported Wednesday by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, brought out excited Cavs fans on Twitter. And why not.

Admittedly hesitant at first, here’s why I love this deal.

Not a lot of financial risk.

$6 million guaranteed in Year No. 1, Year 2’s a team option. Sign me up!

If Bynum flops, Chris Grant lets him walk next summer and maintains flexibility to sign a max-contract player, such as a LeBron James. Even after the signings of Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack, the Cavs needed to spend to reach the $52-million salary floor. Why not spend it on a 7-footer who’s still only 25 and has averaged double-figure scoring every year he’s played since 2007-08, all while carrying the burden of being Shaquille O’Neal’s successor in L.A.

If Bynum plays well, Grant owns a team option for an affordable $12.5 million, barely $1 million more than DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee are scheduled to make, next season. Trade Anderson Varejao and decline team options on Clark and Alonzo Gee, and, boom, you’ve got your max slot again!

Or, Grant could pick up Bynum’s team option and then shop him. L.A. picked up Bynum’s option last summer, only to deal him to Philadelphia in the Dwight Howard trade 2 months later.

The injury history is real, but doesn’t bother me.

Not every day does a team add a 19-point, 12-rebound-a-night center. Those were Bynum’s stats in 60 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, under current Cavs coach Mike Brown, while sharing touches with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. He’s a 2-time NBA champion with 74 postseason games under his belt, easily the most among any current Cavs player barring a Luke Walton return.

Sure, Bynum’s a health risk. He’s played only one 82-game season throughout his 8-year career, and he’s missed at least 15 games 5 out of 7 times since he started earning meaningful minutes in 2006-07. Much is made of how Bynum’s knees, re-aggravated during a November bowling injury, kept him out of all last season in Philly, and how many, including Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have questioned his work ethic.

But now, Bynum’s legitimately playing for his NBA career. If he flops in Cleveland, and if the knee issues return, he’s going to have a hard time finding anything more than veteran-minimum dollars in free agency next summer.

Look at this roster. This is a playoff team.

There’s five teams in the Eastern Conference above everyone else — in no particular order, Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana, Chicago and New York. Boston traded 2 of its 3 best players, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to Brooklyn, sent their Hall-of-Fame coach to L.A. and could be shopping Rajon Rondo. Atlanta lost Josh Smith to Detroit, and Milwaukee’s likely to lose Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick.

I see the Cavs, next to Washington and Detroit, competing for those 6-8 playoff spots, along with Atlanta, maybe Toronto and whatever Boston throws on the floor.

The Cavs needed an offensive punch, so here comes Bynum, Jack and No. 1 selection Anthony Bennett. The Cavs needed a defensive mentality, so here comes Mike Brown, Clark and Jack.

Barring any other major moves or injuries, that’s a rotation of Kyrie Irving and Bynum, 2 of the league’s top 30 players when healthy; Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Bennett, Jack, Clark, Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles, Gee and maybe Sergey Karasev. That’s 11 quality NBA talents.

And when they need buckets, a 3-guard lineup of Irving, Waiters and Jack, coupled with Bynum and Bennett would give defenses a lot to handle.

Yeah, I really like this team.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 reasons to love the Earl Clark signing

July 5, 2013

About 86 hours into free agency, Chris Grant made his first move. Enter Sporting News’ Sean Deveney.

And TNT’s David Aldridge.

Boom. And here’s 3 reasons why I love this deal.

1. It’s all about the $.

A team option for year No. 2 of this deal means zero risk for the Cavaliers, a team clearly trying to preserve at least enough cap space for next summer to make a run at a max free agent. If Clark fails to meet expectations, Grant can easily wash his hands of the former Louisville product a year from now, and we’re right back where we started.

Should he so desire, Grant could still throw $15 million a year at a Nikola Pekovic, Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala and remain firmly under the cap, though I’d guess those are unlikely. Or, Grant could fill out his roster with short-term deals and rookie contracts, then leave ample room for a major splash next summer, should LeBron James explore the market. Until this year’s rookie class is signed, the Cavaliers actually have $0 on the books for next season, just team options.

