CHRIS GRANTLAND: TEAM BUILDING EXERCISE

There’s a darkness.  18, 697 people, on a Friday night in Cleveland, attended, either by way of paying for tickets or receiving tickets from someone else, saw it.  With a 3-6 record coming into the game, the arena is still filled almost to capacity, but the Cavaliers have mysteriously vanished midgame and will not reappear until it is too late to survive the Charlotte Bobcats.

TYLER ZELLER AND HIS BROTHER CODY ZELLER BATTLE IN THE AIR.  (David Liam Kyle NBAE/Getty Images)

A disappointed Cleveland fan is the worst and saddest type of sports fan.  People have gone through divorces, lost their homes, their jobs, had cars stolen, had homes burn down that do not display the sense of despair and disappointment that appears on the faces of Clevelanders leaving the game on this night with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter down 9 and the team shooting an anemic 39% from the floor. 

On this night, they had left their fight in a locker room in Minnesota where a closed door players-only  team meeting escalated into a confrontation between Dion Waiters and some other player or players who is yet unknown.  Waiters has been held out of this game, listed as “sick” with no actual description of what happened.  After this game, with the crowd long gone, the media will be briefly stopped on its way into the Cavaliers locker room for post-game interviews, as Chris Grant swept by the media and into the room before them.

There may come a day when a player confrontation is a positive turning point in the season and in the direction of the franchise.  But that is not happening now, here and against Charlotte.

Kyrie Irving will score 18 points.   7-7 from the free throw line.  10 assists.  He will play 38 minutes of NBA basketball with a plastic mask covering his face.  But it will not be enough and even he has not shot well, 5 for 16 from the floor and succomed to defensive pressure and mental lapses, comitting 6 turnovers and losing a 10 point lead.

The young crowd that’s watched this game, that’s now leaving this game, have only known a sudden success that matriculates in a matter of two years after a first pick in the draft into a team that can win more games than it loses based on a strict defensive scheme and a shallow offensive system.  The last generation, and short lived, playoff team of the late 90s was built on a trade for an aging superstar surrounded by rookies and suddenly ascended to 47 wins. 

Before that… before that, there was a one draft rebuild in 1986 that set up the franchise for almost a decade of relevance. 

Brad Daugherty, a true 7 foot center from North Carolina is sitting in the hotel lobby of the Marriot hotel in New York City talking to the doomed Len Bias.  

Five famous historic New York City theaters were demolished in 1982 and replaced by this 49 floor hotel with a rotating rooftop revolving restaurant so that this conversation could happen, giant men seated on a round couch in a fresh hotel and on the graves of theater, discussing what cars they’ll buy after the 1986 NBA draft that day. 

Bias: “Man, I'm going to buy myself the biggest Mercedes you've ever seen. That thing's going to be longer than a train.”

One of these men will be drafted with the first pick, and one with the second.  One will be chosen by the almost invincible Boston Celtics and never make it to Boston and one will help rebuild the Cleveland Cavalier franchise.

THE 1986 DRAFT (Slam.com)

Mark Price is one of the greatest scorers in Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA basketball history.  He is in Enid, Oklahoma with the entire Price family.  His brothers, his mother, and Oklahoma basketball legend, his father Denny Price.  He sits in his living room, his hands folded together.  It is warm and a window is open and the television is on with the volume slightly too loud and he is not drafted in the first round.  They said that he would not survive in the more complicated offenses and defenses at the NBA level.

The first round ends and Price leaves the room, walks to the hallway, naturally balancing himself, and he finds the bathroom.  He is alone there and it is quiet.  He could not be further in space or time from that massive hotel lobby in Times Square where Len Bias had been sitting on that round couch that morning dreaming of a giant Mercedes.

When he opens the door to rejoin the family he hears them before he sees them.  He is the first pick of the second round.  He is quietly smiling and everyone in the room his happy.

Mark Price was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 25th pick of the same draft, which at that time is in the second round.  The Cavaliers had no general manger but had interviewed Wayne Embry, who had discussed Price with then owner Gordon Gund for the general manager job.  Embry was working with the Pacers at the time who were burned when the Cavs grabbed Price from Dallas before the Pacers could make the move.

30 minutes after the pick, Price’s agent calls.  The phone reaches his ear.  He has been traded to Cleveland.  He will be a Cavalier.

This is how history happens.

Mark Price is standing right over there in the second row of seats with the Charlotte Bobcats.  It’s surreal to see him back in this giant room beneath a banner bearing his name.  One of the greatest shooters and one of the greatest shooting coaches of all time, now the Bobcats shooting coach, will watch a horrifying display.

It is a slogfest.  His team, now the Bobcats, struggle to score 12 points in the first quarter.  They are buoyed only by the fact that this game becomes a mutual war of attrition and both teams battle through shooting that hovers around 35%, a terrible rate, though turnovers that further aggravate the pace of the game.  This game will be won on the strength of shooting that somehow comes alive, of defensive breakdowns and runouts that the Bobcats are able to construct into a 10 point lead that begins in the 3rd quarter and continues briefly into the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers are not good enough to stop playing focused effective basketball for 10 minutes of a 48 minute game and still win.  They aren’t good enough to overcome fighting in the locker room and win.  When this period of what is already a very ugly game comes, it is unwatchable by any measure.

The Cavaliers at their worst look like this:  They have no direction.  They have no awareness of the court or of themselves.  This is the apex of their disorganization and the descent into basketball void.

There are bizarre levels of incestual history in play as the fourth quarter unfolds itself:

The recovery from this comes too late and is met by an unlikely but familiar opponent when Ramon Sessions, who previously been a member of the Cavaliers and who had been acquired for Delonte West – who was micromanaged by Cavs current head coach Mike Brown.  Sessions shooting coach is Price, of course. The Zeller, Cody, a Bobcat, and Tyler brothers have battled each other in the paint.

DANIEL GIBSON, MO WILLIAMS AND RAMON SESSIONS SMILING.  (AP Photo)

Sessions played with Irving here in Cleveland in 2011-12, but here and now Sessions matches Irving in the fourth quarter in short circuiting a Cavs comeback attempt and ending the game.  This is the best, most exciting and most interesting part of the game, but the Cavaliers lose anyway.

It is mortifying to watch the Cavaliers play a game at home in front of Mark Price where they are booed by their own fans who want so desperately for them to succeed. 

They have shot 40.5% from the floor by the time the game ends, and plenty of bad shots that had little chance at all to score.  An unlikely Earl Clark, who hadn’t played a minute over the last two games entered the game and exploded for 6 of 7 shooting and making all 3 of his three point attempts is not enough, and outside of him, the rest of the team could only manage 36% shooting.

This level of effort and focus isn’t going to win any games with the current roster.  Actually, it’s hard to imagine what kind of roster could win any games given this kind of effort and focus.  Even if the 10 minutes in the end of the 3rd to the beginning of the 4th is an isolated “black hole” of basketball, it’s a deep, dark place that has a terrible terrible terrible gravity.

Mike Brown is internalizing everything.  It’s the only reasonable explanation.  Because down in the post-game press conference, Brown is staying positive no matter what.  Again, like he did last game, even in the ugliness, he’s finding positives, describing the 3rd quarter in the most isolating terms, describing the game planning the most rational basic manner possible.  And his cool demeanor is maddening. 

It’s insane and it’s sociopathic that down here it feels like they could lose 26 games in a row, or suddenly figure everything out and challenge for a 6th seed.  When Andrew Bynum finally returns tonight in DC versus the Wizards after having been absent for the team meeting and walking in as the veteran, as the biggest Cavalier with the Lakers championship ring, with this bizarre circumstance, result in him being called bring this team together and is it even possible that he could do that?

 

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