HOUSTON: The rumbles within the Cavaliers locker room have been growing louder for weeks. Players who initially didn’t want to talk about what is plaguing this team are beginning to open up, and most of the issues are pointing back to guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, along with an unhappiness with Mike Brown and his staff.
“He’s acting like he doesn’t care,” one Cavs player said of Irving.
Many players in this story were granted anonymity based on the sensitive nature of the topic.
All of this comes on the heels of a New York Daily News story released Saturday evening reporting that Luol Deng has complained of a locker room out of control.
Players within that locker room are growing louder in their agreement.
“It’s pretty much a mess,” one source close to the team said.
Most of the complaints are focused on Irving and Waiters. One league source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Waiters was removed from practice recently, per the Daily News report. But Waiters’ minutes weren’t affected by the move, which left at least a handful of players raising their eyebrows — particularly within an organization that has preached accountability since Brown’s arrival.
“That’s Dion. He’s been like that since he got here. He doesn’t think anything is his fault,” one team source said. “He’s actually better about it this year than he was last year.”
In the Daily News report, a source close to Deng said, “The stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess.”
Players have privately complained that Brown’s coaching staff, with at least seven assistants, is too big. An assistant coach will tell a player one thing, then Brown will come back and yell at that player because he wants it done another way.
“We’re getting too many mixed messages,” one player said. “This isn’t very much fun. We were losing last year with Byron, but at least we were having fun.”
Deng said Friday he didn’t believe anyone had given up on Brown as their coach.
“I just think we’re not playing as a unit,” Deng said Friday. “We’re a young team and right now we don’t know how to make each other better.
“When you play as a unit, you cover for a lot of things. When one guy is unhappy with somebody, when you’re out there together as five, no one would talk about this stuff. But right now, since we’re not a unit, you always go for the head of the snake. It’s unfortunate that guys will start talking about the coach and everything. But I’m new here, so they might feel a different way.”
Deng and Waiters were not available before Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. Deng typically doesn’t talk before games, and Waiters spent the whole time reporters are allowed in the locker room sitting in the trainer’s room.
Irving denied there are internal problems.
“The chemistry is great,” Irving said before Saturday’s game. “There’s nothing going on within the locker room that needs to be shared with the media.”
Brown shuffled his starting lineup Saturday, inserting Jarrett Jack in place of C.J. Miles with the idea of putting the ball in Jack’s hands more and letting Irving play off the ball.
Asked if that was to prevent Irving from trying to play 1-on-4 so much, one player nodded his head in agreement.
Two sources close to the team confirmed that barring a significant turnaround before the trade deadline, this roster will likely face some upheaval. That very well could include Waiters, whose act has worn thin on his teammates and various members of the organization.
Irving’s behavior has also irritated teammates and other members of the organization, but the Cavs are expected to offer him a max contract extension this summer and aren’t believed to be considering trading him. Two general managers told the Beacon Journal this year that Irving is pouting, something he denied to the Beacon Journal after practice Friday.
“I’ve never been known for pouting,” Irving said. “Just because I don’t smile on the court when we’re losing, I don’t think I’m supposed to smile. You smile on the court, that’s a problem, especially when you’re losing like this.”
It was a turbulent week for the Cavaliers and specifically Irving. ESPN reported Wednesday that Irving wants out of Cleveland, something he denied, while the Daily News reported he is close to firing his agent, Jeff Wechsler.
“I can tell you that’s 1,000 percent false,” Irving said Saturday. “I love my agent. He’s made me a lot of money these past few years. I’m 150,000 percent sure on that.”
No one would confirm the Daily News report that a handful of players were out late in New York City on Wednesday, the night before the Cavs’ embarrassing loss to the Knicks. Brown wouldn’t discuss whether he kicked Waiters out of practice, and when asked if he believes he still has a firm grip on this team, Brown said only, “Yes.”
Deng raved about the Cavs’ amenities on Friday, telling the Beacon Journal “these guys have everything. They’re getting taken care of. Sometimes when you’ve only been in one place, you don’t know what it’s like. Honestly, it’s top-notch here. I’m not just saying that to say it. I feel like we’re given the best, we’re taken care of to perform at our best. We have to somehow figure out what our best is. For us right now to win as a young team, more than anything it’s a unity thing. We have to play as one unit. Are we going to get there? I don’t know, but we need to.”
Deng also believes the role of veterans is important and cited P.J. Brown as an example. P.J. Brown was a veteran on the Bulls when Deng was coming into the league, and while he was never a star, he was a tough veteran who cared about winning.
The Cavs have had a few veterans during this rebuilding process, such as Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson, but none of them was considered a strong locker room influence. Then the Cavs began this season with the league’s second-youngest roster.
“What goes on in the locker room and what’s being said, it’s a lot more important than just having a bunch of young guys,” Deng said. “It’s great to have young guys, you need some vets in the locker room and it can’t just be one or two. You need a few to repeat it and guys to look across and see guys that have done it.”
Then Deng, unprovoked, said he believed the Cavs will get back to winning — a surprising comment given how he was portrayed in the Daily News report.
“Cleveland is going to win. I really believe that,” Deng said.
“I’m not surprised they went to the Finals before. It’s going to happen again, I really believe it.”
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.