On Clark’s end, after a breakout year in an ugly situation, I expected more potential suitors. Clark had never played more than 12.5 minutes per game before last season, and still only averaged 7.3 points with the Lakers. But his age, 25; size and versatility, 6’10” and can play the 3 or 4; and range, 34% from 3 last year and improving, make him an appealing target.

Now, he’s in Cleveland on essentially a 1-year, $4.5-million deal. And you know he’ll work his ass off because it’s very much a contract year.

2. Versatility, baby.

That Mike Brown loved this kid enough to help lure him to Cleveland, after coaching him for only 5 regular season games in L.A., tells me a lot. Mike D’Antoni said last year that Clark could guard all 5 positions. With Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao at the 4, early reports indicate the Cavs plan on using Clark at the 3. Clark should compete with Alonzo Gee and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, another stretch 3-4 at 6’7″, for a starting spot.

A thrown-in part of the Dwight Howard deal, Clark averaged a very respectable 11.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. L.A.’s most commonly used 5-man lineup — Clark, Howard, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash — left Clark at the 4 for close to 340 minutes. D’Antoni loved Clark so much, he started him in 36 games, often over 4-time All Star Pau Gasol.

Clark immediately becomes the best perimeter defender on the Cavs’ roster. In a conference with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, he’ll draw a range of assignments.

Consider these words from ESPN L.A.’s Dave McMenamin, who covers the Lakers.

3. Another weapon for Kyrie, Cavs.

Just add another face to a team loaded with young, quality talent. I’m not suggesting Clark is as important to Cleveland’s long-term future as Kyrie Irving, Thompson, Bennett or even Dion Waiters, but it’s not every day you add a playoff-caliber role player. (I’m not concerned with his dismal postseason stats against the Spurs — 3.5 points, 3 rebounds and 37% shooting — given how short-handed L.A. was for that series.)

I anointed Clark one of my 5 second-tier free agents to watch last week, before I knew Cleveland had interest. If there was any doors open on a Luke Walton or Omri Casspi return, those are, thankfully, shut. With team options on both for 2014-15, I’m guessing Clark and Gee will spend 2013-14 fighting for one spot, unless the Cavs strike out next July.

This move was made because of Clark’s defensive prowess. But he can grow as a 3-point shooter — hopefully enough to stretch the floor for Kyrie-AV pick-and-rolls and Tristan post-ups — and rebounder.

By no means is this a blockbuster move. But be excited, fellow Cavs fans.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 free agents I’d love to see in Wine & Gold

June 30, 2013

Cleveland Cavaliers GM Chris Grant has quite the rainy day fund to play with, or not play with, this summer. Within the past 2 days, Marreese Speights has declined a $4.5-million player option, and Grant decided not to extend $3-million qualifying offers to Omri Casspi and Wayne Ellington, effectively making all 3 unrestricted free agents. Cleveland owns a $2.25-million team option on C.J. Miles, who was reportedly on the block on draft night.

So, if the Cavs pick up Miles’ option, Grant will have about $30.25 million tied up in 7 players; if not, about $28 million tied up in 6. That does not include any of the team’s 3 draft selections — Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev or Carrick Felix — all of whom I’d expect in a Cleveland uniform on opening night.

The salary cap for the 2013-14 NBA season is set for around $58.5 million, and the floor, or minimum teams must spend on players, about $52.65 million, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.

Grant has money to burn. But he also has to be smart — next summer’s free agent class, and of course the possibility of LeBron returning, is much better, plus Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will be due considerable extensions about 16 months from now. So Grant either has to a) front-load any hefty deals, or b) sign veteran guys to 1-year deals.

That said, here’s 3 lower-tier free agents Grant could have at a bargain.

No. 1: Greg Oden, 25, C, free agent

To me, this is a no-brainer low-risk, high-reward type of move. Oden, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 Draft, played a year at Ohio State. Alongside Miami, who’s restricted in the amount of money they can offer the 7-footer, Cleveland’s the team most commonly mentioned in the Oden sweepstakes.

