CLEVELAND: It took Marreese Speights 10 hours to decide he wanted to play for the Cavaliers. It took 10 minutes for coach Byron Scott to be glad he did.
Speights has been fantastic since his trade to the Cavs, averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while providing some much-needed depth in the frontcourt over the last four games. He has surprised even Scott with both his play and his fiery approach to the game.
When the Cavs were dragging through a lackluster loss at Detroit on Friday, it was Speights who tried igniting them with a powerful dunk and a jumper on consecutive possessions, then turned and roared toward the bench, pleading with anyone else to join him.
Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he scored eight consecutive points for the Cavs and 10-of-13 during a huge stretch midway through the fourth quarter. Speights kept the Cavs in the game long enough for Kyrie Irving to close it out over the final five minutes.
When the Cavs first obtained him, Scott considered Speights to be simply a spot-up jump shooter because that’s what he primarily was with the Philadelphia 76ers. But Speights is proving to be a gritty defender and a great communicator, something Scott has been searching for all season. Speights finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, falling one point shy of his season high.
“I didn’t know he was that fiery,” Scott said. “I didn’t know he played this style of basketball. From what I saw in Philly, he was a guy who was primarily a catch-and-shoot guy, a perimeter big guy, who could stretch the floor. The first game we had him here, I saw he was much more than that.”
Before the Cavaliers could trade Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies for Speights, Wayne Ellington and a first-round pick, Speights had to agree to the deal. It took him 10 hours to say yes.
Speights had to waive his Bird rights in order for the Grizzlies to deal him. Since the Cavs are under the salary cap, the only real value for Speights was it essentially gave him veto power over the deal.
Before making that decision, he phoned Alonzo Gee, whom Speights has known since high school. He spent so much time working out for the Cavs prior to the 2008 draft, Speights was convinced he was coming here. Then the 76ers took him 16th, leaving the Cavs to take J.J. Hickson at No. 19.
So when he was presented with the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to come to Cleveland, it didn’t take long for Speights to agree.
“I could’ve rejected the trade but I didn’t,” Speights said. “I came here because I knew it was a young team, a great city, great fans and I always wanted to be here.”
He has a $4.5 million option for next season, but can decline it and elect for free agency in a year when more teams are expected to have cap space. That has led to persistent rumors the Cavs could deal him before the trade deadline, but for now, he’s already an integral piece to the rotation.
His minutes were inconsistent in Memphis, but he has a much larger role already with the Cavs.
“I’m learning a lot more about him than I knew when we got him, and I love what I see,” Scott said. “He’s a great kid around these guys — very, very vocal. That’s something that we need. And he has some experience. He’s been in the league for a little while.”
Speights has scored in double figures in all five games and has totaled 77 points. He scored a total of 87 points during the month of January with the Grizzlies.
“This team is young and up and coming,” Speights said. “Great point guard, great coach and a great city to play in.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. 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.