April 16, 2014

Young Cavaliers Displaying Copious Amounts of Team Chemistry Early On

Soon after the media horde dispersed from the locker of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie power forward Tristan Thompson, I walk over to ask him how it feels to be called “unbelievable” by teammate and mentor Antawn Jamison. I had just spent the last several minutes attempting to avoid the mosh pit of microphones, speaking with the veteran who had one of his better games of the season1, but all of the focus was placed on Thompson who continues to show the world that he isn’t just an athlete who happens to be able to dunk a basketball when given a clear path to the rim.

Not long after my initial question, a freshly showered Anderson Varejao walks over to Thompson and begins to playfully toy with the buttons on the rookie’s cleanly pressed, white, slim fit v-neck henley; the “v” portion is scooped just low enough for the 20-year-old’s sprawling shoulder-to-shoulder chest tattoo to peak out.

“What, what is this?” Varejao, clad with a smile that reached to both sides of his ever-curly hair, asked rhetorically. “You’re ready for Toronto!”

Taking his teammates sartorial hazing in stride, Thompson – who had amassed career-highs in points (16) and rebounds (9) with two blocked shots off of the bench – looks like a kid who just hit the game-winning home run for his little league team. His comfort on an NBA floor continues to grow at rates beyond what many felt were even possible, but he says that he’s mostly gracious because his efforts allow his veteran teammates (Jamison included) to get additional rest as the team prepares for a seven-game road trip that will grace all four time zones.

Just a few minutes earlier, Thompson’s fellow rookie teammate Kyrie Irving enjoyed most of the fourth quarter of their 115-101 victory from the bench. In the midst of an 8-for-10 shooting night where the first-overall pick chipped in 20 points (1.82 per possession), six assists and two blocked shots of his own (without a single turnover), Irving seemed to most enjoy cheering his teammates on during the waning minutes of the game. First off of the bench in anticipation of a converted three-point shot, first off of the bench during a timeout to provide words of encouragement and a “good game” pat on the rear end of Varejao when he checked out for the evening.

It was Irving who also provided words of encouragement for a struggling teammate in Omri Casspi who had a very rough first half of basketball.  Following a missed free throw, Irving took time to walk over to him and talk to him for a brief moment. After halftime, Casspi provided five third-quarter points to help stall a would-be comeback attempt from the opposition.

While it isn’t exactly a Jamario Moon goosey or an elaborate handshake routine by all 15 members of the roster, this Cavaliers teams is providing glimpses of what Cleveland saw from their basketball team roughly two seasons ago; picking each other up physically after hard fouls, picking each other up emotionally after tough games. Last year is proving more and more to be one to forget as this current crop of players is – given the complete lack of an offseason and fact that three new, key players are mixed in with a few veterans and some undrafted rookies – displaying an unforeseen level of chemistry.

You have a team that, for all intents and purposes, were expected to be among the worst in the league in many metrics, including but not limited to the most important in professional sport: wins. Conversely, you have a team that is one missed lay-up away from being a 4-1 basketball team comprised largely of players who were not on an NBA roster two seasons earlier. Sure, a seven-game road swing lurks in the compressed schedule’s shadows, and could easily show us what this team truly is, but – aside from innate, regional skepticism – they’ve given us little reason to cast doubt.

“I’ve always said give me a team with good talent and great chemistry and camaraderie and we’ll win,” said head coach Byron Scott who, despite varying levels of frustration rooted in slow starts and occasional sloppy play, looks more and more proud of his kids with each additional press conference. Sure, there is bound to be one of those evenings where the team takes the proverbial step back, but these first few weeks of play are like night and day compared to what the head coach had to endure one year earlier.

It’s a team where an extreme minute share is in place and everyone is contributing. They’re running, with 20 percent of the team’s plays on Tuesday night being in transition, and they’re executing. But mostly, they’re having fun.

As Thompson packs his Quicken Loans Arena locker up for the last time in the next two weeks, gearing up for his trip home to play in front of at least 22 friends and family members in Toronto’s Air Canada Center, I tell him to not let Andy give him any stuff as they both know damn well that the one whom they call the Wild Thing rocks the same type of flamboyant outfit when he goes back home to Brazil and his teammates aren’t around to judge.  Both men, despite being separated by nine years of age and many years of NBA experience, can’t help but laugh. The ultimate of big-brother-little-brother moments, and these men are making it really tough to remember that several of these 15 brothers just met three weeks earlier.