Cleveland passed on Nerlens Noel and Alex Len in Thursday’s draft, and thus need a center. The Cavs are not players in the Dwight Howard chase, and, despite a HoopsWorld report to the contrary, I refuse to believe Grant’s serious about signing the sideshow that is Andrew Bynum, who played the same amount of games as Oden last year.

Yes, Oden has not played since the 2009-10 season, and has only played 82 games in his entire career. But consider these stats from his 21 games in ’09-10: 11.1 points on 60% from the field and 77% from the foul line, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in 23.9 minutes. Per 36 minutes, that’s 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks; in 35.8 minutes per last year, Dwight Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

It would be unwise to expect these numbers from Oden right away, or even at all, but even glimpses over 15 quality minutes a night is worth a few million. A rim-protector and quality finisher in close, Oden would also give the Cavs the 3rd No. 1 overall selection on their roster. If he can be had for $8-10 million over 2 years, with a team option for the second, I’m all for it.

No. 2: Corey Brewer, 27, SF, Denver Nuggets

I’ve loved Brewer’s game for as long as I can remember. Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball in 2004, a 2-time national champion at Florida in 2006 and 2007, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in ’07, and an NBA champion in 2011 — though he only appeared in a combined 19 games, regular season and playoffs, for the latter.

Energy, defense, intangibles, more energy. Perhaps George Karl’s up-tempo style was the perfect fit for Brewer; he averaged 12.1 points in 24.4 minutes last year. But he’s also shown he can score in a slower style — he started all 82 games for Minnesota in 2009-10 and netted 13 points per 30.3 minutes.

Mike Brown would love Brewer’s length — he’s 6’9″ — on the perimeter, but how he’d fare defensively in the post, at only 188 pounds, against guys like LeBron James, 250; Carmelo Anthony, 230; and Paul Pierce, 235, is another story. Either way, if the market for small forwards collapsed and Grant threw $3-4.5 million annually at this guy — Brewer made $3.25 this year — I’d be thrilled.

No. 3: Shaun Livingston, 27, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Grant doesn’t have to look outside his own locker room for candidate No. 3. A Christmas Day signing in 2012, Livingston contributed, probably too much, to the Cavs this year — he averaged 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and shot 51% from the field in 23.2 minutes. The former No. 4 overall pick even started 12 games as Kyrie Irving missed time late in the year.

The fact that Livingston was able to return from this and, 6 years later, is still a solid role player in this league tells me everything I need to know about the guy. I love his 6’7″-frame on the perimeter, his ability to back down smaller point guards and score over the top, and his effectiveness in delivering the ball to his bigs. By all indications, he’s a quality teammate and an even better backup point for Kyrie, a spot the Cavs had struggled to fill prior to his arrival.

Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico reported June 1 the Cavs like Livingston, but his camp was likely to seek a deal larger than they’d be willing to pay. I’m not saying throw $4-5 million annually at Livingston, but if he finds the market a bit cooler than he expected, I’d be more than happy with a 2-3 year deal worth $2-3 million per. Health is no longer much of a concern; Livingston appeared in 66 games for 2 teams last year, 58 in the lockout-shortened campaign the year prior, and 73 in 2010-11.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

February 8, 2013

The strategy employed by Chris Grant in building the post-LeBron James era Cleveland Cavaliers is quite simple — be really, really bad and accumulate as many draft picks as possible. Well, the Cavs, though in the midst of a far from terrible 9-11 stretch that includes wins over Boston and Oklahoma City, are not very good; the team’s 15-34, last in the Central Division and well out of the playoff race. The Cavs have acquired 4 additional first-round picks, in addition to the team’s own, from now until 2020, and if the Lakers earn a postseason bid, have the ability to swap a likely late first-round selection this June, via Miami in the LeBron trade, with L.A.’s, via the Ramon Sessions trade.

