CLEVELAND — Months after Matthew Dellavedova left Cleveland, former Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin stood in a hallway at TD Garden and admitted he hadn’t fully grasped the impact of the scrappy Australian guard.
The Cavs were not going to give Dellavedova a four-year, $38 million, free-agent contract, which he received from the Milwaukee Bucks after helping the Cavs to the 2016 championship. But even with a roster full of veterans led by four-time league MVP LeBron James, Griffin said the Cavs missed Dellavedova.
Because of his limited physical talents, Dellavedova has to fight for every minute he spends in the NBA. He was hospitalized for dehydration following Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals, when he played 39 minutes after the Cavs lost Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap in Game 1.
Dellavedova constantly dives for loose balls, rolling on the right ankle of the Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver in the 2015 conference finals, which resulted in surgery for Korver. That same postseason, Dellavedova scissor-locked the Chicago Bulls’ Taj Gibson with his legs and got the Hawks’ Al Horford ejected for elbowing him in the head when Horford felt he was diving at his legs.
Dellavedova’s endless hustle gained him a devoted fan following and unfairly earned him the reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league. But what Griffin hadn’t realized was that while Dellavedova’s style was rubbing opponents the wrong way, it was rubbing off on his teammates.
The Cavs saw undrafted Dellavedova, who reached the NCAA Tournament three times while attending St. Mary’s College in California, earn a spot on the 2013-14 roster with his performances in Summer League and training camp. They witnessed how hard he pushed Irving, already an All-Star, in practice. Dellavedova’s presence provided James another example as he preached to the Cavs that they needed to work harder to achieve success.
The Cavs reacquired Dellavedova from the Bucks in a three-team trade last Friday, setting up rookie point guard Collin Sexton with a mentor wired much differently than his predecessor George Hill, who went to Milwaukee. Dellavedova will be the on-court pest Sexton needs to improve and Sexton might take such sessions much better than Irving, who reportedly grew to loathe Dellavedova.
But if General Manager Koby Altman picked up Dellavedova merely to package him (with J.R. Smith perhaps?) in a trade for draft choices, Altman will show the same lack of appreciation for Dellavedova’s influence as Griffin.
The Cavs roster of 20-somethings needs Dellavedova as much as the adoring fans who welcomed their cult hero Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena with chants of “MVP.”
For some reason, Cleveland brings out the best in Dellavedova. In Milwaukee, he was considered an overpaid (he carries salaries of $9.6 million this season and next) and underperforming roster burden. Now 28, a host of floor burns and bruises may be starting to take their toll. In 12 games with the Bucks, Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points and 2.4 assists in 8.1 minutes.
In two games with the Cavs, Dellavedova turned back the clock and showed his value, not merely in averaging 13 points and 3.5 assists in 18.5 minutes.
Cavs coach Larry Drew pointed out how Dellavedova impacted a turnover by the New York Knicks’ Emmanuel Mudiay with 14.2 seconds remaining and the Cavs up by three en route to a seven-point victory.
“Delly did a phenomenal job of tracking the ball on the inbounds [pass] and it forced a turnover,” Drew said. “That was to perfection. He just brings so many intangibles to the game, things that we really need on this team.”
Playing in the second unit with Dellavedova, Jordan Clarkson led the Cavs with 28 points and raved about Dellavedova’s intelligence. Of Filipino descent, Clarkson said he’s seen players like Dellavedova in the Asian Games.
“Those players are really smart — they know how to play off the ball and make plays for their teammates,” Clarkson said. “You can see the game; he just sees it in different ways.”
Not to be discounted was the change in the atmosphere at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Obviously, he played really well,” Larry Nance Jr. said Wednesday. “... But the energy the crowd provided while he was on the court making those plays was a major boost to us.”
Altman might not realize the marketing implications of acquiring Dellavedova. He can sell tickets and jerseys, especially since he’s wearing No. 18 instead of his previous No. 8.
Using Dellavedova as a trade chip would prompt fan backlash, although some might appreciate another look at their hero up close, like when Jim Thome was purchased by the Indians for 22 games in 2011. Delly’s last hurrah, no matter how long it lasts, will perk up Northeast Ohioans already dreaming about the NBA Draft lottery as the Cavs rebuild.
But the intrinsic value of Dellavedova to the Cavs is more than a second-round pick or a salary dump. Altman’s old boss will readily vouch for that.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.