CLEVELAND: Twenty seven final thoughts following the Cavs' 95-84 loss to the Miami Heat...
1. Forget about LeBron James and certainly forget about the notion of him returning to Cleveland for a moment. The Cavs have bigger issues to worry about right now.
2. Cavs sources are disputing Chris Broussard’s ESPN report that Waiters essentially encouraged both Chris Grant and Mike Brown to explore trading him. Further, the team privately insists they haven’t made any calls offering Waiters to other teams. They have fielded calls on a number of young players, including Waiters, but have not offered him up to anyone.
3. Regardless of who is calling whom, I’ve held the belief for a while Waiters isn’t long for Cleveland. I wrote a couple of days ago I expected the Cavs to deal him by the trade deadline or next summer. That remains true. The Cavaliers are committing to Kyrie Irving long term and I just don’t think Waiters fits alongside Irving. I also don’t believe Brown is overly thrilled with Waiters, particularly because of his defensive lapses. But Brown lavished high praise on Waiters following Wednesday’s loss.
4. “I thought Dion played the game the right way tonight,” Brown said. He looked very good. He had a couple defensive lapses. Other than that I thought he was good defensively, thought he was tremendous offensively. Dion stepped in and took 3s at right time. He got to the free-throw line 11 times. He got six rebounds. I thought he played the game the right way and it was fun to watch him play.”
5. The Cavs would be thrilled if Waiters played every game like he did tonight. Unfortunately, he is erratic right now. But in his defense, all of the Cavs players – including Irving – have been far too inconsistent. Irving was awful again Wednesday.
6. I saw one of the defensive lapses to which Brown was referring. The Cavs were ahead early in the second quarter when Waiters missed a 3-pointer, then failed to get back on defense. The Heat were running in transition and Ray Allen was open on the wing. Waiters was stopped near the half-court line when he saw Allen catch the ball. Waiters tried to recover and get there, but by then it was too late. Allen hit the 3 and Brown immediately called timeout.
7. The rest of the night, however, I saw Waiters hustling defensively, particularly as an on-ball defender. Now Waiters needs to play like that again and again and again.
8. Sometimes the media is accused of blowing things out of proportion or twisting things people say to make them more controversial than they really are. I try awfully hard to avoid doing that at all times. Having said that, here is what Waiters said before the game when I asked him if he and Irving can coexist.
9. “That’s up to us. Both of us have to sacrifice for one another. Until then, we have to keep finding the chemistry.”
10. So I asked him if he thinks they are sacrificing for each other: “It’s a new system,” he said. “It’s early. We’re still trying to get situated in a new offense. Time will tell. We just have to be patient and hope that will work, have faith in the offense and Coach Brown. Hopefully we can turn this thing around.”
11. That sounded an awful lot like a "No” to me. So here is Waiters after the game, when unprovoked, he went into a rant about playing unselfishly when I asked him if the Heat brought the best out of him defensively
12. “Playing San Antonio left a bad taste in my mouth. We got blown out of the water. They play for one another. You just see their chemistry out there. They don’t care who takes the shot. Once we get to that point and that mindset, we’ll be dangerous. We have all the talent to do that.”
13. Now the back story. Waiters told me a couple weeks ago, before this mess with the players-only meeting, that he was getting frustrated with his lack of touches. A conversation with his agent, Rob Pelinka, helped clear his head and straighten him out. Now Chris Broussard reported Wednesday that part of the issue with the blowout in the postgame meeting was Waiters complaining that Irving and Tristan Thompson play “buddy ball” and don’t give him the ball. And now tonight on two separate occasions, both before and after the game, Waiters referenced playing unselfishly. It’s quite evident he believes the Cavs do a terrible job of sharing the ball, whether he says that directly or not.