Believe it or not, Cleveland’s in a really good place right now. In the last 2 years, Grant’s acquired 4 promising young players through the NBA Draft. Kyrie Irving, in only his sophomore year at age 20, is an All Star reserve and arguably the league’s best point guard, with 23.9 points per game far and away tops at the position (all due respect to Chris Paul). Tristan Thompson, last year’s No. 4 overall selection, is really coming along in 2012-13, showing a wider variety of post moves, improved body control and an ability to play under control. As for rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, it’s still too early to tell. Both have shown flashes — Waiters as a capable slasher at the 2, with an ability to attack the cup and a streaky outside jumper that demands respect, and Zeller as a stronger-than-expected 4 not afraid to fool around inside but also with an ability to step outside and stretch the defense.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — BROOKLYN NETS

But depth has been an issue. Kyrie’s missed 11 games, Dion 8 and Anderson Varejao, whose 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game had him on an All Star pace, 24 and counting. Varejao was first sidelined indefinitely with a right knee injury, then news of a blood clot ended his season early for the 3rd consecutive year. And Cleveland’s 27.9 bench points per game, helped immensely by the acquisition of Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington a few weeks ago, still only ranks 24th in the NBA. (In 6 games with the Cavs, Speights has averaged 14.7 points, second best on the team, and 7.3 rebounds in less than 25 minutes per, accumulating a 22.2 PER.)

Cleveland could use a healthy Varejao in February, if at the very least to entertain any and all trade offers. Financially speaking, Cleveland’s in very good shape, with their largest salary — Baron Davis’s amnestied, and thus off the books, $14.85 million — expiring this summer. Speights, with a $4.5 million player option for next year he’s likely to opt out of, is the only question mark. Luke Walton’s $6.1 million expires, as does Daniel Gibson’s $4.8 million, and both are unlikely to return. Wayne Ellington, a restricted free agent, has a $3.1 million qualifying offer the Cavs should extend for his outside shooting. Omri Casspi, who’s struggled immensely in his 1.5 years here and fallen to the end of Byron Scott’s bench, is a restricted free agent the Cavs are likely to let walk.

Cleveland only has $32.5 million committed next year, and $0 on the books for 2014-15, with team options held on Varejao, Irving, Thompson, Waiters, Gee and Zeller, all of which are affordable and very likely to be extended. The point: Cleveland’s in the running for at least one max free agent in the summer when all 3 of Miami’s stars can opt out, including LeBron James, who’s been speculated to be weighing a potential return to his native northeast Ohio.

RELATED: I’M DONE WITH LEBRON

Pipe dreams aside, at the very least, the young core is in place for years to come. Irving and Thompson are all but locked in through 2015-16, and Zeller and Waiters through 2016-17. Should Speights return on a reasonable contract, say in the $6-8 million per year range, Scott would have four very solid frontcourt guys, assuming full health, in Andy, Zeller, Thompson and Marreese, three of whom (Zeller excluded) are capable of giving you 10-15 any given night. Since LeBron’s departure, SF has been a glaring weakness, as Alonzo Gee, who averages 10.3 points per game (ironically, the same as his 281st-ranked PER) on 40% shooting and 29.5% from 3, struggling to ascend.

The Cavs aren’t terrible on offense, averaging 96.5 points per in a division with some really good defensive teams in Indiana and Chicago, but defensively, the team oftentimes lacks energy, starting with Irving, and surrenders 101.1 points per. A far cry from Mike Brown’s elite units — granted those teams had LeBron — Cleveland allows opponents to shoot a league-worst 47.5% from the field and 26th-ranked 37.6% from 3.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — CHICAGO BULLS

For Clevelanders, the key word is patience, a concept not exactly new to Ohio sports fans. Cleveland’s definitely not postseason-bound this year and likely not again next year, though there’s enough talent on the roster to make a fringe run, again assuming full health. But if Scott can continue to develop the young guys and receive more of a defensive commitment from a franchise guy (and leader) like Irving, if Grant can continue to acquire young talent with his first-round picks and if owner Dan Gilbert can persuade a stud free agent, like a LeBron James, to ink a long-term contract in 2014, the sky’s the limit for this team in a few years.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — CHARLOTTE BOBCATS


%d bloggers like this: