Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hey, this is A.C. - What is happening!

And what a great year!

If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we’d have reached the NBA Finals, I’d have said, No way. To do what we did, I think, in one year really is phenomenal...We matured as a team, as a coaching staff, and as an organization and everybody played a role in it. Now we know what it takes to win a championship. I think before we were just guessing, but after experiencing it, we know now the energy level and concentration level it takes from game 1 through game 82 on through the postseason…

To get to the well and not be able to drink the water is frustrating. Still, it’ll be nice to hear when they introduce the Cavaliers as Eastern Conference Champions. That sounds good, doesn’t it?

And we need to stay hungry. When you have a team beat at the end of the third quarter, you’ve got to finish. The small games aren’t nitpicking. The key is, the right scenario has to happen for you to get deep into the playoffs. Winning those small games during the season - against Charlotte, against Atlanta, against the Knicks - helps you get the home court advantage which helps create the right scenario. If we had won half of those games we gave away early in the season, we could conceivably have had home court advantage throughout the postseason and the psychological edge that would have given us would have been big...

As for the offseason, you’d like to keep the core of the team solid, but free agency has its impact. Right after the Miracle year, we started losing our guys. The key is defining how we’re gonna play LeBron and set the offense up so that it goes through him or the small forward position; take the ball out of his hands as far as bringing it up the floor and instead get it and him down near the basket...

We need to make it so LeBron plays the game instead of having to orchestrate the game.

He needs to get his mid-range game going, the 15- to 20-foot jumpers that would let him get all the shots he wants without getting beat up. As we got deeper into the playoffs, it became harder for him to score easy. Michael Jordan became a master of the mid-range game after he came back from his first retirement...

We also have to move Z around a little bit more, keep Drew playing his mid-range game, set up the offense where all the big people can play all the big positions and can rotate without a problem. In the same way, Larry, LeBron, Boobie, all those guys have to be able to play the one, two or the three so that we give different looks and make it so the defense can’t key in on one thing. Play against the match-ups the defense provides. I think, naturally, we need to figure out what we’re gonna do at the point guard position, whether we keep Larry there or move Larry back to the two guard, and if Sasha goes back to the bench, which might strengthen our bench, like Manu does with the Spurs...

But for now, it’s been a great year. We've accomplished a lot, we’ve learned a lot - we even learned how to approach the regular season now – and the key will be not to get complacent and that will be crucial - how hungry are we gonna be?

We haven’t got the ring yet. And now we’re marked. Everybody’s gonna bring their A-game at us every night. So we’ll now have to play A-game basketball as the norm. A-game basketball all the time. Because we’re that close now. We're that close...

We're that close...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Saddle Sores

Oh, man...Where do we begin?

...This is A.C.

The Spurs have sort of taken us out of our comfort zone these first two games. They’re defense and their style of play, as far as their intensity level is concerned, has taken us out of our comfort zone. They play at a harder pace, a more intense pace. We seem to accept mistakes, but when they throw the ball away, or miss shots they should make, you can see the anguish on their faces. I’m hoping by coming back home that we develop that same attitude.

This is a different animal we’re dealing with here, different than Detroit or New Jersey. Spotting those guys two games...Once they go up by ten, man, they’re next step is to go up 20. They’re objective is to put you away and we haven’t dealt with a team like that in quite a while. They're a very smart basketball team. They wait on picks and don’t rush their picks. They make foul shots. They execute their defense perfectly. And every time they get to the Finals they complete the deal.

It’s something we can learn from.

They also have three guys who we really have not shown an answer for right now in Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. They isolate Duncan at the right times, something that we could learn to use in our own arsenal. And even though we are a good help-defensive team, individually we’re breaking down quite a bit, especially with Parker and Ginobili.

We have to hold our serve. Can we win three games at home is what it’s gonna come down to. We’ve done it so far, so I don’t have any doubts that we can do it. Our offense has to have a little more variety to it and our individual defense has to get better. We need to do a better job on their three guys - None of the other guys have scored more than six points a game.

