The Sunday Drive with LeBron James and YOUR Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media DayHi there, my name is Jim, and I’m a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

I was born in 1971 in Berea, OH, the year after the Cavaliers first season, and have been a fan ever since. It’s been a long journey. This Thursday, that journey will continue, and LeBron James, the King, will be home.

It’s been a long…long journey. Have I mentioned that?

I grew up with the Miracle in Richfield, powered by Campy and Bingo and the Jims (Cleamons, Chones and Brewer). I remember wondering if Kenny and Austin Carr were brothers, and if Mike Mitchell was sad that he played for such a bad team. I loved Bagley and Hinson and World B. Free, and got yelled at by my first basketball coaches for my weird, Free-modeled jump shot. I thought Roy Hinson, Keith Lee and Mel Turpin were going to form the triple towers, but cried a little bit when Hinson was traded, even for a first round pick.

Enter a new era of Cavs basketball.That draft day was transcendent for me. In one first round, the Cavs got Brad Daugherty and Mark Price and Johnny Newman…and Ron Harper. The year before, they had taken a flier on John “Hot Rod” Williams as well, who was also starting his rookie season that year. It was glorious. They also hired Lenny Wilkens, who had won an NBA title with the Seattle Supersonics.

Oh, how I hated Michael Jordan.

Oh, how I hated Danny Ferry.

KJ begat Larry Nance, and Ehlo became a factor. So did Terrell Brandon, who I hated a little bit for barging in on Mark Price’s territory. Then Lenny Wilkens was gone, and the Czar, Mike Fratello took his place. Lenny was so close, and it really felt different when he left.

Oh, how I hated Michael Jordan.

Brandon began to take over, and so did Chris Mills and Tyrone Hill and Bobby Phills. I seem to recall a poem I wrote about the three, to noone in particular. These are the things that you do when you long for titles, and know they aren’t coming any time soon. Thunder Dan Majerle showed up for a bit, as did Bobby Sura. Fat Shawn Kemp bounced around for a couple seasons, and so did Andre Miller, and Mike Fratello was gone. The Cavs tread water with him as coach, but little did I know that when he left, it was the beginning of a lost era, that all blended together.

But it all brought LeBron to Cleveland, and the slow build to the NBA finals. It was special. Then it wasn’t.

Now it is again.

Let’s go for our Sunday Drive…and enjoy YOUR Cleveland Cavaliers.

On Thursday, October 30th, Cleveland, Ohio will be at the center of the NBA Universe once again. LeBron James has come home.

Gone will be the -ing.

Gone will be the wondering.

LeBron James will once again be a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It hasn’t been pretty over the past four years since he left, both on the court and off of it. Most Cavaliers’ fans watched their basketball hero, the best in the game, take his talents to South Beach. The reaction, while ridiculous, seemed to fit the path of what it’s like to be a Cleveland fan. Players always leave, even if they are from the area.

As a fan, and someone who has written about Cleveland Sports over the past seventeen years, it was both a shock and expected. It was a smack in the face when LeBron left, but only because the Cleveland fanaticals were more than willing to put our cheeks out to be slapped.

My first thought when LeBron left? I wonder if he’ll ever come back?

Out of my mouth came, “I hope he never comes back to Cleveland. The hell with him.”

In my head I was thinking, “Will he come back before he’s too old to be effective? I mean, if he does this to Cleveland, he surely could do it to Miami too, right?”

There was this moment, about a year ago, when I  had this passing thought of LeBron walking out from the Cavs locker room again. It was an interesting moment for me, because up to that point, I had pretty much erased LeBron from my mind.

The Cavs became a laughingstock team.

LeBron had reached the pantheon, and was a finals participant in all four years in Miami.

Cleveland sucked.

Over the years, I went from not being able to watch Miami Heat games or the NBA, to watching Miami Heat games through other people’s eyes. I heard a rumor that the playoffs in 2013 were amazing, so I really started watching again, including the Heat. The hate was gone, mostly because I’m a 43-year fan that actually has a life outside of sports…right?

Then came this random thought of him standing in front of the announcers table, and “Chalking Up” as a Cleveland Cavalier one more time…

…and I wanted it to happen. I wanted LeBron to come home to Cleveland.

I wanted the Cavaliers to be more than relevant again.

I wanted to be standing at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on a warm summer afternoon in June, and have a chance to watch the Indians in the afternoon, right before an NBA Finals game across the street later that night…

…and it would all start with that one moment…

LeBron is asking the fans whether or not he should go back to his chalk-tossing days of the past.

Is there a doubt that this should happen?

When LeBron walks out on Thursday night, and stands in front of that table, and tosses up that chalk, I’ll be watching. So will everyone else, including those idiots that burned his jersey in 2010.

