by Sam Allard
Those rumors have now been largely brushed off. Both C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack told Mary Schmitt Boyer that these PLAYERS' ONLY emergency gatherings are common among struggling teams, especially as they're trying to establish an identity and get into rhythm early in the season. That much is true. Boyer reported that the air had been cleared, that there were some disagreements, sure, but that type of thing was to be expected. Players were just expressing their frustrations and confabbing in constructive ways. The Akron Beacon-Journal's Jason Lloyd said things weren't combative. Coach Mike Brown chalked the meeting up as evidence of the team's desire to win.
Miles and Jack, for their parts, said the team is moving in the right direction — "100 percent" the smiley Miles testified — but the meeting's immediate effects were inconclusive.
Friday's 86-80 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, which I had the great misfortune of seeing in person and which marks the second time the Cavs have lost to the Bobcats in November, suggested otherwise. Saturday's dramatic overtime win was, at the very least, terrific entertainment, but it's not like you watch Matthew Dellavedova play 31 critical minutes and conclude that the franchise has awoken from its nightmare.
To be clear, Saturday's win was good. Baskets were scored. Gritty defense was played down the stretch. Eyebrows were arched and teeth were bared in what resembled competitive drive. Tristan Thompson collected a loose rebound under the hoop in the fourth quarter, dunked with authority, and howled at the Washington fans as if to say, "I am a basketball player!" These are all, as C.J. Miles suggested, signs of improvement.
But if not for an array of happy accidents — a fortuitous Bradley Beal bobble and heads-up scramble by Delly, a couple of miraculous three-point makes by Earl Clark, heretofore a wandering nest of lost limbs, and the Dark Knight rising (so to speak) to the occasion, at the end of the first half and again in the fourth quarter and overtime, the game could have easily drifted out of reach early on.
Mike Brown admitted that the entire Wizards affair was "discombobulated," that the offense was constructed by the seat of his pants. He settled into a bizarre three-guard lineup with three point guards, (the tallest among them being Delly, listed generously at 6'4") and Earl Clark as a stretch PF. Brown then subbed Tristan in for Clark for rebounding late in the fourth.
The one obvious positive side effect is that we saw, clearly, how potent Kyrie can be off the ball. A player like Delly who's confident with the ball in his hands, sets meaty screens, and is generally shot-averse is a nice late-game complement for a guy with Kyrie's killer instinct but lately untrustworthy handle. Jack and Irving coughed up the ball five and six times respectively. Delly, on the other hand, had zero turnovers to go along with his two assists and two steals. Meanwhile, you know who was nowhere to be seen?
Waiters, out for the second consecutive game with "flu-like" symptoms. Waiters, who'd reportedly been to the doctor twice — why twice? — and gotten a prescription. Waiters, who had formerly represented the third vertex in Brown's three-guard isosceles and who was basically off the map until team practice today.
For the record, Tweets like this one...
Cavs' SG Dion Waiters is "sick", but their is much mystery surrounding his illness. No one has heard from him since Wednesday's game
— Josh Haar (@JHaarNBA) November 18, 2013
...are, at this point, totally erroneous. The Cavs practiced today and Waiters was there. VP of Communications Tad Carper responded to an email with questions about him and said he's feeling better and that the flu has hopefully been beaten.
But he was MIA this weekend, and rumors suggested it was a lot more than a flu keeping him away. Rumors suggested that he was either being pouty or he was being punished. That is to say, his absence was either self-administered — pretending he was sick to get out of playing — or a PR fabrication to prevent having to address personnel issues.
Either way, it sucked for the team, especially because Waiters now has this weird baggage associated with him. And it's not like transparency would have exonerated him if he was acting like a dick, but it would have removed the silly speculation.
And honestly, Waiters has played better than a lot of people are suddenly deciding. His shooting percentage is down slightly, granted, but with a limited sample size (9 games) three poor performances early on meant it'll take a few weeks before his shooting numbers level out. His activity on defense is much-improved with better per game averages in steals, blocks and rebounds. Even his three-point shooting has improved. The only statistical category in which he's seen a significant drop is free throw percentage. He's down to 58 percent from a shade under 75 percent last year.
The point is, assumptions about Waiters' improvement or decline are still very early. If he wants the ball more, as he reportedly claimed, you can look at it as an example of a me-first attitude that doesn't mesh with Chris Grant's culture, or you can look at it as a player trying to take matters into his own hands, when his team and his captain are struggling: Kyrie Irving's numbers are markedly worse than expected.
Three things are clear, though, from an observer's perspective:
1) At the organizational level: If you're best rookie player — and the only one you're willing to play in crunch time — isn't your number one overall pick, or for that matter your late first round pick, or for that matter your second round pick, but the undrafted guy from Australia who wears an enormous mouth guard and who only got a look because he played well in a pickup game with Mike Brown's son... something is seriously the matter.
2) At the coaching level: Preaching defense is great. We get that. Defense wins games. The best teams are defensively oriented. Understood. But to preach defense at the utter and absolute expense of offense is absurd. I know the horse we're beating is pretty much dead, but Mike Brown simply needs to get his team working on the offensive end — and not just in transition. This team needs to practice some half-court sets, work on ball-movement, setting pics... you know, organized basketball.
3) At the player level: Kyrie Irving has now scored his career-high 41 points in each of the two games he's first worn a protective face mask. If we get into a serious slump again, maybe someone else should break his nose.