It feels like a basketball town when 18,179 are in attendance for the Cavs on Saturday night in April to watch this game. It’s an overtime loss that saw the Bobcats win in Cleveland by two in the extra frame, despite a career high 44 points from Kyrie Irving. For context, the Cleveland Indians, playing an afternoon game and the second game of the 2014 season drew 14,150 earlier in the day just a few hundred feet away from Quicken Loans Arena.
It’s Saturday night. The Cavaliers were 31-46 coming into the game. The game itself was against the Charlotte Bobcats, who are a playoff team this year, but who also don’t have any crowd-drawing star power.
Not only are the Cavaliers fans there, but they are also engaged and they are ready to explode in overtime when Irving goes for 47 on a three point attempt with 10 seconds left misses, catching the back of the rim and rolling left. It was that close to everyone going completely crazy.
The Cavs lost, but they’re still not eliminated from the playoffs. It would take the Knicks and Hawks losing all but one game each and the Cavs winning the next 4 games for the playoffs to happen for the Cavaliers. Unlikely but still not impossible.
CLEVELAND SPORTS DOUBLEHEADER
Every sports fan should attend two games in one day, with two different sports. Saturday was an opportunity to do that.
The Indians and the Cavaliers play at home on the same day again April 9, and it’s Tristan Thompson bobble head night, so we’ll see how that shakes out for attendance, respectively. After that, assuming the Cavaliers don’t make the playoffs, the teams won’t play at home on the same days until probably the spring of 2015, also assuming the Indians aren’t in the World Series at the end of October this year when the Cavs will be starting next season.
The Cavs and Browns didn’t have a home game on the same day this season like they did last year, so these two Tribe/Cavs days were the only chances you had to pull it off. So, in essence, if you missed your chance on a Cleveland Sports Doubleheader Saturday, which would have been a perfect day, given that it was actually on the weekend, to attend both the Indians and Cavs on the same day, you have exactly one more chance. The Indians play the Padres at 12:00 noon on April 9, which is a Wednesday, then the Cavs play the Pistons at 7:00.
See you there, then see you there.
I should also note that the Bobcats, where former Cavalier Mark Price is a shooting coach, clinched the playoffs with the win. Price was shown on the scoreboard during the game and stood up and waved to the crowd while they were applauding. If it can’t be the Cavs that wins in the playoffs, it should be Mark Price.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have played 8 overtime games this season, more than any other single season in franchise history. They’ve won 5 of these, which left them tied with the 1993-94 Cavaliers, who went 5-2 in these games. There are still four games left this season, so the Cava still have a shot to break this tie and become the undisputed greatest overtime team in franchise history.
With regard to that 1993-94 team, it’s always interesting to go back and see boxscores from teams of yore and see how they racked up wins. The 5th overtime win of that season was accomplished via a 9-17 shooting night by Mark Price, who finished with 22 points despite shooting only 1-6 from 3pt and a standout night from Bobby Phills, who paced the Cavs with 22 points on 8-13 shooting and 7-8 from the line. Check this out: http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199402200CHH.html
You can be sure that it was a battle that night with Price and Mugsy Bouges taking it to each other all night long.
By now, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard that ESPN writer Brian Windhorst gave a short interview to writer Robert Attenwieler, formerly the founder of the now defunct Cavs blog “Raising the Cadavalier”, and currently a writer for “Cavs: The Blog”, which is in the ESPN TrueHoop blog network. Robert is also a writer for Cavs Zine and was a co-author of the play “Our Greatest Year”, which, to oversimplify, chronicled the life of a Cleveland Sports Blogger during 2007.
Here’s a link to the interview, “Shooting the Breeze with Windy”.
There’s a lot there, but the item of widespread interest was primarily the story about Windhorst’s repeated opinions about Kyrie Irving’s desire to want to leave Cleveland as soon as possible. Obviously, this is a controversial opinion, given the fact that Irving can first be offered an extension off his rookie contract this offseason. I tried to get in front of this issue last summer, when it was brought up in the context of a discussion about how the Lakers were going to improve.
I could go on about this, re-explain how difficult it would be for Irving to actually leave if the report was true and how the Cavs have a huge upper hand in retaining Irving after the 2011 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. I could write about the conclusions being drawn that the Cavs would trade Irving immediately rather than force him to go through the restricted free agency process. Or, how if the team decided to trade Irving in his fourth year of a rookie contract that it would be both unprecedented and not allow them to recover anything close to his value.
However, Irving addressed the Windhorst report rather directly, first on his twitter account, where he called it “BS” and second, before the game Saturday night against the Bobcats, when he called it “Bullshit”. That pretty much covers it. Oh, also he said “I love Cleveland”.
Now there’s a certain level of cynic that believes that Irving’s comments mirror Lebron James’s comments as he faced Unrestricted Free Agency with the Cavaliers in 2010. I don’t remember James actually using the word “bullshit” to describe rumors, and what I do remember was a lot closer to James talking about how exciting free agency would be and also how great certain visiting cities where the Cavaliers played were. Also feeding rumors by talking about how much he liked other teams and the culture in other cities. I’m pretty sure he gave away free hot dogs in New York before a game.
None of that is happening now with Irving.
There’s also a certain level of curiosity about how the report from Windhorst was being generated. Brian Windhorst has not been in the locker room on a day-to-day basis following the Cavaliers for several years now, since he took a job with ESPN in 2010. Conversely, only one local reporter claimed that he had heard anything similar to Windhorst anytime ever, and he weakly reported today as something he (the reporter) heard last summer from someone close to Irving but just never told anyone.
KYRIE IRVING AT SUMMER LEAGUE 2013 WEARING A CAVS SHIRT
Well, why hasn’t he come out and said he’s extending? There something wrong when your star player and his local buddies are running roughshot through your NBA organization, making decisions on how long the team stays in cities so they can plan parties, riding on the team plane, sitting in the general manager’s box. But there’s nothing wrong with a player who is offered an extension wanting to sit down with the organization and talk to them about what the plan is going forward. This is particularly true when the team fired its general manager during the season.
So is there anything wrong with Irving not going on the record to say he’s going to extend before the extension has even been offered? Not really. And ultimately, using the fact that he wants to be offered the extension before saying he’ll take the extension as evidence that it’s still news regarding whether he’s going to take the extension is a pretty thin justification for beating a news story to death.
But this is Cleveland, and we’ve seen stories beaten to death, brought back to life, then beaten to death again. And there may well be signage in certain news outlet media rooms that says “IT HAS BEEN X DAYS SINCE YOUR LAST STORY ABOUT LEBRON JAMES RETURNING TO THE CAVS”.
So Windhorst, and, to a much lesser extent one other local writer are really putting Irving’s credibility at issue. If you’re making a judgment call about things that will happen in the future or what certain people’s attitudes were about the city, I’m not sure which one of these items you’d rely on to make that determination, but I’m pretty sure which one makes the most sense to me. The same thing is true about Irving’s credibility.
@ CHRIS GRANTS BABIES
CHRIS GRANT INTRODUCES ANDREW BYNUM, FREE AGENT
Start with an indisputable fact. Even with last night’s loss, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 15-14 since Chris Grant was fired.
Moving on to the next narrative, there’s been this media fueled theme that the Cavaliers are talented enough, but struggle with attitude and effort issues that has kept them from winning games this season. It’s mainly been focused on Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Irving is 22, Waiters is 22. They had problems sharing the ball, and whether it was the result of meh offensive game planning by Mike Brown as head coach, growth as players who have been used to dominating the offense, or the addition of and then departure of a true big man center in Andrew Bynum, there’s a narrative that’s been pushed out there that these two men have maturity issues.
From the Windhorst interview with Attenwieler:
“And if the team had given [more effort] and not played like a bunch of babies for so long, they’d be in the playoffs and I wouldn’t be surprised if they scared the hell out of someone.”
The same narrative has taken different forms. First, there was discord with Bynum on the team. Then there was a supposed altercation in Minnesota after an early season loss. Then there was a completely false rumor floated around that Dion Waiters had punched Kyrie Irving in the face in Minnesota, which, although ridiculous, got traction in no small part due to a repeated report themed that Waiters was a lazy, disinterested malcontent that had a personality that clashed with Irving. The criticism was never about talent or even upside. It was always been about fit with the team.