While there are still those that talk about LeBron and all of his ulterior motives, I won’t be one of them. I’ll be looking at this through the lens that I always try to look at things: as a Cleveland fan who wants to win a title, who wants my teams to be relevant, who wants the best players and best coaches to want to come to Cleveland.

The hardest part about growing up a Cleveland sports fan in the 70’s was how mostly irrelevant Cleveland sports were.

The Indians, Browns and Cavs mostly sucked, other than that brief Bill Fitch-run in the early 70’s.

That was my introduction to caring.

I remember listening to Joe Tait with my Dad on those nights in the 70’s during the Cavs’ run to the Eastern conference finals, shooting a ball into a clothes basket every time Bingo Smith hit a big shot.

It was all about relevance, and in Cleveland, the moments were so brief.

Melodramatic or not, on Thursday night, I’ll likely be shedding a tear or two. I’ll never look at sports the same way as I did prior to 2010, but I’ll always love the big moments, and especially when they happen in Cleveland. Regardless of what happens in the coming months, this Thursday, the Cavaliers are relevant…the King has come home.

Long live the King.

I know, melodramatic…right?

Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao will be joining LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in David Blatt’s first starting lineup when the Cavs take the floor on Thursday night. I was 100% convinced that Waiters was going to step back into that #2 slot next to Irving, but a big part of me figured that Tristan Thompson was going to start the game, with Varejao becoming the de facto sixth man.

In the end, I don’t know that it’s going to be that big of a deal for either player, since it’s likely that both Thompson and Varejao ultimately split time equally for the time being. If Varejao can manage to stay healthy, I would even argue that he’s the better player in the Cavs’ line-up. Both big men have a good relationship with LeBron, but there are likely some fond memories for LeBron with Andy, and obviously, they already understand how to play basketball with each other.

How Thompson develops this year, playing an abundance of minutes at center, and next to both Kevin Love and LeBron James, could be one of the subtle stories to watch. Many believe that Thompson’s game was going to be a plateau of 12-ish points a game, and 10-ish boards. I don’t think those levels are going to change all that much, but the amount of time he has to do it, combined with the efficiency in which they come could improve dramatically.

Obviously, with LeBron, Irving, Waiters and Love hawking the ball offensively, the center position isn’t going to be an offensive factor. Who can garner the most garbage buckets, and who can swallow up the most rebounds will ultimately be the guy to log the most minutes.

You also have to figure that Thompson will likely find some time playing power forward as well. He’s certainly able to play 30-plus minutes a game, which is where he’ll prove to be more valuable than Varejao. I would love to see Andy’s minutes in the 25-minute range or less every night.

The plus for Thompson this year is that he has absolutely no expectations to do anything but hold his own. Gone are the “you better be a top five pick” expectations that have likely weighed him down a bit since he was drafted. Sometimes players thrive when they aren’t expected to.

Will there be a more fun player to watch develop on this team than Dion Waiters? Waiters has always been an interesting package of pure talent and bravado, with the latter bordering on “foot-in-mouth disease.” How Waiters tempers his personality with his performance, while playing along side the best player in the game will be the type of tight rope that could not only be fun to watch, but could be the difference between the Cavs being the best team in the Central, and the Cavs being the best team in the East.

If you look at the starting line-up, spacing shouldn’t be an issue for Waiters, who will be the #4 option on offense when he’s starting. He’s going to get his looks because teams just won’t be all that concerned with him. That could be special.

Where it will really be fun for Waiters is when he’s playing with the #2 unit, which I think will happen 10-15 minutes a night. Waiters will no doubt be the #1 offensive option when he’s on the court with Matthew Dellavedova. What does this mean for his end-of-game numbers?

Like I said with Tristan Thompson, I’m not sure that there’s going to be any sort of increase, but I do think you’ll see similar numbers to his past two Cavaliers’ seasons, with the hope being that his minutes are more productive and efficient.

If he can improve his defense on top of everything else, his season could surely be special.

I’m an admitted Waiters homer, but playing alongside LeBron could take him to that next level. The only way that happens though is if he can be okay playing without the ball for long stretches. If he can’t, how that “bravado” extends itself in a LeBron/Blatt-led locker room will ultimately factor into his playing time and future with the Cavs.

But here’s the thing: Men Lie, Women Lie, Buckets Don’t.

How seriously good is that?

Is there any doubt that Dion Waiters thinks that he is the best player in the NBA?

That’s not a typo.

It may be misguided, but boy, it it fun to watch.

