CHRIS GRANTLAND: WET COURT, FULL HEARTS, MIKE BROWN

Baldwin Wallace’s basketball gym was wet with the shooting stroke of Cavaliers All Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who took another step towards his stated goal for the season of becoming the best player in the NBA by flashing his buttery feather smooth stroke over and over, stealing the breaths from spectators,  breaking imagination bones.   A vision, perfect balance, perfect time, perfect shots.  

CANADIAN SUPERBATTLE OF THE POWER FORWARDS BENNETT AND THOMPSON (DAVID LIAM KYLE – GETTY IMAGES)

It’s the Wine & Gold Scrimmage, an annual free game played for free for fans of a team that has had virtually no time to install the offensive system of the new Mike Brown led coaching staff.   The defense, counted on to improve after finishing close to or last in virtually every statically category last season,  is far from ready to strangle the rest of the league with Brown’s signature formulas.  The offensive abilities of individuals were spotlighted, but there remains no evidence of a highly anticipated offensive system. 

But with less than a month before the season begins, on a rainy day in Cleveland, there was Jarrett Jack, the veteran backcourt free agent mid-range force of nature, Dion Waiters, who’s jumpshot appears to be more balanced and who caught a nice pass from Irving which he promptly dunked.   Earl Clark, the lengthy free agent signee small forward, with range helping glue Brown’s team at both ends of the court.  There was Anderson Varejao, active on a basketball court for the first time since his bout with a blood clot following surgery last season.  There was the now right-handed shooting Tristan Thompson, battling with the recently cleared to play and practice rookie Anthony Bennett. 

And there was the giant Andrew Bynum, who did not play, but appeared on court before the game wearing a basketball uniform and basketball shoes instead of a suit and tie.   Bynum is reportedly in the late stages of a 12 week rehabilitation program that began shortly after the Cavaliers signed him.  He is down to 285 pounds, 20 pounds lighter, and at his playing weight.  He is at the heart of any hopes that the Cavaliers can contend for not just the playoffs at the end of this season, but for a win in a playoff series.

Summer is over and the concrete shape of things to come is forcing itself upon us all.   All these moving parts – the health and recovery of Bynum and Verajao, Anthony Bennett’s weight, the physical maturation of rookie Russian sharpshooter Sergey Karasev –  all must coalesce into a powerful machine in the next 25 days to begin the season against the reconstructed Brooklyn Nets superteam.   

The scrimmage ended early in the third quarter by Mike Brown himself – who claimed that the floor of the court was wet.  Coach Brown, the conductor of all things Cavalier, is reborn in his return season as perhaps the most powerful single man in the organization since Mike Fratello wrested control from Wayne Embry in the late 1990s.  These pieces will be puzzled together by his hands, and the level of success depends on his skill.

There is no need for further scrimmage when Mike Brown says there is no need for further scrimmage.  Three days from now, in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the preseason begins against Milwaukee at 7PM.  And the city, primed by furor of the Indians end of the season run,  the Cleveland Browns surprising start, and the memories of Irving’s flashes of superstardom in his first All Star season last year is ready to recall Mike Brown at his best and to imagine the even better moments to come.

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