WASHINGTON: Forty one thoughts, one for each of Kyrie Irving's points, to conclude a strange day in the nation’s capital…
1. There have been a lot of wild stories flying around regarding the Cavs’ players-only meeting Wednesday at Minneapolis and what did/didn’t happen. Here’s what I know.
2. Mike Brown entered the locker room to begin his postgame speech when Kyrie Irving interrupted and asked him to leave the room so the players could talk. Brown was happy to do so and Irving started things off.
3. The meeting was intense – the Cavs played terrible and lost by 29 points – but two players who were in the room both privately said some of the speculation has been overblown and it wasn’t combative, nor was Dion Waiters a target of the meeting. The players weren’t very happy, but no specific player was singled out.
4. These two guys have never lied to me (that I’m aware of) and I have no reason to believe they’d start now.
5. “Guys were more saying what they’ve been doing wrong and what they need to do better more than pointing fingers at other players,” one player said.
6. As for Waiters and this illness, Mike Brown said he has been to the doctor twice and has a prescription. I’ve heard whispers Waiters knew he was going to get demoted to the second team. Did he know that and make up this illness? Is he really sick? The only one who really knows the answer to that is Waiters.
7. No one on the team has really seen or heard from Waiters since Wednesday’s game. He didn’t attend Friday’s shootaround because of this illness and didn’t make the trip to Washington for tonight’s game. No one I talked to really knows how sick Waiters is or what all this is about.
8. As for Irving, he’s still trying to grow into the role of leader. I’ve said since last season the best player on the team isn’t always the best leader. It helps, but it’s not always the case. Irving wasn’t a very good leader last year, but he’s trying to figure it out now.
9. I’ve been critical of Irving at times. Some of his “leadership” to me comes off as unnatural and forced. He has been forced into the role of alpha dog because he’s the best player, but it’s not necessarily his personality.
10. He was a late riser in high school recruiting ranks, he never held the leadership role in college because he only played nine games at Duke, then he entered the league on one of the worst teams in the NBA and immediately was anointed the B.M.O.C. of the Cavaliers.
11. It has been a lot to swallow and he hasn’t always handled it appropriately. He has at times behaved like a petulant child, he has sulked, pouted and shown up teammates with demonstrative displays on the court following mistakes. Most of that has dissipated this season, although he still has nights where he seems moody and “off.”
12. “He’s trying to figure it out,” one teammate said Saturday. “He’s trying to figure out where that line is.”
13. The “line” he is talking about is how to be critical of teammates without being offending. The key, one teammate said, is to be able to take criticism in return. It’s OK to be critical of others, just as long as Irving is receptive when teammates have something to say to him.
14. He obviously didn’t do a very good job of that last week when he blew past Mike Brown during the Chicago game, but I’ve been told numerous times that was an isolated incident between coach and player.
15. One player said Irving has never reacted inappropriately to a critical comment a teammate has aimed toward him.
16. All that being said, Irving has done well the last few days. He called the meeting in Minnesota on Wednesday and Brown raved about his ability to command the huddle and keep the guys together during Saturday’s win. More importantly, he finally shot the ball the way he is capable of shooting.
17. “Kyrie was terrific in the huddles,” Brown said. “He showed some true leadership throughout the course of the game, especially when we were down 15 in the first half. If he had a microphone on in the huddles, everybody would be able to appreciate the way he kept everybody into it mentally.”
18. Brown said Irving was telling the guys, “anything and everything we needed. Keep defending, we’ve got to get stops, keep the pressure on, we’re not out of this. Let’s go, let’s push.’ Whatever needed to be said at that time, he was saying the right things. We were down 15. We could’ve easily quit.”
19. Brown was fired just five games into last season with the Lakers, but was quick to agree that this is easily the most disjointed start to a season he has ever experienced.
20. Andrew Bynum is starting without really practicing with the starters. C.J. Miles has started the last two games at shooting guard without really practicing. Earl Clark shifted to power forward tonight without any practice there.
21. Brown told Clark on the flight Friday night to Washington he was going to use him at power forward. They went over a few things on the flight, talked more about it Saturday morning, but that was about it.
