SACRAMENTO, Calif.: Twenty-six thoughts tonight following one of the worst losses I’ve seen in four years covering the Cavs, 124-80 to the Sacramento Kings.
1. The Cavaliers will never truly be a good team until they get mentally tougher. That point has been lingering over this team much of the season and was driven home Sunday night. They’re just too soft. Under no circumstance should the Kings beat any team in the NBA by 44 points. They’re the freaking Kings!
2. “Usually when you don’t compete, you get your ass kicked,” Jarrett Jack said succinctly. “That’s what happened to us tonight.”
3. Mike Brown didn’t use the word “quit” to describe his team, but he used a lot of words that rhyme with quit, such as no competitive spirit in the second half. Kyrie Irving has proven to be a pouter at times. So has Dion Waiters. They were drafted to be the core of this team, but they have to grow up first.
4. I’ve received e-mails and tweets from people who think I dislike Waiters. I’m not sure where that comes from, but nothing could be further from true. He’s actually one of my favorite players to deal with on a daily basis. I told him earlier this season that when he was first drafted here, he looked like he hated everyone and was ready to kill anyone who crossed him. He laughed, didn’t disagree and blamed it on his Philly roots. He has grown up some, he’s opened up more and let his guard down a little bit. Becoming a father over the summer matured him a little, too.
5. Having said all that, he still has a lot more growing up to do. He has to stop sulking on the court when things aren’t going his way. He has to stop thinking people are out to get him. The coaches see it, the players see it … basically everyone inside the organization has seen it.
6. When he was pulled from the game Sunday after throwing a bad pass in the first quarter, Mike Brown was visibly irritated with him and subbed him out of the game. Waiters was standing near half-court when he realized he was coming out and he threw his hands in the air out of frustration as if to say, “Why me?”
7. During the next timeout, Waiters sat pouting on the bench while the rest of the team huddled together. Assistant coach Jim Boylan casually walked down and talked to him and soon Waiters joined the huddle. But it was still a bad look.
8. When Waiters’ shot is falling, he can carry a team. When it’s not, he tends to shut down. He doesn’t defend, he gets careless with the ball… Players have quietly grumbled about Waiters’ act off and on all season, and those grumbles were growing louder Sunday night.
9. As one player put it, stars can get away with the stuff Waiters pulls on occasion, but Waiters hasn’t even established himself yet in this league, let alone carved out star status. The thing about him is he’s not a bad guy. He’s not a locker room cancer or a coach killer. He just sulks, pouts, broods … whatever word you want to use. And it has to stop if he’s ever going to reach his potential, because I believe he could be a very good player in this league. But he has to stop the nonsense.
10. I found it striking when Luol Deng said afterwards, “If you’re trying to be in this league a long time, you’re going to have many days where you’re not playing your best. What I asked of everyone is just to have each other’s back. If you say something to somebody on the court, it can never be personal. We’re on the same team, we’re going to battle together.”
11. Deng didn’t mention any names, but it’s clear he already knows the score, even though he’s been here less than a week. Teammates have told Dion all season, “We’re on your side. Don’t be mad at us, get mad at the guys in the other jerseys.” The problem is Waiters always feels like a victim and he’s not.
12. This isn’t to pile on Waiters or put all the blame on him, but his behavior was the most evident tonight and the whispers from other players growing tired of his act seem to be growing louder. Again, it’s more of a frustration because overall he’s not a bad guy. It would be different if he was causing major strife within the locker room. He’s not. He’s just drawing a lot of eye rolls.
13. When Irving and Waiters were singled out to Brown tonight as the biggest sulkers, Brown said “It might have been those two, it might have been the whole team. That’s part of what I’m talking about.” So clearly Brown sees it in others, too.
14. Deng just walked into this, but he seems to already be taking a proactive approach. One player said tonight Deng plans to talk individually to the rest of the guys, get to know them a little better and get a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Deng said he was never really a vocal leader in Chicago, but his voice needs to be heard here, particularly since he’s giving the same message as the head coach.
15. “A lot of guys in this locker room can score,” Deng said. “We should focus every night on our defense knowing it might not be me tonight, it might not be Kyrie, it might be Jack, it might be Dion. There’s so many guys who can score and that’s the way we have to switch our mindset, not thinking we’re going to outscore teams, but actually having the mindset we’re going to stop teams.”
16. Deng comes from a Bulls system that was highly successful despite annually ranking near the bottom of the league in offense under Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls have never been a high-scoring team under Thibs, but no one seemed to notice or care because they won a lot of games. The Cavs can be the same way under Brown, but right now they have too many guys worrying about their stats instead of stops.
17. Speaking of stats, Irving and Waiters combined to shoot 4-for-21 on Sunday.
18. The Cavs didn’t defend at all Sunday, but they at least started out well offensively before regressing in every quarter. They had 12 assists and 1 turnover in the first quarter, but they had 5 assists and 6 turnovers in the second quarter and 2 assists and 5 turnovers in the third quarter. They stopped moving the ball, settled for long jump shots and kept shooting them even when the shots weren’t falling. The ball movement in the first quarter was beautiful. Then it stopped for the rest of the night.
19. I found this fairly ominous from Brown when I asked if he thought the Cavs had moved beyond these types of games where they don’t really even compete. Brown has warned all season the Cavs could get their heads beat in again, but to me there’s a difference in having an off night and just giving up. Tonight they just gave up.
20. “I never thought it would be like this again. But knowing my team, it could happen again to us,” Brown said. “You hope it doesn’t. You hope tonight is a lesson learned. … Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, but I don’t know. I’m not sure with this team yet.”
21. Had to laugh when a Sacramento reporter asked Brown about the damage Rudy Gay (20 points) and Isaiah Thomas (26 points, 6 assists) inflicted on the Cavs. “It wasn’t just Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas,” Brown said. “It was their whole frickin’ team. Jimmer Fredette, McCallum, Outlaw… it was the whole team that kicked my behind and everybody else’s behind.”
22. I just thought of what Waiters said after beating the Jazz on Friday. “We have to do a better job moving forward off these wins. Build off it, build off it and don’t come out lackadaisical.” They may not have started lackadaisical, but they sure ended that way.
23. “Once you are able to string a few wins together, you’d like to think you’re trying to build off that momentum,” Jack said Sunday. “But us, we have to continue to be able to handle success the right way and have better performances than we did tonight.”
24. Funny moment before the game when equipment manager Mark Cashman asked Deng if he saw how many No. 9 Dellavedova jerseys were in the stands at Sleep Train Arena. Matthew Dellavedova went to college in the Bay Area and a number of Delly fans made the short drive to Sacramento for the game. And they all had on Delly jerseys from before Deng took his number. Deng cracked up at Cashman. “C’mon man, stop,” Deng said.
25. Deng was hoping someone else, perhaps Cashman or Brown, would ask Delly to give up No. 9, but Deng had to do it himself. They happened to be the only two guys in the locker room, and Delly knew what Deng was after, so they just sat there staring at each other before Deng finally worked up the courage to ask the rookie for the number. Delly gave it up with no resistance.
26. I started these notes at the Sacramento airport, worked on them in San Francisco and just finished them in Los Angeles. Quite the travel schedule tonight. I’ve been on six flights in the last three days. Now we settle down for a bit the next couple days and I won’t fly again until Wednesday morning. The Cavs practice Monday on the campus of UCLA. Given how badly Sunday’s game went, they might be in there awhile.