No. 3: The pieces are there, but how improved will the Cavs bench be in 2013-14?
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers entered opening night with a second unit comprised of C.J. Miles, Luke Walton, Samardo Samuels and Tyler Zeller before later adding Shaun Livingston. This year, along with Miles and Zeller, the names now include Jarrett Jack, Alonzo Gee and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. We'll leave the topic of Bynum's potential impact on this year's reserve unit for another day.
No. 3: The pieces are there, but how improved will the Cavs bench be in 2013-14?
By Tuesday, Cleveland Jackson will have finalized all edits and formatting necessary for the release of Cavs Zine 4. The following night, Mike Brown's triumphant return to Quicken Loans Arena will combine with Kyrie Irving's legendary rise to create an avalanche of excitement and intrigue surrounding all that is opening night.
But before we all celebrate Cavsmus in earnest, I wanted to first file a series of official predictions here at StepienRules.com. The first two, highlighted below, include the Cavs predicted win total along with Andrew Bynum's projected stat line for the season. Tomorrow I'll be predicting the Cavs second-leading scorer along with who will make the most starts at small forward this year.
Predicted Win Total for 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers: 43
I've mentioned this prediction in a few different places by now, but for the sake of clarity, I am projecting the Cavaliers to finish with a record of 43-39. This mark will be good enough for a No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and also have a playoff berth clinched with more than one week remaining in the regular season.
For some perspective, the Boston Celtics won 41 games as the No. 7 seed in 2012-13. The Milwaukee Bucks earned a No. 8 seed with 38 wins and the Atlanta Hawks were the No. 6 seed last season with 44.
One of the five teams I expect to finish ahead of Cleveland, no matter how well things break for the Cavaliers, will be in town on opening night. Along with those Brooklyn Nets—who I do expect the Cavs to beat on Wednesday in front of the home crowd—are the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks.
If the Cavs stay consistently healthy and each player performs close to the top-end of his individual potential, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the No. 6 seed is attainable. Among the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, there is no definitive sixth-best team in the East right now.
Over the course of an 82-game season, though, things do happen. It takes time to gel, shooting slumps plague key players at times and injures can occur. Despite those traditional pitfalls, I do believe the Cavaliers are deep enough to guarantee a playoff berth in a conference that could see a few teams tanking hard for Wiggins, Parker and whoever else by the All-Star break.
As the No. 7 seed, with 43 wins, the Cavaliers will have completed a 19-game turnaround from a year ago while potentially lining up against the Miami Heat in Round 1. But pegging the Pacers as the regular-season champs out East and driving down much further than that is prediction for another day.
Predicting Andrew Bynum's Stats: 13.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 55 games
I've been having this recurring dream lately where Andrew Bynum is announced as a starter on opening night. He stunts through the Cavs handshake line while channeling his inner-Brad Daugherty and appears like the All-Star he once was under Mike Brown for the next 48 minutes.
Tweets like this from Sam Amico aren't doing anything to help my condition.
No. 4: What to expect from the rookies?
I've come to the conclusion that Chris Grant wakes up on draft day wanting to shock the league. He did it twice in a row when the Cavs picked 4th; going with Tristan Thompson and then a year later taking Dion Waiters. Both picks surprised pundits and fans across the league. But, you know what? They both look pretty good.
Rewind to June and Grant didn't disappoint. Holding the top selection for a second time in three years, Grant and Co. broke Twitter when he selected UNLV freshman stud Anthony Bennett. There were rumblings of the Cavs brass liking Bennett but nobody really thought it would happen. Well, here we are.
Bennett and 19th overall pick, Russian wing Sergey Karasev should both be big contributors this season, Bennett much earlier than Karasev in my opinion. But lets start with Karasev.
I made an appearance on All Bets Are Off last week and had a great time talking Cavs with the legendary Bruce Drennan.
Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding my DVR, however, I was unable to secure that footage.
In the wake of losing that video, a friend of mine sent me a recording of my conversation with the great Ken Carman on CBS Radio in Cleveland last night.
That discussion about the retirement of Zydrunas Ilgauskas' jersey, Anthony Bennett's upside, how many games the Cavaliers will ulimately win and Krazyie Bone's life as a Cleveland Sports fan is below.
No. 5: Will Cavs buy into Mike Brown’s defense-first philosophy?
We all know Mike Brown had his shortcomings on the offensive end of the court last time he was in Cleveland. But there is no denying the man is a defensive genius.
It’s that simple.
