CLEVELAND: After he showered, dressed and met with reporters following another loss in a season full of them, Kyrie Irving knocked on the door to the coach’s office in the visiting locker room in Salt Lake City last month and changed the course of the Cavaliers’ season.
Irving was frustrated and confused. He didn’t know when to attack and when to facilitate. He didn’t know when he would handle the ball and when Dion Waiters should initiate the offense.
He had just struggled through a miserable shooting night against the Jazz, the Cavs completed a disappointing 1-4 road trip and questions seemed far more plentiful than answers. Before they boarded the plane for the late-night flight home, Irving wanted to know definitely what was expected of him.
“Let me clear it up for you,” Byron Scott told him. “I want you to be aggressive the whole time you’re out there.”
That conversation set the course for what is becoming a basketball revival in Cleveland. Of course, the trade that brought Mo Speights and Wayne Ellington reinforced the bench and brought some much-needed experience to a youthful roster. But the conversation in Salt Lake City will impact this team for years to come because it clearly defined the roles for both Irving and Waiters.
They are considered the backcourt of the future, but they didn’t make very good dance partners early because they kept tripping over the other’s feet. Or as Irving referred to it, playing the “it’s his turn, it’s my turn” game.
“We kind of had that in the beginning of the season, but now we’re figuring out how to play together,” Irving said. “He’s playing the 2-guard position and I’m playing the 1. The ball is mostly in my hands.”
And that’s precisely where it needs to stay.
The Cavs drafted Waiters in part because of their belief that a championship-caliber team needs two players who can create and an All-Star big man. They are still searching for the premiere big man, but believe they have two guys now who can create for themselves and others. It just took some time to get to this point.
There was no chemistry between Irving and Waiters earlier in the season, so Scott sent Waiters to the bench and figured they’d work out their problems over the summer. It was a curious move, considering the Cavs had already plummeted to the bottom of the East and had little chance at making the playoffs.
So when C.J. Miles was ill, Scott reinserted Waiters to the starting lineup under the strict instructions not to wait for the ball. He had to run the floor, learn how to cut and space the floor without the ball.
To his credit, Waiters never balked. Although he never admitted it publicly, he was upset by the benching. He thought his days as a bench player were over, but after only a couple of days of sulking, Waiters was ready to do whatever Scott asked. It’s part of the maturation process both the front office and the coaching staff has seen in him the past couple of weeks.
“He comes from a neighborhood where he keeps everything in,” Scott said. “I think he’s starting to open up and I think it goes back to trust. I think he truly believes we want the very best for him and he’s opened up from a personal standpoint. He smiles more, he jokes more and I think he’s having more fun.”
Waiters insinuated he has always struggled trusting others outside of his inner circle, but has started to pull the walls away one brick at a time.
“At the end of the day, I know Coach is trying to help me out. He knows what’s best for me and he probably sees something out there I don’t see,” Waiters said. “It was nothing personal, I’ve been like that my whole life. College, high school, I’ve got my people and that’s who I tend to go to every time. Lately I’ve been opening up to everybody and having fun. I’m enjoying this.”
So are the Cavs, who researched and scouted tape of Waiters for hours and hours and hours before drafting him. Regardless of talent and scouting reports, it’s impossible to predict if two guys can play together until they walk out on the court and figure it out. Based on the most recent results, the Cavs believe Waiters and Irving are beginning to figure it all out.
Scott has a new favorite word this week — vibing. Waiters taught it to him when he said the team was “vibing.” Scott chuckled at that and has used it a few times the last couple of days.
It’s funny how just a couple of wins can change the mood of an organization. The Cavs are 6-2 since that brief chat between Scott and Irving in Salt Lake City. With this starting lineup, the Cavs are 8-6. They’re 8-28 with all other lineups.
“The biggest difference has been trust. Guys are really beginning to trust each other,” Scott said. “The confidence level is up, they feel real comfortable playing with each other right now and like we said from Day One, it’s going to take time. It’s not a finished product. But guys are making strides.”
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.