14. “It’s not about who scores,” Waiters said. “It’s about making the teammates better. If we get to that point, where we’re making one another better, it’d be dangerous. … Every night is not going to be that guy’s night. It might be Earl’s night, it might be Zo’s night, you never know. But at least (we’d be) winning. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to win. I’ve done lost more games than ... it’s just frustrating, especially coming from where I came from. I’m used to winning. It takes a toll on you mentally and physically, the frustration part. We have to keep moving forward, keep trying to get better. I think we moved the ball well tonight. A lot of people had good looks tonight. We have to feed off that. We can’t go five steps back the next game.”
15. Before the game, Waiters referenced running out of time. “It’s up to us to make plays and play hard every night and just put this thing together,” he said, “because by the time we try to put it together, it might be too late.” But then when I asked him if he thought time was running out, he laughed and said no, it’s only Thanksgiving.
16. Both Waiters and Brown referred to progress they’ve seen the last couple of games, although it’s difficult for anyone else to see it because it came against the two teams that played in last season’s Finals. Brown said progress hasn’t been fast, but he has seen it incrementally. “When you run into good teams like the Heat, it may not show we’re getting better in people’s eyes,” Brown said. “Hopefully it will show when we play teams that aren’t NBA Finals teams.”
17. The Cavs will get that opportunity Friday at Boston and then Saturday at home against the Bulls. Both of those are winnable games, particularly with Derrick Rose out and the Bulls reeling. The Cavs played well enough to win on the road last Friday at New Orleans, but had a lot of questionable calls go against them in the final few minutes when they blew a 12-point lead. Then came games against the Spurs and Heat.
18. The Cavs need to start stringing together some wins to put some of this stuff aside. Now is their chance. “We have to keep that same intensity the next game, even if it’s not Miami,” Waiters said. “We have to come out like Boston is Miami with the same intensity on the defensive end. We lost the game, but I see a lot of good things we did tonight that we normally don’t do. We just have to learn and build from this and come back strong. It’s a long season. Don’t hang your head now. Just play, just play.”
19. Irving keeps reminding everyone he is the leader of this team. If that’s the case, he needs to start playing better. Irving shot 6 of 19 for the game and his impact seemed minimal. At times, it was easy to forget he was on the floor. His season-long shooting struggles have reduced his field-goal percentage to 40 percent.
20. After tonight’s game, Brown subtly reminded people that Irving shot only .415 following the All-Star break last season. Over his last 32 games dating to last season’s All-Star break, Irving is shooting .410. Even more alarming, his field-goal percentage has declined every season.
21. “I think they’re all struggling, and it’s trickled down to him as well,” LeBron James said of Irving. “He’s an unbelievable talent. They’re all struggling trying to find things offensively and defensively. If they get some things in order, they’ve got some really good pieces here. I know Mike is pushing them to be better. We’ll see what happens.”
22.With all due respect to James, I think he has it backwards. The Cavs’ struggles haven’t trickled down to Irving; rather Irving’s struggles have trickled down to everyone else. “I guarantee once I get over this hump, there’s no looking back,” Irving said. It’s becoming quite a hump.
23. The Matthew Dellavedova experiment at shooting guard needs to end. Thankfully, it should Friday at Boston. C.J. Miles said before the game he’s expecting to be ready to play against the Celtics. Delly was benched after just seven scoreless minutes Wednesday. Delly is a good kid who plays hard and does his best to defend. But he’s not an NBA-caliber starter right now. Even if Miles is unable to play, Brown needs to at least start Sergey Karasev against the Celtics.
24. Andrew Bynum’s minutes limit increased Wednesday, allowing him to come in and close the game in the fourth quarter. He played about 24 minutes and is inching closer to typical starters’ minutes.
25. Lastly on Waiters: I don’t expect the Cavs to just give him away to another team. Given the right circumstance, I still believe Waiters could be a very good guard in the NBA. I’m just not sure it can be here alongside Irving.
26. Chris Grant has pulled off some terrific trades for the Cavaliers. I wouldn’t expect that to change now. If he can’t get the deal he wants for Waiters, he’ll keep him. But I think there’s enough interest in a young guard playing on a rookie contract to attract legitimate interest and trade offers.
27. Happy Thanksgiving folks. Will catch you all Friday from Boston.