Kyrie Irving really has a chance to become a special point guard, but he’s still no Derrick Rose

Yes, I’m far more harsh with regards to my feelings on Irving in comparison to Dion Waiters. Fair or not, Irving’s been branded as a “leader” as a former #1 pick, and he’s really struggled with that role.

I’m not saying he’s a bad player. He’s not.

What I am saying is that he has had glaring holes in his game that need to improve. While LeBron is a horrible comparison with regards to talent, what LeBron has done to fix his weaknesses over the years is a model that most NBA players could follow.

Kyrie needs to be a better defender, it’s that simple.

I firmly believe this could be the year that Kyrie Irving transforms his game into something special. I think it’s equitable to say that he’s far from being that all-around superstar that he could be. If you watched the Cavs preseason game against the Chicago Bulls this past week, it was fairly clear that Derrick Rose is just on a different level than Kyrie. I think that’s a bold statement when you consider the amount of time that Derrick Rose has missed over the years.

Sure, it was only a preseason game, but there were stark differences on both sides of the ball between the two point guards.

Offensively, Rose really made Irving look like a rookie on defense. I know that Irving has never been confused as a top-notch defensive player, but watching him flail around the likes of Rose was borderline embarrassing.

When he was one-on-one on Rose, he essentially ran after him like Rose was playing keep-away-from-Kyrie.

When a point guard the caliber of Derrick Rose is across from him, he looks really, really bad.

One could argue that Irving’s offense counteracts his poor defense, but the problem is that Rose actually defending Kyrie fairly well. Irving did score 28 points, but most of those points came against other defenders, either when Rose was on the bench, or when the Cavs were lucky enough to cause a switch.

This is where watching David Blatt’s offense will become interesting to me, and where a guy like Kevin Love could actually hinder Kyrie’s development if he doesn’t hold his picks. Can Blatt and LeBron motivate Kyrie to play better defense?

More importantly, can Blatt create scenarios that force other team’s better defenders off Kyrie with switches based on picks and ball movement?

In the end, much of the improvement will have to come from Kyrie and how he works to fit into the big scheme-of-things. My biggest knock on Irving and Waiters since they’ve been drafted has been their stubborn play. I’ve always been under the belief that the best NBA players are the ones that do whatever it takes to make the team better. I’ve never gotten the impression that Irving or Waiters actually did that.

Now LeBron is here.

Kyrie will need to step up. I think he will, but it could be a long, hard journey.

Lost in the shuffle of the LeBron James story is David Blatt. Is it possible to feel a bit sorry for a coach that walked into a job that brought him LeBron James and Kevin Love, two of the top 10 players in the NBA?

Somehow, I do.

Regardless of what happens in the future, David Blatt will likely never get any credit or any due for what happens.

For better or worse, this is LeBron James’ team.

So, who is David Blatt? I’ll analyze Blatt more as the season progresses, but he is a really good coach. I’ve been impressed with the early atmosphere that he’s helping to create on the bench. He’s clearly a player’s coach. If you go back and read what other players have said about him over the years, it’s easy to get excited.

For years, I’ve been stumped by Mike Brown and his inability to build a solid offensive philosophy. I know that I beat this dead horse a lot, but great NBA coaches create a culture of offense and defense. What I’ve loved the most about Blatt is that I’ve heard him called an offensive coach by some, and a defensive coach by others.

That’s a good confusion.

What I can tell you is this: he likes up-tempo offense and ball movement. The fun of this team is that Kyrie, Dion and LeBron can all bring up the ball. Kevin Love is no slouch with the ball either, and can pass. This team is going to score a ton of points.

Where Blatt can really make a mark though is culturally, and defensively.

We’re already seeing the cultural change in the team just by watching Kevin Love. This is a guy that was miserable in Minnesota. Sure, I’d be frolicking in the tulips if I was playing with LeBron James, but watching the exchanges between the team and Blatt has been fun to watch.

A lot of that has to do with LeBron James and this new umbrella of love that he seems to have. Don’t discredit Blatt though, who clearly has an amazing early rapport with his team.

Defensively, this team still has issues, but will take longer to improve than the offense. It will take awhile for the team to understand the style of play Blatt wants, combined with the the player intricacies that tends to come over time. Blatt will have a direct impact on both, and I think it will be dramatic as the season progresses.

Blatt preaches the old Celtics model: Everyone cares about winning, and everyone will do their part. His job is to instill that very thing.

It also won’t hurt having LeBron overseeing this all on the court, which brings us full circle.

Will Blatt ever get the credit he deserves?

Does it matter?

The Plugs:

And finally…

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Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, a former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and a spiffy dresser. Follow him for advice on live, learning and the American Way on twitter @JimPeteEHC, and follow the our website twitter @evrybdyhatescle. We will brew you the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.

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