Wine and Gold Wrap Up for the Summer

April 17, 2014
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Dion Waiters

As the Cavaliers wrapped up their season this week – and cleaned out their lockers on Thursday following Wednesday’s win – the common theme was that of missed opportunities and renewed resolve to get it right next season.

The Wine and Gold came into the 2013-14 campaign as the second-youngest squad in the league, and it took Cleveland’s youngsters almost until the All-Star Break to find their identity. But by the time they started putting things together, the Cavs would’ve needed a miraculous run to reach the postseason.

“The biggest thing is we have to be a little more consistent with our play, with our approach,” said Coach Brown, looking back on his first campaign back in Cleveland. “You never know how far you are away, but we don’t want to have put ourselves in a position, in a hole (having to) to play .850 or .900 basketball down the stretch. I don’t know if we’re quite to that level yet.”

After a busy offseason, punctuated by the signing of free agent Andrew Bynum, the Wine and Gold got off to a slow start – going 10-21 through the first two months, closing the calendar year with six straight losses. But after dealing Bynum to the Bulls for Luol Deng, Cleveland went 21-26 the rest of the way. In the final 33 games, the Cavaliers were 17-16.

That inconsistency that Coach referred to was the young squad’s Achilles heel in 2013-14. The Cavs suffered some critical losses – falling to Dallas at home after a successful West Coast trip, losing to a badly undermanned Lakers squad and dropping a crucial game in Atlanta steeped with playoff implications. But they also had some spectacular wins – thumping the Thunder in OKC to snap a three-game skid, rallying from 18 points down to top the Warriors in Oakland and downing Detroit on Dion Waiters’ buzzer-beater for their third straight victory.

The Cavs won three of five games on one West Coast junket and took two of three on their next western venture. They won four straight for the first time since winning eight straight in March 2010. Cleveland closed the season having won five of its last six against the Central Division.

The Wine and Gold – who finished with a final mark of 33-49, a nine-game improvement over the previous season – were a different team in the season’s final two months, but couldn’t quite get out of the hole they dug themselves in November and December.

“I already won more games than I did last year,” said Dion Waiters. “We came up short, as far as the playoffs. But that should just give us motivation – how close we were, just a couple games away. So I think everybody’s main focus this offseason is to try to get better and just work on your game.”

Watch Interview: Dion Waiters

Waiters, like several Cavaliers, had a solid individual season. The sophomore guard was leading bench scorer in the East at 14.7 ppg and, after being re-inserted into the starting lineup on March 18, was the Conference’s sixth-highest scorer in the final month of the season.

Dion put on a display in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, but his backcourt mate was even better.

Kyrie Irving followed up a stellar sophomore season with another big year in 2013-14 – taking home MVP honors at the All-Star Game after scoring 14 of his 31 points in the fourth period, leading the East to an 18-point comeback win. He finished the season as the highest-scoring point guard in the Eastern Conference and was only six players to average at least 20 points and six assists.

Kyrie’s 2011 Draft classmate, Tristan Thompson, started his 189th straight game in the season finale on Wednesday, doubling-up in the last three games of the season – his 34th, 35th and 36th of the year.

“We improved defensively (this season) – I think we finished top 15, which was definitely an improvement from last year,” said Thompson. “So there’s good things that came out of the season but we just have to get better, guys have to be focused this summer and be willing to take that next step so that next season we’ll be in the playoffs.”

Watch Interview: Tristan Thompson

Spencer Hawes, acquired in a Trade Deadline deal, finished the year as the only player in the NBA with at least 80 three-pointers and 80 blocked shots – as well as the only seven-footer to finish in the top 15 in three-point percentage.

Anderson Varejao was healthiest he’s been in four years and finished as the fourth-ranked rebounder in the Eastern Conference (9.7 rpg) and tied a club record when he grabbed 25 boards in January 2 win over Orlando.

Jarrett Jack averaged 13.0 points and 4.9 assist per contest over the last month of the season and went on win the Austin Carr Good Guy Award this past week. Luol Deng did Jack one better, winning the prestigious J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his tireless community efforts in Sudan, the U.K. and here in the States.

The players weren’t the only ones to taste some statistical success. Coach Mike Brown won his 205th game as a Cavalier coach – passing Bill Fitch and finding himself just 11 wins behind Lenny Wilkens for the franchise’s top spot. But likely more important to Coach Brown was his team’s defensive turnaround – going from one of the league’s worst to the top 12.

The Cavaliers showed solid improvement from a season ago, but they know they have a long way to go. And they fully expect that journey to end a few weeks later than it did this year.

“We all have to come here with one mindset,” concluded Waiters. “We can’t worry about individual goals, individual accolades. It has to be a team thing, a team mindset. And everything else will take care of itself.”

Tristan Thompson echoed those sentiments before joining his teammates and splitting for the summer.

“Guys know what’s expected next year and know what areas we can improve in,” said Thompson. “So everyone just has to go home – spend time with their family, relax, rejuvenate and in June or July or whenever our guys start working out again, start working on their game and get ready for next season.”

Listen as Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters discuss the end of the season and look ahead to the offseason.

TRISTAN THOMPSON

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DION WAITERS

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