We are still a work-in-progress, though also a team ahead of the curve and each playoff game we have gone to a new level. And to make it to the finals as a work-in-progress to me bodes well for our future. But the future is now and we have to win the next two games, three games. We’ve done it before.

Now let's go out there and do it again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Cavaliers in San Antonio: THE CLEVELAND CABALLEROS

We did it!

After being with the organization since 1971 - and getting close as a player, but not quite making it - and then now pushing over the hump - and because I’ve been with these guys every dribble, every pass, every mistake - it almost feels like I was there with them.

But we still have unfinished business.

Still, I really feel for guys like Donyell, Damon, David Wesley, guys who’ve been in the league a long time and are now experiencing their first Finals. I’m so happy for those guys. At the same time, I’m awfully proud of people like LeBron, Drew, Eric, Larry, and Z- Z has been a trooper because he was chastised for a lot of things, but he stayed true to himself and made sure he picked up his game this postseason and it's made a difference. To see LeBron embrace him like that - man, it was something. Then, to top it all off, we get a diamond in the rough in Boobie Gibson – in two weeks he’s become a household name, not only in Cleveland, but around the country. It’s ironic that he’s going back to his home state to play in the finals. It’s just a great situation all the way around.

Larry Hughes to me has to share some of the MVP ranking. To take what he did pain-wise, it really galvanized the team. He made them realize it was about the team, not about individuals. And he gave them some great minutes, even under adverse conditions. I think what he went through this series pretty much dispels the criticism he's endured. He showed big heart. I took those same cortisone shots and when they wear off it hurts, man. And to have to recover in one day and go out and to do it again – I really take my hat off to Larry Hughes, because he deserves a lot of credit.

LeBron showed me and everybody in the world how astute a basketball player he is. He understands the game so well, and as I told him in the locker room after the game, it seemed like he empowered his teammates to step up, like he did in high school. And he's matured so fast - not even just one year to the next, but from Game 1 to Game 6, he matured so quick.

The coaching staff has also stayed true to itself while adjusting when necessary. They actually took the team they finished games with and made them the starting team. Plus, again, they got the team to believe in their philosophy. Of course, you have to win games to get a team to believe in your philosophy and they won those games with the defense-first approach.

And then there's Coach Brown: two years in the league, 50 wins each year, brings this team to the Finals, and still doesn't get the credit he deserves. And he himself tweaked his own philosophies during the playoffs, developing a shooting lineup, learning when to call timeouts.

Even Danny Ferry and Lance Blanks reinforcing that we're a no-excuses team after Game 2 - what that did, it made the team forget about the calls that were going against them and focus more on winning the game. That was a major turning point in the series and Danny and Lance knew that they had to interject themselves into the equation to keep everything stable. That was a huge.

On this team right now, everybody knows their sweet spots. And once you learn that, you can start to develop a solid unit where everybody knows where they fit in and it all works together. Z's got his pick and pop. Drew and LBJ are the post-up guys down low. Larry’s a slasher, Sasha’s a slasher and a shooter. Eric's our defensive specialist.

Finally, you have to give the ownership group credit. To be able to reach their goal in two years is amazing. They empower their people to make decisions and make things work and all of that takes the franchise to another level off the court. That massive power of everyone making decisions is really a massive powerful flow of energy that rises to the top...He definitely keeps you on your toes, too.

This team knows they’re going up against a dragon in the Spurs - as LeBron says, the Big Bad Wolf - but they’ll be ready because they match up well with San Antonio. It’s gonna be interesting because San Antonio defends the same way, and it’s gonna come down to individual efforts. We were fortunate enough to beat them twice in the season because of matchups, but they play totally different in the playoffs. They were able to slow down Utah, slow down Phoenix; on the other hand, we were able to slow down New Jersey and we were able to go toe-to-toe and bang it with the Pistons.

It'll come down to which team can impose its will on the other team, which is gonna be some battle. And that’s gonna be a beautiful thing to watch.