22. “I was a little lost. I don’t know the plays yet. I was kind of running out there with my head cut off trying to figure out where I wanted to go,” Clark said. “It’s kind of been difficult on me because going out there with no practice, just going to a different position, I can’t focus on just playing.”
23. This doesn’t sound temporary. Brown had said earlier this season Clark would strictly play small forward, but it appears Anthony Bennett’s struggles to start the season have changed that. Bennett didn’t get off the bench Saturday night and Clark took his minutes, sliding between the 3 and the 4.
24. I have no idea how long Bennett’s benching will last, nor did I really ask because of so much else going on. We’ll find that out Monday after practice.
25. When Bynum was on the floor, particularly at the start of the game, Irving seemed content to run the offense through him and he touched the ball on nearly every possession. When Bynum wasn’t in the game, Irving took it upon himself to try and do everything. He took only two shots in the first quarter and missed them both, then got hot in the second quarter and carried it the rest of the night.
26. As for Irving’s season-long shooting slump, Jarrett Jack said before the game the only way he can get out of it is to keep shooting.
27. “We'll live with you going 2 for 40. I, personally, can't live with you going 2 for 8,” Jack said. “You might not start the game off shooting the way you want to, but the only way you can get out of it is continuing to shoot."
28. Tim Grgurich has become sort of a coach emeritus with the Cavs and has stuck around so long now, Brown is starting to pay him. Anyway, “Grg” was talking to Brown Saturday morning and told him it’s really like the Cavs are still in training camp.
29. “Jack played in (four) preseason games, Andrew didn’t play at all, we’ve moved Earl to the 4 and you’re trying to figure all this out on the fly with no practice,” Grgurich told him. “We’re still in training camp. Relax.”'
30. That sounds great in theory. And he makes a great point. Unfortunately, the meter started running on the season a few weeks ago.
31. “We’re just making this up on the fly,” C.J. Miles said. “It’s not like we can walk through it and if we mess something up say, ‘OK run it again.’ We’re doing this in games.”
32. As for the overtime win, I asked one player if this was a huge win. “Huge doesn’t do it justice. It’s bigger than huge,” he said. “It’s like, we had to have this. Had to.”
33. The Cavs had four baskets after the first quarter. They scored 23 points and trailed by 15 about midway through the second. They were 3-7 and 3-8 was looking like a distinct possibility. Then the Wizards had some unforced errors, Irving started making shots and the Cavs slipped out with a victory they had to have.
34. As I wrote in Sunday’s column for the Beacon Journal, the key to this season will be how the Cavaliers defend and if Irving can break out of this season-long shooting funk. Much of the Cavs’ offense is predicated off their defense, and while their overall defensive numbers are much improved over last season, they’ve still had too many games lately where they’re allowing teams to shoot close to 50 percent or better. That isn’t going to get it done.
35. Oh yeah, Brown was also thrilled with Matthew Dellavedova’s gritty performance. I’ll have more on that tomorrow. For now, all you need to know is Delly's plus/minus ratio on Saturday was plus-16, the same as Irving.
36. Now the Cavs won’t play again until Wednesday against these same Wizards. They can feel good for a couple days and Waiters can get well if he truly is sick. As for who will start at shooting guard Wednesday night if he’s healthy? Only Mike Brown knows.
37. One final note on all this, as sort of a look behind the curtain as to how this works: I took Friday’s home game off to attend my son’s season-ending football banquet, but got a tip that the players held a meeting Wednesday and something big may have happened in the locker room and it may have involved Waiters, and this whole illness thing may be contrived.
38. I began poking around on the phone Friday night, but no one was saying much. Since Saturday was the second game of a back-to-back, there was no morning shootaround, so I planned to poke around some more when the locker room opened Saturday night prior to the game.
39. By Saturday afternoon, a couple hours before the Cavs locker room opened, former Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst posted a story to ESPN.com laying out the players-only meeting.
40. Is there more to this story that I’m missing? In a sense it feels that way, but as I’ve written repeatedly when it comes to trade and draft rumors, I can only go by what the people I trust tell me.
41. I trust everyone I spoke to today and tonight regarding all of this. We’ll just have to see how the rest of it plays out in the coming days.