1- Seriously. Jamison had 19 points, six boards, two threes, two steals and two blocked shots in 25 minutes, and is, what, the fourth or fifth storyline? A welcomed change to be sure.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  • Harv 21

    This road trip is coming just in time to calm me down about these kids and the excellent job Byron is doing with them. The ball movement and unselfishness … This is the part of fandom that’s fun, watching a young and promising team develop, even if they lose a ton of games. Like watching the ’92 Indians, or the ’86 Cavs.

    And Tristan, man, every night it looks like he’s figuring out something new he can do and trying it out. If he can develop a few pet post moves and a little face-up jumper we might have us an annual all-star candidate. It’s like they’ve created JJ Hickson 7.0: keep the spring-loaded legs, add hands, brain, heart and ability to focus.

    Had my doubts about Chris Grant, but every move he’s made so far has seemed to work. Now let’s see if he can parlay Jamison and/or Andy into some additional pieces for a run at a ring in 2015.

    [yes, I know I'm muy carried away but let me dream about the next Cleveland team to make the playoffs]

  • AMC

    I just can’t get over how much more enjoyable it is to watch this Cavs team than last year’s. What makes it especially incredible is that most of the roster is made up of guys who were on the team for most, if not all, of last year’s miserable team. Can’t say that I was especially thrilled with the Thompson pick when it happened, but he’s making me feel like a bigger idiot by the day, which I’m thrilled about. Kyrie looks like the real deal on both ends of the floor too (chase down block!). I attribute a lot of this to Byron Scott and I think we’re seeing what will end up being the beginning stages to his 3rd successful effort at the helm of a rebuilding project.

    I do have to say that while I’m enjoying all of this, I also can’t help but be a little concerned in the back of my mind that this team actually may be a little too good for the organization’s good. If they end up being a fringe playoff team, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But we’re a far way from that so I guess I should just sit back and enjoy the development of these young players.

  • mgbode

    I hope that Chris Grant proves he is smarter than everybody else with that Tristan pick. So far, so good.

  • Clown Baby

    I’d rather miss out on a top draft pick then endure another season like last year. That was depressing and until I’m able to consciously decide to not watch the Cavs play every game then I would like to be entertained when I do so.

  • Biff

    Scott, I think everyone is thinking about flipping Jamison at the deadline for an asset, but how could the Cavs possibly trade him? Even if there was a suitor out there willing to take on the prorated portion of his salary, wouldn’t the Cavs have to take back contracts toaling an amount within 150%? If they’re taking back a sizeable contract, it would have to be expiring itself to make it attractive, or it would have to be attached to a young asset, and no team is giving up a decent young player for Jamison. Even if Jamison has a good first half, it seems like it would take a miracle for everything to set up correctly for a trade.

  • ben

    RAWR LOTTERY PICKS! RAWWWRRRRR

    The only way to win is by never winning!!!!!!!!

  • Billy Thomas

    I have to admit as much fun is it watching the Cavs play well again I still would like 1 more season in the tank so we can get another great pick. The team is surprisingly fun to watch so far. If they hit on both Thompson and Irving it could be very exciting at the Q again quicker than we thought.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Biff – Cavs are in a good position being under the cap after stretching Baron. They will certainly have to take back sizable deals, but they’d do so only if they get at least one draft pick in return. That’d be the grab.

  • Doug

    @Harv

    The big thing TT needs to figure out is his free throw shooting. Teams will figure out that they need to foul him when he gets the ball near the rim and that he will only put in 40% of his attempts. But you’re right, he is improving every night. My point is that the defenses will too.

  • mgbode

    @Doug – yep, he was only a 48% FT shooter at Texas, so it is not like this dip is completely out of the spectrum for him. he better be taking a ton of time at the line whenever he can.

  • KappNeffect

    I am not a fan of this tanking to win theory. It’s like cheating…. it’s no different than what LBJ did. He tanked to leave which equaled a win to him. My point is, I don’t want to see us doing this to get a top pick…it degrades the game. Why not let every NBA team tank it to get a shot–how much fun would that be? Not to mention that in some shape or form we are paying these athletes millions of dollars…and to to what? Tank it? Hell no! To entertain me with competitive play. Losers never win. Let’s just try our damnedest to get these rookies developed and let the cards fall where they may. I am loving seeing the Cavs win! The losses will come…but let’s not make it any easier on whomever.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinhignett Kevin Hignett

    Watching last night, I muttered out loud, “Holy bleep, the Cavs are fun to watch again!” Pleasantly surprised and hoping for more. Next year’s draft should be loaded enough that they could snag a good, if not great, player even outside of the lottery picks. So I’m happy to watch good basketball again and let the chips fall where they may. Go Cavs!

