Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bunker Mentality

Hey, everyone! It’s A.C., checking in. What is happening?

Right now, the Cavaliers are a different team than the one that went to the Finals last spring.

With Andy and Sasha not being part of the mix, I feel like our starting five will be OK. The bench, on the other hand – trying to either take a lead or sustain a lead – that’s going to be a tough road to hoe, at least right now. At least until they get their feet underneath themselves. Hopefully, in these next two exhibition games, the reserves will get themselves squared away because that’s where I see the biggest problem.

I feel very confident in our skill guys. I like Boobie and Larry together in the backcourt together – especially if Boobie can use his penetrating ability to make things happen. I’d like to see him go out there and be a point guard that people are afraid to guard. Like Tony Parker – make people guard you, break down the defense. If he does that, then the first unit is going to be fine.

The second unit, though, is going to be tough – especially with the bigs. Dwayne Jones is going to find out that the regular season is nothing like the preseason. And Donyell is going to have to step up and play more minutes, and I’m not totally sure he’s capable of extended minutes at this stage of his career. He’ll have to be more of a 4 and less of a 3, which somewhat changes the dynamic of his game, because he’s a good three-point shooter. He’ll have to stick closer to the boards, and he’ll have to rely more on the 15-foot shot and less on the three-point shot.

As far as Anderson and Sasha not being here and the team’s mentality – I think at first they were concerned with the situation. But the closer it gets to the exhibition season, they’re starting to realize that they have to go to war with what they have. You have to forget about them now. If they don’t make it by the next two exhibition games, they won’t start the season. And I think the starters are going to have to be ready to log more minutes early in the season.

Hopefully, going what the Cavs went through to get to the Finals – knowing that at certain points of the season, you have to have a sharper focus than others – they have to come out of the blocks with that sharp focus immediately. They’re going to want to be somewhere around .500 when they get back from the long West Coast trip. It has to be a mentality of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It has to be. They’ll have a lot of adversity to deal with right off the bat. There’s not going to be any cakewalks. Teams know that we’re the Eastern Conference Champions.

The starters seem to be a lot more sure of themselves now that they’ve incorporated some of their new offense. They want to do the new drive-and-kick. San Antonio is so good at it, and when I watched films of the playoffs, I was really impressed. They bait you in with that first drive and kick it over to the open man. They dare the defense that if you’re going to rush at him, we’re going to break the defense down even more and get a layup or an easy shot. If you don’t rush at him, he can shoot it from right there. They are very good at having patience and waiting. And I’m starting to see that happen with the Cavaliers, but they don’t quite feel comfortable with it yet.

Boobie can really excel in the new offense. He’s got to use his penetration. He proved that he can go to the basket during the playoffs. And he can take a bump, too. He’s got to start looking for penetration first, jump shot second. Like Coach Fitch used to tell us: If you can break your man down every time and play basketball the right way, you don’t have to run a play. If I break this man down and someone comes to help, we could just play until we found the open make to take the shot. Boom! I think that’s what they’re looking for: more fluidity to the offense.

I said earlier that the second unit is going to have a tough road, but it’s not that some of the reserves haven’t been impressive. They have.

Dwayne Jones has surprised me. He goes after it and tries to be a physical presence on the floor. That’s something I really think this team can use. His inexperience will hurt him, but hopefully by the time we go through half the season, he’ll be ready and more comfortable with what’s going on around the basket. But it’s good to have a guy in there that wants to get physical. I’m impressed with him.

Shannon Brown is obviously starting to contribute. The only thing I was a little disappointed with as far as Shannon goes was that his shooting percentage was kind of low. He scored, but he took a ton of shots, and a lot of them were not on balance. It was almost like he was trying to get himself back into the flow of playing again. I know he comes from a very solid background – with Coach Izzo – so he understands good shots from bad shots. He just has to get back into the flow. And I think, with extended minutes, that he’ll do that. Now he can concentrate on taking good shots. Because everything else he pretty much has down. As long as he has the same desire on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end, he’ll be fine.

Now they just have to put all the pieces together. And it’s not going to be easy.

It’s not going to be easy walking into team’s arenas as Eastern Conference Champions. Everyone will be gunning for us. The Cavaliers will have to come out with a focus – they need to have the mentality: We are who we are, and we plan on staying there. We’re here stay. We’re not going anywhere. Can you beat us?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Signs of Life

It was nice to see a little edge on the Cavaliers in Thursday’s game against Detroit I just need they needed something like that to happen to shake them up. They were kind of sleep-walking there through the first game – kind of easing into it – then that scuffle seemed to wake them up. You could see the intensity pick up, the execution was better and they had a little bit of extra purpose.

Devin Brown looked good, Shannon Brown was very instrumental and I thought Dwayne Jones did some real nice boardwork. And LeBron looked like he had some pep in his step. He was ready and he came out with a purpose. And the team followed that whole concept. You can see them starting to get revved up.
It’s a matter of pride now. After that lackluster outing against Washington, you could see that this team has pride. They’re the Eastern Conference Champions and you could see – after that scuffle in the third quarter with Rasheed – that they were saying, “OK, you want to play now?” And it was really good to see that fire in the belly.

I know it’s early, but a few guys have looked good to me. I’ve always liked Devin (Brown). He’s a little undersized for the three, but he can play there because he’s a strong individual and he plays well around the basket. Shannon has impressed me. And Boobie is starting to understand how to play the point guard – when to use his penetration.