So, the Cavs have to be better defensively, right? You would hope so. Last season, the Cavs left a lot (A LOT) to be desired on the defensive end of the floor. For as great as Kyrie Irving is with the ball in his hands, he can be that bad guarding it. If this team is going to play defense, it starts with Irving bending his knees and sliding those feet.
Brown has one big advantage this season that Byron Scott only had for a brief time last year; a hopefully healthy Anderson Varejao.
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and come out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, "Sit down," I stood up
- The Boss "Growin' Up"
Andrew Bynum was playing basketball before Thursday's preseason game win the Detroit Pistons. He didn't play in the game, but he practiced before the game started. He juked left and right, spun and pivoted in both directions. He jumped and heaved shots over Cavaliers 6' 10" Player Development Coach Vitali Potapenko, showing strength, sleekness and power. He is cut up, carved into 285 pounds and in the final stages of a twelve week rehabilitation program.
BYNUM POSTS UP TO HIS LEFT, PUTTING FULL PRESSURE ON HIS LEFT LEG AND LEFT ACL
No one knows when, or even if, at this point, Andrew Bynum will play in an actual game for the Cleveland Cavaliers. We do know this: He has worked himself into a playing weight of 285 pounds. He is chiseled muscle. He is a true seven feet tall. He has been a monster in the past. And the low risk contract that he signed with the Cavaliers this summer will allow the team to make a decision on his future with the franchise by 5:00 PM January 7, 2014. Appromately halfway though the season the team could cut bait and end his Cavalier career by way of not exercising a team option for the second half of the season. He is guarenteed only $6 Million if they do not execute the option.
Bynum's living with a target on him and there's good reasons. Inside those complex knee braces and within the skin has been: A dislocated left kneecap. Right medial collateral ligament tear. A lateral meniscus tear. And most troubling, indications on an MRI that some doctors interpreted as a degenerative condition, with the word “arthritis” whispered through the media. For a 25 year old, it’s a fucking NBA death sentence if it’s true.
The Cavaliers let longtime Athletic Trainer Max Benton go this offseason, opting for a more progressive outlook regarding the health of players. They created the new position "High Performance Director" for former US Ski Team Strength and Conditioning Coach Alex Moore. Moore's focus is expansive including rehabilitation, nutrition, physical therapy, strength and conditioning. He oversees not only a trainer, but also a "performance scientist". If Bynum throws down his first dunk in a game, and if Bynum can stay healthy enough to play in back to back games in an NBA schedule, Alex Moore's team is going to get credit.
I caught up with the legendary Krayzie Bone recently for a Q+A that published at SLAMonline.com talking all things Cavaliers and Cleveland.
During the conversation that I recommend you guys checking out in its entirety, Krayzie talked about what it was like in Cleveland back in 1997 when the Indians went to the World Series, Cavs hosted the All-Star Game and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony won a Grammy for Crossroads.
We also talked about life as a Cleveland sports fan, the first NBA jersey he ever bought, what he hopes Kyrie Irving, Mike Brown and the Cavs can accomplish this season along with the mutiple projects that Krayzie's currently working on.
Below is an excerpt from that conversation.
SLAM: What are some of your earliest memories as a Cavs fan?
Krayzie Bone: I remember watching the Cavaliers when World B. Free was on the team—now that’s back in the day. I was really young but I remember watching it with my father, just hearing his name—World B. Free. And then the whole squad we had later with Mark Price, Ehlo, Brad Daugherty and Harper, there’s just a whole lot of history with Cleveland teams, and I stand behind it 100 percent. I’m sure everybody sees my crazy tweets, but I just love sports. I love football, love basketball and even though I’m not really into baseball, when the Indians are in it, I’m into that too.
SLAM: What do you think about Mike Brown coming back this year to coach the Cavs?
KB: Actually, I’ve always liked Mike Brown. I really don’t understand why he was let go in the first place, or why he left. I thought he was a good fit then and I still do. He was a good coach when he went to L.A. too, but to me, L.A. is just a Hollywood team. It’s glitz and glamor out there, so they’re always behind the camera and they’re always putting on a show. But I always thought he was a good coach and I’m glad he’s back man because I like the way he coaches. I think he can help these young players learn how to work together on the defensive end and get them on a track to start winning games.
SLAM: If you were to compare Mike Brown and the defensive style he coaches with to one rapper, which rapper would you say he’s most similar to?
KB: Oh man, I don’t know, that’s a tough one. But like you said, Mike Brown comes back hard with the defense and he’s aggressive with it, so my first thought is Tupac—aggressive. I’d compare him to Tupac based on that aggressiveness and how he’s always working—just going hard, never stopping and never quitting.
