CHICAGO: Final thoughts from a strange night in the Windy City…
* First off, the tongue lashing Mike Brown gave to Kyrie Irving. I don’t know what Brown was so upset about and I’m not going to speculate, but Brown was hot when Irving left the game in the first quarter.
* To be totally honest, I rarely get to actually watch much of the first quarter because I’m usually busy writing and sending pregame notes. With the 8 p.m. start, I hardly watched any of the first 10 minutes of Monday’s game and didn’t see what Irving was or wasn’t doing. But I saw Irving leave the game and Brown follow him to the end of the bench.
* Brown’s back was to the media, but you didn’t need to see his face to see him really giving it to Irving. It was a stern chew out that included some head shaking from Brown and a lot of jawing.
* “There was a lot going on. It’s between he and I, but there was a lot going on,” Brown said. “Not just with him, but with the whole team.”
* “Just a conversation with my coach,” Irving said. “That’s about it.”
* Of course, there’s much more to the story, but we’ll likely never know it.
* This is new territory for Irving – and probably needed. He has enjoyed Big Man On Campus status since the Cavs drafted him and he was never really challenged or held accountable by Byron Scott.
* A perfect example of that was the third-to-last game of the season last year in Philadelphia, when a miserable season was nearly – mercifully – complete. The Cavs weren’t doing much of anything right and fell behind to the Sixers 12-3 after 4 ½ minutes. Scott cleared the bench and yanked all of his starters … except for Irving.
* He was allowed to stay in the game, even though he looked just as miserable and disinterested as everyone else. That’s also the game where he lost track of his fouls and inexplicably picked up two quick ones at the start of the third quarter. Then Scott finally benched him the rest of the game in a blowout. The fact Irving was allowed to stay in the game in the first half sent the wrong message to him and was noticed by people within the organization.
* I didn’t cover this team during Brown’s time with LeBron James, but I know Brown never backed down from Kobe Bryant, so he’s certainly not going to back down from Irving. Brown and Bryant had a handful of face-offs during their time together in Los Angeles, which is fairly natural for any relationship between coach and star player. It’s just Irving, to my knowledge, has never really experienced it until now.
* Since he was hired, Brown has balanced when to privately crack Irving and when to praise him. He showed Irving clips of his poor defense from the last couple of seasons and made it clear that simply wasn’t going to be good enough anymore. And to Irving’s credit, he seems to have bought in to Brown’s defensive principles. But Irving has also proven to be moody and petulant in his two-plus years here.
* Irving was harshly criticized both publicly and internally for his stunt at the end of last season, when he ran off the court following a loss in the home finale and didn’t stick around for the Fan Appreciation Night festivities. He responded the right way almost immediately. I have no reason to think this will be any different.
* Irving was in a fine mood after the game, even joking with Anthony Bennett about making the bus. Despite not playing in Monday’s game, Bennett was just hanging around at his locker well after the game ended and still in workout clothes. Irving was showered, dressed and walking out the door when he asked Bennett what he was waiting for. Bennett told him he was “just chillin’” and still had 15 minutes to make the second (and final) bus back to the hotel.
* “That’s OK, the bus won’t leave without you,” Irving joked. “The bus won’t leave without the No. 1 pick. You’re in a special fraternity.”
* Now before anyone misconstrues that as arrogant or tries to twist it any other way, Irving was clearly just being playful and joking with the rookie.
* As for Bennett, a Cavs spokesman said before the half he was healthy and available to play, then Brown said afterward he chose to hold him out because the shoulder was still bothering him.
* I was a bit surprised Bennett played in Saturday’s game after injuring it Friday. I thought the shoulder injury was a great way to sit him for a couple days and let him clear his head a little bit, but he was right back on the floor the next night. Now Brown said he wasn’t sure if Bennett would play Wednesday at Minnesota or not.
* Brown before the game: “You want the young fella to have success right away, but … we don’t have to count on him right now. It’s a luxury we have as an organization to play him when we feel like playing him and kind of help him along slowly. When he figures it out, we know he’s going to be great because we’ve seen it already.”
* Kind of along those lines, ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford wrote in a chat Monday that he doesn’t seen LeBron James returning to Cleveland because the Cavs haven’t drafted well enough. “I'm not sure the Cavs have drafted well enough to make it compelling for LeBron,” Ford wrote. “Had they chosen differently on Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett? Maybe … but they've clearly missed a few times on players that could've been more helpful to their cause. Thank goodness for Kyrie Irving.”
* Putting aside the whole James component, that is ridiculous. The player most often compared to the Thompson draft pick is Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds last season as a rookie and who is averaging 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. Thompson averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie, 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds last season and is now averaging 13 points and 10.1 rebounds this season.
* Valanciunas could have a better career than Thompson, but Thompson is still very much on an upward projectory and playing extremely well following the off-season hand switch.
* The Waiters pick will always be compared to Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond. Waiters has been erratic, but seems to be settling into a rhythm the last few games. He told me before Monday’s game he recently had a heart-to-heart with his agent, Rob Pelinka, that helped clear his head. He is averaging 19 points in his last four games and is shooting 45 percent during that stretch. He has also played better defense lately.
* Something has just looked different about Waiters lately, it just looks like something is clicking with him. “It’s my attitude,” he said. “A couple talks I had with my agent talking about some things just motivating me. I was letting the game get me so frustrated.”
* Waiters said the team’s struggles were getting to him and “dumb things like, “I’m not touching the ball this many times.’”
* I’ll have more on my conversation with Waiters in the next few days, but the point is it’s ridiculous for Ford to say the Cavs have blown their picks the last few years. It’s really ridiculous to say it about Bennett, since he has played just seven games in his career.