And I also like the fact that they’re taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands and allowing him to play the game. Use that ability that he has to run plays during the game – when you need it. This way teams can’t sit on LeBron the entire time. And that’s a big plus. The more we can do that – again, I go back to what I saw this summer at the FIBA Tournament in Vegas – the better off the entire team will be. The young man will be unstoppable if he can just play the game.

As far as the last roster spot for a big man, it seemed like Dwayne Jones got the upper hand with his 13-rebound game on Thursday night. His offensive game needs a lot of work, but as far as everything else, he’s on it. Some of the other guys show flashes, but we haven’t seen them enough to really know what they do.

It’s tough when you’re fighting for a roster spot and every minute on the floor. I didn’t experience that at first – because of the way I came into the league. But when I went to Dallas in the later part of my career, every dribble, every shot had to be perfect. And that’s real tough.

The Cavaliers have a brutal road schedule to start the season – especially considering that they’ll be gone for eight days in China. A tough road schedule can solidify a team. I think it will, because you kind of get into a group setting, and you focus that way. But you have to fight off becoming travel-weary. They’re going to have to get as much rest as they can. Every chance you get, you have to get off your feet. You have to be smart about the situation.

It’s tough on a coaching staff, because so many of your days are cut off – and these are days that you need to spend implementing things into the offense and defense. In China, you’re going to have media around you all the time, you’re going to have practices cut short. You’re going to have all types of things that interfere with the teaching process and what you want to put in. And sometimes, you might have to say, “We can’t make it – we have this to do.” Because the most important thing is to get all of your offensive and defensive schemes in. It’s as simple as that.

You can tell right now that the Cavaliers are learning the new offense because they’re just a little bit robotic. But that’s how it happens.

But the most important thing – and change that I’m seeing in the offense – is that they’re pushing the ball up the floor to the first man. What I think they understand, is that when you push the ball up, it makes the defense have to get back and get to the level of the ball. And that flattens them out. The defense that doesn’t get all the way back is chasing – and you have control of them. And a lot guys will get caught out of position. Once you have defenders chasing like this, all you have to do is move the ball.

The good running teams like Phoenix, that’s where they really take advantage of you. They get big fours guarding guards. They get centers guarding small forwards because they push it up the floor so much that all you do is wind up chasing them the whole time. And that’s what Mike is trying to incorporate into the offense: Let’s get more aggressive; let’s force teams to chase us.

Like Coach Fitch used to tell us: If you rebound and play defense and push the ball down the floor, I don’t care if you run a play. Because all the plays are going to be right in front of you. Just play basketball. Because guys are going to be out of position and a guard could wind up one-one-one with a center. And those are easy baskets.

The most important thing that comes out of this new philosophy is that guys will not be able to set up on LeBron. He is probably the fastest guy in the league in terms of covering ground from one end of the floor to the other. So why not take advantage of that? Get the ball out there and push it up the floor. Don’t hold it, don’t dribble it up the floor – get it up the floor. The ball moves up the floor much faster passing it up the floor than dribbling it up.

When I was in high school and the Celtics used to invite me to play with them in the summer, we’d play 40 minute scrimmages where the only turnover was dribbling the ball.

You don’t have to have quick people if you move the ball with the pass, because all you’re doing is passing to a “position.” But when you’re dribbling the ball up, you’d better have guys who can handle the ball quickly, because if not, you don’t have a fast break.

I’m hoping the guys catch on to this, because it could be a huge plus for us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Back in Business

Hey everyone! This is A.C. -- what is happening?

The Cavaliers come to Training Camp with a couple of missing pieces. And that can be difficult to deal with.

As a player, you want to try and stay focused, but you feel like you have pieces missing. You don’t feel whole. And you make due with what you have. But in the back of your mind, you wonder what it would be like with them. You deal with what you have – sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s bad.

We had the same situation after our big year. The next season, free agency hit us and we lost some guys and it just seemed like we were in limbo. It was almost like, “We’ll get started after they get here.” And that’s probably what’s going on a little bit with the guys now.

They’ve been together long enough now that they’re used to the styles of Anderson and Sasha.

Now, if these new guys – Devin Brown and Cedric Simmons – can bring something positive to the table, maybe even something better that Anderson and Sasha, it’s still a tough change. But it’s a positive change.

Devin Brown is a very solid player. He’s not great at anything, but he’s good at everything. And he will defend you. He’ll hit the mid-range shot, he’ll occasionally stroke the three. He’s a physical, aggressive player and that’s what I like about him. And he can fill in at three positions.

Cedric Simmons, I don’t know as much about him. I know he’s a raw talent – very rangy. He can cover a lot of ground and likes to be very physical with the ball and will dunk on you. He’s a good shot-blocker and I think the coaching staff is very excited about that. The key for him is how quickly he can learn the pro game and grow in the system. He’s from a small town in North Carolina so he has to learn to deal with “the big city.”

The Cavaliers will also have to replace some the intangibles that Eric Snow brings to the lineup. The leadership and the calming effect he has on the offense is going to take a hit without Eric.

Somebody else is going to have to step up and be the calming effect. Larry’s going to have to be there, Damon’s going to have to be there. And they’re going to have to help Boobie along as well. Hopefully Shannon will play a bigger role this year, too.

But Larry and Damon are going to have to replace that calming effect that E-Snow brings to the team.

It’s not going to be easy this year. The Cavaliers will go into the season with a bull’s-eye on their backs now – especially when they go on the road where they’ll be the marquee matchup.

And I think it can affect them in two ways: Either you’re going to let the pressure get to you, or you’re going to walk into the arena with your chest stuck out and say, “We’re the Champs. Can you beat us?”

If they bring that attitude to the table, they’re going to have another successful year.