CLEVELAND: The player who has impressed Byron Scott the most through the first week of practice is also the oldest player in camp. He was written off as an afterthought, perhaps even a long shot to make the team.
Instead, Luke Walton devoted his summer to strengthening his back and proving to the NBA he can still play. It’s early yet, but Walton looked good in the Cavs’ annual Wine and Gold scrimmage Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena. He scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and moved around the court better than he has since 2008.
There’s a reason for that.
“I’m in better condition right now than I’ve been in the last four years. I feel great right now,” Walton said. “This is the first time my back hasn’t hurt in a while. It’s a lot of fun to play basketball without having back pain every day.”
Walton’s Gold team won 54-44 Saturday, beating a Wine team that featured three likely starters in Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee.
Waiters appeared hesitant at times. He got to the basket with a few nice drives and finished with 12 points, but struggled from the outside and finished 4-of-9 shooting.
“He’s not 110 percent comfortable yet and it’s going to take time,” Scott said. “This is a whole new system for him and a lot of it has to do with him having to work without the ball at times, where he was so used to having the ball in his hands. He’s still going to have the ball at times, but he has to learn to play without the ball.”
Immediately after the scrimmage ended, Waiters found Scott and asked him to diagram a couple of plays that were still confusing him. Scott pulled Irving into the conversation as well and went over the sets on a clipboard.
Waiters said he feels farther ahead on defense than on offense.
“I’ve got to continue to learn. It’s a lot in a short period of time that I have to learn,” Waiters said. “There’s so much I’m trying to put together in my head in a short period of time, there’s times where I’m going to get lost.”
While Waiters searches for his path, Walton is enjoying this rebirth. He isn’t a long-term fit with the Cavs’ plans, but he won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and can be a steady hand in a locker room that didn’t replace aging veterans Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker.
“He’s probably been the biggest surprise. His conditioning is unbelievable; he’s running drills like it’s nothing,” Scott said of Walton. “I just didn’t expect him to come into camp in this type of shape.”
Walton, 32, is due to earn $6 million this season in the final year of his contract. He heard whispers over the summer about the Cavs offering him a buyout, but said to his knowledge, one wasn’t offered. The Cavs have about $10 million in available cap space, but could use Walton’s expiring contract to make a move at the trade deadline.
Scott believes Walton fits on this team for now because of his high basketball IQ and his knowledge of the game. He’s a great passer who understands where players are supposed to be at all times.
“He’s never been a great defender, but he knows how to play [defense] because he’s so smart,” Scott said. “He’s the one guy I looked at and said, ‘Man, I’m really happy with him and the way he’s played.’ I’m just proud of the way he’s come back to camp.”
Omri Casspi had nine points and made 4-of-5 shots for the Gold team. Jeremy Pargo, in contention to be the backup point guard, scored seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Irving had 13 points and five assists for Wine. He played without the ball in his hands at times and let Waiters run the offense, but he is still expected to initiate the offense the majority of the time.
“Dion is going to do a phenomenal job. He’s getting better every single day,” Irving said. “Obviously we’re still trying to figure out our offense. It was me, him and ‘Zo and two bigs. We were kind of running around like chickens without our heads on. Right now it’s about slowing it down and I think Dion is going to acclimate well.”
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.