* Speaking of Bennett, I jokingly asked Jarrett Jack if he would start fining Bennett for every 3-pointer he misses. “I’m going to get mad at him if he doesn’t shoot it,” Jack said. “He’s capable. Over the course of an 82-game season, you’re going to have a rough shooting patch. All of us are. That’s part of that rookie wall process. Obviously you want to come in right away and hit the ground running, but this is the NBA. It doesn’t always happen like that. Every book you read isn’t always a fairy tale. Throughout the season, you’re going to have peaks and valleys. How you handle those, that’s the make-up of a professional and you have to understand you’re a man now. There’s no hiding anymore. And he’s been taking it in stride every day, just constantly trying to get better, constantly working hard and constantly working at it. That’s all you can ask for of anybody in his position.”
* Somehow I wrote 1,400 words and have yet to get to Andrew Bynum making his first start for the Cavs. Brown did his best to keep it a secret, but once he hinted during the morning shootaround that a change could be coming, it was the most obvious move he could make.
* Brown has seemed frustrated in recent days that Bynum was playing with the second unit because he knew it was only temporary. It was throwing off the chemistry of the second unit, so Brown went ahead and made the switch even though Bynum is only up to about 20 minutes a game.
* It was obvious after the game Brown was upset by Bynum’s lack of touches. This is something that has to be addressed immediately. In fairness to the other players, the starters never really practiced with Bynum. That’s part of the reason, presumably, that Brown held a two-hour shootaround Monday morning to try and help acclimate Bynum with the starters.
* The plan seemed to be to run the offense through Bynum and make sure he gets plenty of touches, but the Cavs went multiple possessions without him ever touching the ball. Asked if in the future he wanted to establish Bynum more on the block, Brown said, “I’d love to. That’s what our goal was tonight.”
* “We don’t know how to play with a guy like that,” Brown said. “I thought almost every time he touched it on the block, something good happened. The easiest shot we had in the whole game, the ball went to him, they doubled, he kicked it to Dion for a wide-open 3 on the weak side. But we don’t understand that yet. Hopefully we will soon.”
* The Cavs are staying over in Chicago on Monday and will practice here on Tuesday. Bynum said he expected Tuesday’s practice to be geared toward offense (a rarity for Brown’s teams) in an effort to help ingratiate him better with the starters.
* Bynum said his game won’t change much by moving into the starting lineup, but the rest of the starters’ games will change. He’s right. The Cavs haven’t had a post presence like Bynum since Shaquille O’Neal’s one season here. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was an incredibly skilled big man, but Bynum demands a double team every time he touches the ball.
* “It’s going to be a big adjustment for all of us, especially the other four guys,” Irving said. “Drew is an established big man in this league and takes up a lot of space. We just have to get used to him being out there, gtting him going and playing off him, especially in the beginning of the game. We want to get him easy touches, easy baskets and just keep him going.”
* The starting lineup will still continue to fluctuate because Bynum said he’s still not playing on the second nights of back-to-backs. The Cavs have three more sets of back-to-backs this month and four sets in December, meaning Anderson Varejao will still start at least seven games through the end of the calendar year. Bynum, however, told me tonight he believes he’ll be able to play in back-to-backs at some point this season.
* His minutes are also steadily climbing and he believes he could be able to play typical starter’s minutes within a couple months. But again, there is no real timeline yet for any of this stuff. “They’re taking everything really slowly,” he said. “Maybe after January or something like that.”
* Bynum’s insertion in the starting lineup meant Anderson Varejao returned to the bench for the first time since May 2010, but Varejao said he didn’t have any ego to swallow. “My job is to play hard, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “Starting was never (a big deal) to me. To me it’s who finishes the game when a game is close. It doesn’t bother me.”
* While Bynum’s minutes are shortened, Varejao will still be one of the Cavs’ closers. Brown went much of the fourth quarter again with his three guards, Thompson and Varejao. That could be his closing lineup most nights given the ongoing search at small forward.
* I asked Alonzo Gee if he felt a sense of vindication for reclaiming the starting job at small forward after starting there every game last season. “I don’t feel like I lost it or Earl lost it, (Brown) is just trying to find the right fit,” Gee said. “We’re both capable of starting, it’s just finding the right group to be in there. Whoever gets the rhythm, it’s all about rhythm. It’s tough to get a rhythm when you keep switching up.”
* After all the work Gee put in shooting corner 3s in the summer, I’m going to track his progress throughout the season. He’s 4 of 9 thus far on corner 3s, a dramatic improvement (albeit a miniscule sample size) over his 31 percent from the corners last season. With Bynum now in the starting lineup and teams constantly doubling him, Gee will be open in the corner all season long. Gee said when he’s the feeder into the post and then cuts through, his man will drop off him and pick up Bynum, leaving a guard to rotate back to him.
* Gee said he’s looking forward to shooting the corner 3s, but said he couldn’t really put a percentage he was trying to hit because his defensive responsibilities change. The other night against the Sixers, for example, he picked up point guard Michael Carter-Williams for a few possessions similar to how he did many times with the opposing point guards last year.
* “I have to get back used to that,” he said. “I can’t really put a percentage on (3-pointers) because when I do stuff like that, it takes away a lot from my legs.”
* Interesting enough, Gee said when he picked up Carter-Williams, it didn’t come from the bench. He has the freedom sometimes to do it on his own.
* Cavs are 3-5, but turnovers killed them against the Bulls. They had 20 as a team (Waiters had six of them) and they led to 29 points for the Bulls. Just something else to work on during Tuesday’s “offensive practice.” I don’t doubt Bynum, but I’ll believe it when I see it.