CLEVELAND: With Kyrie Irving potentially returning to the lineup Wednesday night, Donald Sloan’s time as a starting point guard could be ending. Now the question is whether he did enough to convince the Cavaliers that he can be Irving’s backup next season and beyond.
It appears, so far, the answer is yes.
Sloan will start his 10th game tonight when the Cavs play at the Detroit Pistons. He has averaged 9.4 points and 5.9 assists through his first nine starts and has set career highs in both points (15) and assists (14).
“I’ve been very happy with the way he’s played,” coach Byron Scott said. “I think he’s getting adjusted to having to guard some of these first-tier point guards as well. He’s a very bright young man. I think he’ll learn as he goes along.”
In the past two-plus weeks, Sloan has faced some of the best talent he has ever had to defend in his life. From John Wall and Deron Williams to Brandon Jennings and Jameer Nelson, Sloan has been matched against starting point guards with mixed results.
He struggled keeping Nelson in front of him in the loss Sunday to the Orlando Magic, but that could be the product of three games in three nights. Nelson had 21 points and nine assists and appeared to beat Sloan off the dribble at will.
Part of that is a result of the Cavs’ defensive system, which encourages the point guard to really get up inside on the dribbler. Scott asked the same of Irving early in the season, which led to a lot of Irving’s defensive problems and guys getting by him so easily.
“I’ve faced a few monsters since Kyrie has been out,” Sloan said. “Coach Scott realizes when you’re going up against guys like that, they’re so smart, they’re veterans, crafty and quick. A lot of times you can’t get up on them like that, because if they have that freedom, they can break any play and go get it and it leaves you out to hang a little bit.”
Ideally, the Cavs will need Sloan for only about 15 minutes a night. When Irving is healthy, he should average 35 minutes a night, leaving Sloan to handle sporadic minutes against backups.
The Cavs have been high on him all season, which is why they didn’t mess around and initially offer him a 10-day contract. Upon trading Ramon Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers immediately offered Sloan a contract for the rest of the season and a nonguaranteed contract for next year in a demonstration of how much they liked him.
The money between a 10-day deal and a guaranteed deal for the rest of the season was minimal, so General Manager Chris Grant calculated it was worth it to secure Sloan just in case other teams were interested in giving him a 10-day deal.
Sloan said the Houston Rockets were showing interest, but he was glad to have the Cavs’ offer. The Rockets signed point guard Courtney Fortson the day after the Cavs signed Sloan.
“I’m glad to be here,” Sloan said. “Mr. Grant tells me all the time, ‘There’s a reason we didn’t just give you a 10-day. There’s a reason we signed you for the rest of the year and non-guaranteed next year.’ ”
Although the contract isn’t guaranteed and he could be waived at any time, the 24-year-old Sloan said this is the earliest he has ever secured a contract for the following season. Now he won’t have to spend his summer nervously waiting for the phone to ring. Instead, he’ll go home for about a week after the season ends, then he’s coming right back to Cleveland to participate in an offseason program. He’ll attend summer league in July with Irving, Tristan Thompson and the rookies drafted in June.
Sloan eagerly agreed to return to Cleveland quickly and was thrilled the Cavs want him back so soon after the season ends.
“That’s a good thing,” Sloan said, joking that it’s worse when teams don’t care where a player is or what he’s doing. “That’s when you have to worry.”
Jamison a good sport
Antawn Jamison was named a finalist Monday for the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award as voted on by a panel of five former NBA players.
Each team nominates a player for the award and Jamison was selected as the Central Division winner. A league winner from the six division finalists will be announced after the season.
Other division winners were Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, Shane Battier of the Miami Heat, Luke Ridnour of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks. Winners were selected by former NBA players Greg Anthony, John Crotty, Antonio Davis, Eddie Johnson and Kenny Smith.
The award, named after former Detroit Pistons great Joe Dumars, reflects the ideals of sportsmanship, ethical behavior, fair play and integrity.
Former Cavs point guard Terrell Brandon was the award’s second recipient in 1997. He is the only Cavalier to have won the league award.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.