One local writer went as far as to say that Waiters, who was drafted in 2012 and is still on his valuable rookie contract, had to be traded. That the locker room was toxic. They could never work together.
These very reports coincided or were immediately followed by other reports saying that Waiters had asked to be traded – even though then general manager Chris Grant at the time was claiming that Waiters was not being shopped. A national report even named several teams that were possible candidates for trades, including Chicago and Philadelphia.
Later, and after Grant was fired, Yahoo! basketball writer Adrian Wojnarowski would write that Grant was in fact actively shopping Waiters in those last days. Then yesterday, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio wrote about the perception in NBA front offices that Chris Grant “has a reputation as someone who is attempting to tell the world that the Cavs will be one huge disaster without him”, which made a lot of sense, contextually, in understanding what happened with Waiters.
I’m just going to include the whole Amico bullet points because I think they’re hyper-relevant:
“– Finally, this is not related to anything mentioned above, but I am being told by executives and insiders around the NBA that former Cavs GM Chris Grant has been spinning stories. Grant, of course, was fired in February. I’ve always really liked Grant personally, even if I didn’t care for the way he refused to make himself regularly available to local media. But one insider told me Grant “is considered a buffoon around the league: Dishonest, incapable and full of (beans).” It wasn’t the first time I heard something like that, and I still often get that vibe about Grant when talking with other GMs. (For the record, Grant has denied all this and even once requested that we call, together, the folks who trashed him. I declined to join him in such an adventure.)
— Anyway, the point is Grant now has a reputation as someone who is attempting to tell the world the Cavs will be one huge disaster without him. I have no clue if he’s talking directly to national writers — but he at least talks to people who talk to those writers (and, obviously, to me). I’m not saying Grant had an influence in Windhorst’s comments. I’m not even trying to imply that. Brian is certainly dialed-in and intelligent enough to form his own opinion on things. But beware of other yarns involving the Cavs. The one thing I learned long ago in this business is that, sometimes, sources have agendas. The key is to pay attention to what takes place on the floor and in the locker room, and don’t get too caught up in the “he said, she said” stuff.”
So let’s take a step back from Windhorst’s interview and even Grant’s firing. The narrative before the Grant firing was that the locker room was toxic, that the Cavaliers were talented but immature, that the Cavaliers could not progress without trading one specific player, Waiters, who Wojanowski claimed that Grant was actively shopping before Grant’s firing. Again, in this narrative, it was never about talent, always about fit, attitude and willingness to work, always insulating Grant from being blamed for drafting Waiters where and when he did.
Then, after the firing, there’s a curious peace in the locker room, Waiters and Irving are playing better together, spending time during the All Star break together, rushing out to the court to congratulate one another after big shots. More importantly, winning.
A six game win streak followed Grant’s firing. The team is, again, 15-14 since David Griffin took over as acting general manager. As many times as they looked buried, they made it close enough that they could not be written off.
IS CHRIS GRANT THE SOURCE OF RUMORS OF CHAOS?
What was Grant telling national or local media people about the Cavaliers? What I believe you can fairly deduce through speculation is this: if the negative narratives stop at the same time one guy is no longer with the organization, that guy might have had something to do with the negative narratives that were coming out. And I don’t know if Grant was actually trying to save his job by making a big move involving Waiters, but that’s exactly what it looks like. And I don’t know if he was floating out stories that Waiters needed to be traded, but maybe he was influencing them.
What’s happening in reality is a process that takes years. Cavs are close to the league lead in inexperience and youth. 27th in the league this season in the category of “average age of players on the roster”. “Maturation” is the wrong word. Maybe the wrong-est word. It just takes more time.
They have already improved 7 games over last year’s 24 win record, and they still have 4 games left. That’s a pretty normal increase in wins. Now if they win two more, they’ll have a winning record since Grant was let go, they’ll have another year of experience behind them, they will be ready, with the right additions over the summer, to chase a winning record and the playoffs next season.
Picture of the Cavs at the Indians game from Courtney Schilling.
Picture of “Bullshit” written on a wall via DesignInspiration.net.
Picture of Bobby Phills attacking the rim is AP.
Picture of Chris Grant at the end is Cleveland.com.
Picture of Kyrie Irving in the booth at 2013 Summer League wearing a Cavs shirt from Ben Cox.