By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett, the top overall pick in the NBA Draft, will not compete in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend Feb. 14-16, becoming the second top pick not to be invited since the game’s inception and the first since Kwame Brown in 2001.
Dion Waiters was the only Cavs player invited after they sent four players to the game last season.
Bennett played 31 minutes in Tuesday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, easily his most extensive time this season. He set a career high with 15 points (his first time in double figures) and tied a career high with eight rebounds. But it’s been a miserable rookie season for Bennett, who is averaging 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds.
“I give the kid a lot of credit. He’s had a tough start, a really tough start,” Cavs General Manager Chris Grant said Wednesday. “Obviously, we all want all of our players to have success the first day they walk onto the court. But he didn’t. He’s handled it very well and continues to progress and hopefully he can put some more performances like last night together going forward.”
Brown was drafted first overall in 2001, ahead of Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol. He played for seven teams over 12 indistinguishable seasons. He is now out of the league.
Grant has resisted sending Bennett to the Development League and said the fact he was drafted first overall doesn’t play into that decision.
“Up until a week or so ago, he was in and out of the rotation, and if that’s the case, that’s the priority. I want him to be here,” Grant said. “He may play in Canton, our other guys might play in Canton, but right now, if he has an opportunity to play for this team, I think the priority should be here for him working with our coaches, being on the floor getting those experiences.”
Waiters leads all Eastern Conference reserves in scoring this season (14.5 points in 31 games). He is averaging 14.3 points overall (fourth among all second-year players) and he scored 23 points in the Rising Stars game last season, which features players in their first and second seasons.
The Cavs sent Waiters, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller to the game last season. Irving and Thompson are no longer eligible, and Zeller has played sparingly this season until recently and was also excluded along with first-round pick Sergey Karasev.
Other top picks, such as Yao Ming and Tim Duncan, have skipped the Rising Stars game because they were invited to play in the actual All-Star Game. Bennett and Brown are the only top picks not to be invited to All-Star weekend in the 20-year history of the rookie/sophomore game.
Seven of the top 10 picks from last summer’s historically weak draft were excluded this season. The rookies selected were Orlando’s Victor Oladipo, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Atlanta’s Pero Antic, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Utah’s Trey Burke, New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr., Boston’s Kelly Olynyk and Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee.
Austin Carr’s jersey is missing from the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena. It was in place for Monday night’s WWE event, a Cavs spokesman said, but was missing Tuesday when the Cavs hosted the New Orleans Pelicans. The team is working on a replacement and should have it up by the next home game next Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. … Anderson Varejao was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and made the trip to New York for Thursday’s game against the Knicks. He remains a game-time decision. … Sergey Karasev was assigned to the D-League’s Canton Charge.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com.