  • Omar’s Magic Glove

    This was a great game by the Cavs last night. I think that Sessions has been playing really well and the bench play has been outstanding, led by him. I also really like the pick and roll with Irving and AV. Andy seems to be the master of that over the shoulder layup off the glass and Irving is giving him some nice assists. I am not one who thinks AV should be traded. This team has started the first bit of the season playing well and I hope the momentum will carry over to the upcoming road trip. Go Cavs!

  • Mike E

    I don’t want to see Andy traded either, the teams defense and 2nd chance scoring would go way down with him gone. This team is really fun to watch though, Go Cavs!!

  • Harv 21

    @12: I love Andy, but if I was a cold-eyed GM I’d be thinking: his value is at it’s peak this season, when the Cavs are ready to make a serious run in 3-4 years he’ll be on the downside, and if I can score someone else’s first rounder along with the incoming player I might use that and my own to move up for 2 nice young players, or trade my two to move up for a studly-stud in the upcoming deep draft.

    Just think Andy will be gone soon enough because his age and the amount of abuse he takes inside doesn’t match up with the expected prime years of the new core. For right now it is nice to see him mesh with them.

    @Doug: yep, the FTs will be a prob unless/until he gets them up to 65-70%. There is hope. He’s just turning 21, and looks much smoother and less bulky at the line than brickers like Chris Dudley and Ben Wallace and Shaq.

  • christopher

    i think the thing that makes the Cavs more exciting of a “rebuild” project than that other franchise in town who has been “rebuilding” since 1999 is that i (and most people i talk to) trust the owner and the head coach….the Grant is getting there, but we will see what he does this trade deadline.

    in order to believe in any rebuilding you have to trust the top men will be able to acquire young talent (owner/GM) and then lead that young talent (head coach).

    i do expect for us to come off this road set with a losing record however i don’t feel bad about it.

  • Doug

    I would trade Andy only if it brings in a first rounder. It’s a hard sell to the fans otherwise. Honestly though, with the youth on this team they have to see more of Samardo, Semih, and TT in order to make a fair evaluation.

    This is what people wanted from the Browns. We may not have a winning record at the end of the year, but the improvements are obvious and the games are fun to watch.

  • christopher

    agree with Harv, Varejao’s value will most likely never be higher and we are in desperate need of acquiring a legit center or drafting and developing one for the next 2-3 years.

    plus after the scar #6 left in this city i think most people have figured out to root for the name on the front not the back of the jersey.

    we as fans and a city are just as expendable to players as they should be to us.

  • mgbode

    I agree with Harv. If we can get a younger player to groom at SG, SF, or C, then I would definitely consider trading AV.

    He has a friendly contract, so we can ask for quite a bit too.

  • Dave

    Regarding the possibility of trading Andy – I’m not convinced that his trade value will ever exceed his on-court value, primarily because much of what he does doesn’t translate into numbers. For instance, for a while he probably led the league in being on the receiving end of charges. That helps your team, but that never shows up in a box score.

    I agree that a 7-foot center would be very nice, but for now, Andy’s what we’ve got.

  • mgbode

    @Dave – I agree with you in an on-court, right now basketball sense, but there are 2 things that make me think a trade is possible:

    1. There are many sabremetric savvy front offices who do keep defensive metrics and like Andy alot. It’s the reason Chuck Hayes keeps finding employment in the NBA too.

    2. AV will not get more in a trade that will help us now. But, hurting us now (better draft pick with less wins – w/o tanking), while getting us a young player(s) who we groom to be better than AV will be in 3-4 years when we are a much better team can be a prudent plan for the FO.

  • tsm

    @KappNeffect….No one is suggestign the team try and lose on purpose. However, the front office might trade a few vets such as Jamison, Parker and Andy for more picks and expiring contracts so that in the short run, the team loses more even though they try to win each game. Since our vets will be gone by the time we contend in a few more years, we are better off taking one step back in order to take two steps forward. Our vets have contributed significantly to our wins so far, so the idea that we will lose more when they are gone is realistic. If we can get a top 5 lottery pick plus another first rounder to add to the one we get from Sacramento (if they make the playoffs), we might be able to shorten the time before we contend again. It’s not cheating, it’s delayed gratification.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com Cleveland Frowns

    Young millionaires are happy. Stop the press.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott