CHRIS GRANTLAND: THE SOUND OF THE HEAT IN CLEVELAND

It’s the night before Thanksgiving.  The Cavaliers are playing the Heat at home in Cleveland.   The Heat are the champions of the NBA, and an unnecessary reminder that it is a long tortured road back to respectability for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

DION WAITERS EFFORT KEPT THE CAVALIERS FROM DROWNING ON THE SAME NIGHT WHEN TRADE RUMORS HAD HIM BEING OFFERED IN TRADES TO CHICAGO, PHILADELPHIA AND NEW YORK  (David Liam Kyle NBAE/Getty Images)

The Cavaliers, who are only 8 point underdogs in sportsbooks in Las Vegas, have been consistently losing after a horrendous offensive second quarter in which they shot just 20 percent.  The margin has hovered around 8 points.  This is another night in which Vegas knows its numbers.  On a long enough timeline, the house will win, and the house will take everything you have if you allow it to.  This will end in a 95-84 loss to the Heat.

There is too much chaos within the still rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers for narratives, which have tried and failed to form themselves despite the effort of thousands and thousands of preplanned words and words and words.  This story was literally writing itself before the game, before the hallway outside the Cavaliers locker room where media mobbed former Cavalier Lebron James, where Kyrie Irving squeezed though the mass of people and cameras virtually unnoticed, while Dan Gilbert was walking by, heading to a lounge within the arena’s plush catacombs, while a small group of supporters of the former Cavalier star are extolling him and lavishing him with appreciation outside and while the security gates let in thousands of Clevelanders that remember how bitterly they were held in contempt by James – they come to watch their team play, hopefully to win, but also to return his bitterness. 

But the story that was being written, one of a city who had forgiven that bitterness, was not the one that reflected reality.

Clevelanders remember Mike Brown and his bitter, flippant and finally totally aloof 2010 NBA Semi Final Game 5 superstar as James departed by disappearing on this very court and then down this very tunnel where he is now being flagellated by the national media.  This very tunnel is where he tore off his jersey immediately after leaving the court for the final time as a Cavalier after Game 5. 

The ESPN special “The Decision” was far from the first or final insult to Cleveland.  The point has been made so often that it’s familiarity is dulling and forgotten that there was almost a half-decade of contempt for Cleveland by James, who’s flirtations with New York and other cities media overpeppered and overseasoned the majority of his Cleveland tenure.   The Decision merely marks the time when the city finally began reciprocating disrespect.

It is December 2, 2010.  It is a hurricane of noise.  There is a lump in your throat and your eyes dart around the thousands of seats around you, full will volume and vitriol.  You can feel the vibration of the sound in the air you breath.  It’s thick. It hums with its own volume, its own frequency, its own mind.

That fear that something terrible, something unforgettably horrible, it just lingers at that ear-splitting frequency.  It is fucking hurting my hears while I am sitting beside you despite that the noise itself is coming from each of us. Everything, the national media cautioning Clevelanders to be reasonable, the almost .500 start of the team, ridiculous comments and commercials and taunting, the prospect of years without contention, the 40 plus years of desert, the chill in the air outside and the miles and miles of combined travel of this crowd has supercharged this fuel.  

We are the nervous sweat, we are the wringing hands, we are the chanting, we are yelling unspeakable things.  There are altercations in the stands, intimidating glares and threats. 

It feels dangerous.  It feels like at any moment, it may in fact, go too far.  My god, the fucking unanimity.   It is the most negative unifying feeling there has ever been, the diametric opposite of a championship parade.  It is the precipice of our discontent.   We are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons.

The Cavaliers refuse to ally with us.  They are flaccid, perhaps, it has been suggested, complicit.  They are failure.  They embody and define every criticism about themselves.  And before a crowd begging for hard fouls and for blood even, they collapse completely.  There are no Cavaliers.  Just an idea of what they should be.

Tonight, on this night, Thanksgiving Eve versus the Heat, a win at this point would mean more than almost anything in terms of changing the perception of the team, the development, the lofty preseason playoff aspirations.  But it will not happen, because, the reality is what it is.  Lebron James, Dewayne Wade and now somehow Michael Beasley are not leading by much, but seem unstoppable.  And early booing gives way to some Heat fans in the stands who are a smattering of cheering for their championship team, cheering somehow, for Michael Beasley, the many time cast off who started his NBA career in Miami.

I'm certain that they have not traveled up from Miami, as they are wearing winter coats.  There was an Alonzo Mourning jersey among them, but many just appear to be coming to see a successful basketball team, oblivious to the moral or social implications.

And these Cavaliers, they are still far from contention.  The city will have to remain patient after three lottery picks in a row, because, as one of the youngest teams in the league, maturity is the next step after accumulation of talented players.  Anthony Bennett does not even get a taste of the floor in this game.  Still playing with a mask to protect his nasal fracture, Kyrie Irving is flat, Tristan Thompson’s struggles continue, Anderson Varejao looks slow as if he had aged 5 years in the offseason.

Andrew Bynum cannot get the ball in the post.  He finally plays down the stretch in this game, but repeated attempts by Irving and others to get the ball to him in the post fail, either by going out of bounds or going where a defender could slap it away. 

Some of these things are a matter of time and playing together, finding roles in a system together.  Mike Brown would say after the game that many of the players on the Cavs had likely never played with a post player like Bynum before, because there simply aren’t that many playing basketball.  He called it a “process”, and said that he is measuring progress. 

Perhaps the effort tonight would have won against lesser teams, but this is not and never will be consolation when the Cavaliers are playing the Heat.  It's not the end game, but for now, watching a father teach his young, not more than 3 or 4-year-old son to boo people wearing that infamous Heat 6 James jersey may be the most fun part of this Wednesday night.  It is and always will be a part of Cleveland, it's generational, it will never end.  

We will always be Cleveland, and those who are not, will probably never be nor understand why.

 

THE DION WAITERS GAME

THIS IS NOT REALLY A FAVORABLE MATCHUP FOR THE CAVALIERS (David Liam Kyle NBAE/Getty Images)

Dion Waiters is rumored to be literally embattled.  Before Wednesday’s game against the Heat, Chris Broussard, himself a Clevelander, but also somewhat more recently notable for controversial statements that left many people casting him as a homophobe and led to the ESPN network apologizing for him, issued a report regarding the Cavaliers shooting guard.  According to Broussard, he received information about a the closed door meeting players only meeting that the Cavaliers had on November 13 after their 124-95 loss.

Broussard’s source told him that there was a locker room argument between Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, wherein Waiters accused Irving and Thompson of devolving at times into a 2 man “Buddy Ball” game and leaving him out of the offense.  Also that the two were separated, but that after this, Waiters indicated to Chris Grant that he wanted a trade, and that he had a three hour meeting with Grant.  Broussard went on to say that the Cavaliers were shopping Waiters and even mentioned 3 candidates which would be prospective trade targets for the Cavaliers in such a trade.

Dion Waiters addressed the rumors before the game, calling them “nonsense” and quite frankly it seems very suspect that Dion Waiters would be the kind of guy that would use the term "Buddy Ball" ever under any circumstances.  He had previously addressed the locker room incident, dismissing it as nothing serious and referring to his teammates as his “family”.  Waiters season has shown promise at times, but remains, like much of the rest of the team, a work in progress.

Waiters, like several other Cavaliers, worked hard in the offseason and posted videos and pictures of himself running drills on a week to week basis.  It is noticeable in his physique.  His entire game on both sides has failed to find balance to this point.  Waiters is also only 74 games into his NBA career, having been held out for much of the end of last season for an alleged piece of floating cartilage in his knee.  This is not a lot of time. 

While it’s too early to make any kind of genuine predictive path for Waiters, he’s been up and down and now benched in favor of undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova, who has started the last several games.  Fair speculation is still all over the place as to where Waiters will end up in his career.

On this night though, even the salty effort of Dellavedova was not enough to slow the Heat’s Dwayne Wade.  Dion Waiters, however, was a lion.  Playing against some  of the best talent, in the best system, in the NBA, he  is the best player on the floor for the Cavs, shooting 7 of 14 from the floor, scoring 24 points, 6 rebounds with 3 assists.  Contrary to what SHOULD be happening, he looks like the best player on the Cavaliers up and down the court.

And that’s good and that’s bad news.  There should not be a game in which Kyrie Irving plays with this group of Cavaliers where he does not look like the best player on the Cavaliers.  His stated goal before the season was to be the best player in the NBA.  Dion Waiters, however electric he was for this one night, and however resilient, fighting off trade rumors and then staying focused with a tremendous effort, should not be the primary offensive weapon for the Cavs.  But here it is.

While Kyrie Irving continued an early season struggle that was actually a possible continuation from an end of season struggle last year, Brown gave Waiters credit, even in a 95-84 loss to the Heat, saying he “played the game the right way”.  That praise is gold to a guard who was essentially benched earlier in the season, who is playing behind an undrafted free agent, who has rumored to be in a locker room fracas, who was the subject of a trade rumor that very day.

And whose development may be one of the most important things that happens on the Cavaliers this season.

 

 

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