BOSTON: Twenty-one thoughts tonight, one for every minute Tyler Zeller played during a wild, turbulent day in Boston that included a 103-100 loss to the Celtics and the likely end of Andrew Bynum’s time in Cleveland…
1. It doesn’t make much sense to me to rip the Cavs front office for Andrew Bynum not working out. They took a shot and missed. It’s really not all that surprising. I wrote a month ago the Cavs and Bynum were reaching the point where they had to decide if this was worth it. Ten days before Bynum’s contract was guaranteed for the rest of the season, we got our answer.
2. Bynum’s signing was hailed nationally as a terrific move by the front office in July because it was a low-risk, high-reward contract. They were guaranteeing him the same amount of money they paid Luke Walton last season. If it didn’t work, they could release him or trade him and move on. Everyone seemed OK with it at the time. Seems hypocritical to start changing the story now and calling it a terrible decision to sign him.
3. “Cleveland was the one team out there willing to give him a chance before the season started to resurrect his career after the debacle in Philadelphia,” analyst and former player Brent Barry said Saturday night on NBA TV. “For him to turn around and be disruptive … doesn’t speak well to the attitude about being a professional. It sort of sends red flags around the league as well. If he gets released, it sounds like there are other teams … that are very interested in his services. It’s just been a little disappointing on a professional level the way Andrew Bynum has handled this opportunity.”
4. Compounding matters for the Cavs, of course, is all the other problems they have faced this season. Anthony Bennett has been terrible, there was the team meeting fiasco following a bad loss at Minnesota and the rumors of Dion Waiters wanting out never seem to truly go away.
5. I wrote all last season and into the summer how critical of an offseason the Cavs were facing. Thus far, none of the moves have really worked. Bennett’s struggles are obvious and well documented, Jarrett Jack’s numbers are down in nearly every offensive category, Earl Clark has disappointed thus far at small forward (though the Cavs are giving him another chance) and Bynum’s days here are numbered. That’s not a good batting average for what was considered one of the most important offseasons in team history given what was at stake next summer.
6. The underlying theme to all of this is how difficult it is to change a losing mindset, which the Cavs have fallen into the last few years. That first training camp after LeBron James left, a number of the remaining veterans (Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon) insisted the Cavs could still win because they knew how to win. That may have been true, but the team no longer had the talent to win. Now the Cavs have enough talent to win, they just don’t know how to do it. Teaching them has been more difficult than anyone expected.
7. It has also caused Mike Brown to make decisions he perhaps wouldn’t make if the Cavs weren’t in this frantic win-now mode. Saturday marked the Cavs’ ninth different lineup already in 29 games. Every time they lose a couple of games, Brown shuffles the lineup again.
8. Bennett was lost and overwhelmed already, then Brown started changing his position. He went from power forward to small forward and now is back at power forward. I thought the move to small forward was fine because a number of people in the organization view him as a long-term small forward anyway, but I disagreed with switching him back to the post. Bennett actually played well there Saturday, however, and even played important minutes in the fourth quarter during the Cavs’ frantic comeback. He had 5 points, 5 rebounds, a steal and a block in 19 minutes – his most extensive playing time in a month. It was only the third time all season Bennett played 19 minutes in a game.
9. But after the game, Bennett didn’t sound anymore comfortable than he did after the loss to the Hawks, when he couldn’t even answer me after I asked what his position was going forward. I asked him Saturday if he felt like he was getting his arms around this yet, but he essentially said no.
10. “I’m still clueless about this whole thing,” Bennett said. “I’m still trying to learn a lot. I can still learn from my teammates, from the coaching staff, watching film. I just feel like this whole league is all about learning, just going out and playing.”
11. I cringed when Bennett used the word “clueless.” He’s only 19 and I don’t think he fully appreciates how damaging it sounds when he says things like that, but it’s obvious he’s still lost and fumbling through right now. If he could start to earn more minutes and play better, however, it would certainly ease some of the pressure on a front office under fire right now.
12. Speaking of new acquisitions, maybe too much was expected of Jack, myself included. After all, this is his sixth team in nine years and fourth team in his last four years. I, and many others, expected him to be that veteran leader and a strong voice in the locker room that would keep Kyrie Irving in line. Instead Irving has sulked at times just as he did last season and the Cavs are still losing. Jack’s numbers are down, and he just isn’t providing what I expected. He did, however, hit a couple big 3-pointers during Saturday’s comeback.
13. It’s getting redundant writing how the Cavs played terrible for three quarters, then staged a frantic comeback, only to lose in the final minutes. It was the same script Saturday, although when asked if he thought the Bynum situation affected the rest of the players at all, Brown simply said, “no.”
14. When the final piece to a puzzle is revealed, it’s easy to step back in hindsight and see all the warning signs. I watched Bynum storm out of Chris Grant’s office at the Q minutes before tip-off Thursday and thought it was curious, but didn’t want to write anything about it without having more substance. A silly Twitter post of “Saw Bynum leaving CG’s office just now. Hmmm.” seemed silly then and now. Tonight, however, the whole scene makes a little more sense.
EDIT: I've been told today this wasn't a pregame meeting between Grant and Bynum and Grant wasn't even in his office when this happened. There is a hallway that can get players from the locker room into the weight room through that door. That's what Bynum was doing.This incident wasn't even an incident and had nothing to do with the events of the last couple days.
15. Similarly, Brown hinted after the bad loss to the Pistons he was considering lineup changes, then reiterated it prior to Thursday’s loss to the Hawks because young guys had done enough in practice to warrant more game minutes. I knew he’d been pleased with Tyler Zeller, but I simply didn’t know things were deteriorating with Bynum as quickly as they apparently were. Although as I’ve written a few times now, I noticed Brown shifting more of the responsibility of Bynum’s ineffectiveness onto him and off the rest of the team. Like I said, in hindsight, when the last piece fits, the rest of the picture becomes so clear.
16. Much like with Bennett, this is Zeller’s big opportunity as well. He has played the role of good soldier, but he has also been frustrated with his lack of playing time this season. He played 21 ½ minutes on Saturday and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was easily his most minutes in a game this season. In fact, he played a total of 27 ½ minutes from Nov. 29 to Dec. 21 – a span of 11 games.
17. “Without Andrew there’s plenty of minutes open to be given to somebody,” Zeller said before Saturday’s game. “I just have to make the best of it and hopefully I do make the best of it.”
18. At this point, I would suspect the Cavs will have to release Bynum rather than trade him. That’s simply a guess at this point.
19. What a wild day. I began these notes on an airplane 26,000 feet above Boston. I’m finishing them from my home office. I flew to Boston this morning for the game, then switched my return flight from Sunday morning to the last flight Saturday night, thinking I had plenty of time to write at the arena and still make it to the airport so I could get home in time to eat breakfast with my wife and kids in the morning.
20. I hopped in a cab with Plain Dealer writer Mary Schmitt-Boyer and we headed to the North end of Boston, near the arena, where we were going to enjoy a quick breakfast before walking to TD Garden Center. It was right about the time our server brought us two giant cups of coffee, and Schmitt-Boyer had mentioned how smoothly the morning was going (she also switched her flight to return home Saturday night) that the Cavs sent the release about Bynum’s suspension. The next nine hours are a total blur.
21. I made the flight, though, and made it home. I get to have breakfast with my wife and kids in a few hours, then head to the Q Sunday night to do it all again. At this point, who knows what will happen next?