Full Article: Q+A Krayzie Bone at SLAM
Beyond communicating the x's and o's necessary to be successful, developing an identity of consistent toughness is also required to ultimately build a culture of winning in the NBA.
Following the Cleveland Cavaliers 92-74 preseason loss at the Canton Civic Arena on Tuesday night to the Charlotte Bobcats, Mike Brown spoke to that message of toughness specifically.
"I've been pushing these guys and I'm going to keep pushing these guys because they're mentally tougher and physically tougher than what they think they are," Brown said.
That was the line that stuck out to me the most during my ride back to Cleveland. It serves as an example of how Brown is working to redefine what his players believe they are capable of both as individuals and as a collective unit.
He then went on to add the following which was equally important.
"Right now, what we've experienced so far is nothing if we want to be a good or great basketball team this year," Brown said.
"We're going to have people hunting us, we're going to have people wanting to come at us on a night-in, night-out basis. No matter how we're feeling, whether we're feeling tired mentally or tired physically we gotta come ready to play every play and not take any shortcuts."
Despite the upgrade in talent you're still not good enough to beat the Bobcats if you come out and take plays off, basically. An important message that may not have had a chance to sink in as well if not for the little bit of adversity created by the first loss of the 2013 preseason.
Dion Waiters on Mike Brown: "I love the way he coaches me"
While discussing the subject of shortcuts and consistency, the only player Mike Brown mentioned by name was Dion Waiters. Waiters finished 2-for-7 with five points and four turnovers to go along with committing a few mental mistakes defensively on Tuesday.
Brown admitted that he is being tough on Waiters and said that it's important he understands how hard he must work on a consistent basis in order to maximize his potential. The second-year guard responded to Brown's comments by saying later that he appreciates the way his new coach is trying to get the best from him.
Waiters on Mike Brown: "He's tough on me but he's making me better. He calls me over, starts talking to me, I love the way he coaches me"— Brendan Bowers (@BowersCLE) October 16, 2013
"He's tough on me but he's making me better," Waiters said. "He calls me over, starts talking to me on the sidelines and I love the way he coaches me."
This mental approach and willingness from Waiters to learn, grow and be coached is the most encouraging example of his development during training camp thus far as far as I'm concerned. It also made me walk out of what was a great atmosphere in Canton convinced that Brown could very well be the best thing that happens to Dion's career.no comments
Somewhere in middle America, in a gymnasium not quite suited for NBA basketball 4,000 people, native Cantonites and Cleveland Cavaliers parishioners gathered. This is where over a hundred years ago 700,000 people filled the streets of this town over a hundred years ago to see William McKinley speak. These streets outside the Canton Memorial Civic Center, home of the Developmental League Canton Charge, are still worn with traffic, and the steps past the glass doorway still sound like the roar of a religious revival or a political rally.
CANTON MEMORIAL CIVIC CENTER (cavs.com)
What’s inside is a volume of enthusiasm that feels uniquely Ohioian. This is a preseason NBA basketball game, and the roar of 4,000 resembles what may have greeted Barack Obama in October 2008. From a corner, the universe of this gymnasium orbits from a point directly where it should and the hyperattentive population cheers every slick pass, offensive rebound and, it seems, every dribble that Kyrie Irving takes with the ball.
People hold open doors for strangers here and smile not out of obligation but because they are genuinely happy. It seems bizarre that anyone could be so pleasant living in a D-League town, but tonight the NBA is in town, except that people aren’t urinating all over toilet seats and there’s a line to wash hands at the sink in the washroom.
The Cavaliers played three quarters of basketball last night against the Charlotte Bobcats. The players in the fourth quarter, with all respect to center Desagana “Lasagna” Diop, appear unlikely to play for the team when the season starts October 30th against the Brooklyn Nets.
It was more like a preseason game coached by Mike Brown than anything that has happened in the past several years. That is, Jarrett Jack is already out with knee soreness for an estimated nine more days. Carrick Felix was just diagnosed with a hernia and will require surgery. Tyler Zeller was denied the opportunity to play in this game after being hurt on the wet floor in the Wine and Gold game at Bowling Green and shortly thereafter surgery, a necessary appendectomy while recovering from the injury. Anderson Varejao, returning this season from surgery and a blood clot issue, was not scheduled to play. Alonzo Gee, sidelined for the first two preseason games, was finally returning, but Sergey Karasev was out of the country obtaining his work visa – necessitated by him playing so much basketball since he was drafted that he eventually had to travel though the Bahamas to come to Cleveland for training camp instead of a direct route.
