By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
LOS ANGELES: Whether he’s with them for three months or three years, Luol Deng could be crucial to the growth of the Cavaliers.
Deng speaks the same language as Mike Brown. He grew up professionally in a defensive culture, he believes in defense before offense and his past is proof to a young Cavs roster that playing defense can lead to plenty of victories.
The Chicago Bulls won 62 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals three years ago with a team crafted in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive image. They were one of the league’s rising franchises prior to Derrick Rose’s devastating knee injuries. Now Deng is slowly trying to convince his new teammates of what he already believes. Shortly after Thibodeau took the Bulls’ job, he challenged Deng to be a tremendous defensive player. Deng responded by making two All-Star games.
“I took that as a challenge and I took that as a role on the team,” he said. “If I show up playing defense every night, I thought everyone else would follow. I was OK with that role. It really allowed me to find my game in the NBA.”
Brown said this week part of the problem the Cavs are battling is young players worried more about stats and individual rewards rather than focusing on team victories. Players concern themselves with making an All-Rookie team or earning their next contract rather than focusing on the next win. Deng said he went through that early in his career, too.
“Just like every other player, you try to be a scorer,” he said. “That’s what everyone wants to do and there’s nothing wrong with that. But finding out what you can bring every game to the team is really the key to being a great player and having a successful career in the NBA.”
Deng is slowly trying to ingratiate himself into this locker room without appearing to overtake it. He is sensitive to the appearance of trying to take over, but he sees a young team struggling to find the consistency of how to play hard defensively every game. Proof of that was Sunday’s embarrassing 44-point loss to the Sacramento Kings, the worst loss in the NBA this season.
“Sometimes guys get caught up in letting their offense dictate their defense,” he said. “I think when you say [inconsistent defensively], what’s happening here is nights when guys are shooting the ball great, they’re playing with a lot more energy. And the mindset should be, if anything, it should be the other way. If you recognize your offense isn’t going, defensively you have to pick it up and come together as a group.
“It comes slowly. Right now if you look at it, we’ve won two out of three. You win that game and all of a sudden you’ve won three of four. After you start winning a few, you start looking at your record and if you’re 7-3, guys will start believing in what you’re doing. But when you’re struggling and you look at your record and you’re 3-7, the intensity drops a little bit and you have to work on picking everyone up. When it’s the other way around, your job is a lot easier because that’s the winning mentality.”
Near miss on Gasol
For a few days last week, it appeared Pau Gasol could be wearing a Cavs jersey when they played at the Lakers on Tuesday. With the two teams engaged in trade talks over Andrew Bynum’s contract, Gasol conceded he nearly became a Cavalier.
“It could have been that way, for sure,” he said. “I try not to put any thoughts into it. I’m just focusing and worried about this [toe injury] so I have always plenty of things in my mind that stop me from thinking of other stuff.”
Brown was fired by the Lakers after just 71 games as coach, but Brown went 42-29 (.592) during his time in Los Angeles. His replacement, Mike D’Antoni, entered Tuesday 54-55 (.495).
“It’s a tough situation when you have injuries or when you put a roster together and you expect them to gel right away,” Brown said. “It doesn’t always happen. If you look at the history of the game, it’s been that way whenever you throw guys together, it takes time.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.