This is only the preseason. There is no reason for anyone to play hurt or to risk any kind of injury while playing. Dion Waiters, who struggled on defense and was removed by Brown early in this game, went back into the game later and improved, but walked off the court limping then braced himself with both hands as he descended the stairs off the court and into the locker room.
The much hyped small forward “battle” between Gee, free agent Earl Clark and CJ Miles was fought to a stalemate as each candidate failed to set himself apart. They are who we think they are. Even with his difficulty handling the ball and scoring, Earl Clark’s size at 6 foot 10 distinguishes him, and it would just be unlikely that a defense first coach like Brown would look past his length and start Gee or Miles ahead of him.
ALONZO GEE IS STILL AN AMAZING ATHLETE. I MEAN IT LOOKS LIKE HE'S LEVITATING. (Getty Images)
Irving spent many possessions playing off the ball, with Waiters handling distribution duties. This is the time of year when experimentation like this can take place. With Jack out, Waiters on the ball was interesting as an alternative. Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett played on the floor at the same time, with Thompson at center and Bennett in a kind of stretch four position, that allowed him to physically intimidate on defense but also to spread the floor with his ability to score from anywhere.
As the game wound down, the crowd dissipated. We’d seen the players that were likely to play for the Cavaliers. There were friendly goodbyes and handshakes and we went to Swenson’s in Akron for burgers on the way back to Cleveland. We ate in the car, it was raining just a little bit, the crisp Ohio air smelled like wet leaves and the fall. And then eager teeth clenched down on deliciousness wrapped in wax paper and held in two hands.no comments
It’s amazing that Anthony Bennett was even able to run up and down the court by the fourth quarter last Friday night, let alone single handedly burn down the Orlando Magic by throwing them on the floor, powering them inside and finishing them off with a display of outside three point shooting. Not because of any conditioning issues, but because he has the biggest sack of any Cavalier since Zydrunas Illgauskas. And none has ever combined it with a level of skill and power like Bennett displayed.
THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF ANTHONY BENNETT (Fernando Medina - Getty Images)
Early in the second quarter- and with the Cavaliers trailing substantially (they would be down by as many as 18 in the game) Nikola Vucevic threw Bennett to the ground from behind while Bennett was attempting a layup. Bennett looked tentative, settling for jump shots – all of which missed, leaving the lane open. We saw Dion Waiters hammer down dunks in this game, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao in a mad double scramble for loose balls and offensive rebounds, preseason MVP candidate Kyrie Irving handle the ball like his hands contain secret magnetic properties. Sergey Karasev show that his 203 pound body is big enough to make shots, handle the ball, play defense and find open teammates.
But what was most remarkable, of course, was that Anthony Bennett arrived and won this game 110-105 in Orlando. With around six minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, Bennett threw his shoulder into a jarring pick, for which he was justly called for a foul and then engaged in a monstrous offensive explosion that sealed the preseason game for the Cavaliers. Perhaps more importantly, it gave us a picture of who he is.
You can’t fuck with Anthony Bennett. I don’t care who you took in the 2013 NBA Draft, NOBODY, not one man, and maybe not two men, have the balls that this guy has. He backs you down inside with broad shoulders, makes turnaround jumpers in your face, has three point range all within a giant body that you cannot work through. He weighs on you as if you were tethered to a life jacket filled with cement.
“…the first time we saw him I think all of us walked out of the gym just amazed with his ability and talent.” – Chris Grant at Anthony Bennett’s introductory press conference the day after the 2013 NBA Draft.
What Grant didn’t say when he introduced Bennett was that Bennett plays angry. He doesn’t give a shit about you or me or what we say or who’s defending him or who’s taking the ball to him. You throw him on the ground and he will come after you, he will hunt you down, he will set fire to your house, steal your car, turf your lawn, then spackle sandwiches inside your walls. You’ll feel lucky that you got out with whatever sense of dignity he couldn’t find and destroy. He’s a potent scoring weapon, and he’s terrifying. He’s coming like a unstoppable meteorite. Like burning sulfur from the sky.
These are not the Cavaliers of 2011, or 2012. This is actual optimism. This is happening now. The Cavaliers play Tuesday in Canton against Charlotte.
PS. DION WAITERS IS JACKED UP. ARRON AFLALO CAN'T BELIEVE IT. (Fernando Medina - Getty Images)no comments