Hope Springs Eternal
Ramon Sessions, probably the quietest Cavalier summed it up on Thursday’s getaway day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. It was the first season wrap-up in Independence that didn’t conclude a failed playoff run. And yet in some ways, it was the most positive and optimistic Cavaliers getaway day in several years.
The two main themes that almost every player echoed on Thursday was the overall steadiness of Coach Byron Scott and his staff during the roughest of rough patches and the eagerness to get back in the gym and get ready for next season.
The Cavaliers notoriously went on an historic 26-game skein, snapped it against the Clippers and beat the Lakers before the break – after losing by 55 a month earlier at the Staples Center. Cleveland went 3-1 against New York and got a big home split with the Heat. The Cavs sent Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to L.A. in exchange for Baron Davis and an unprotected first-rounder. Injuries decimated their frontline and the season ended with five rookies on the roster.
It’s been an eventful season.
Through it all, Coach Byron Scott was a rock and kept his cool.
Scott echoes Sessions’ sentiment for a little longer season.
“I said the other day, I wish we had another month, because I could see the progress,” said the first year coach. “I could see them starting to understand things from both sides of the floor. And I think they’re having fun learning it. And I think once they got it, they saw the benefits. Unfortunately for us, the season ended last night.
“But I thought if we had another month, No. 1, we’d be healthier, and No. 2, those young guys who have started playing so much better, I thought, would continue to get better.”
The Cavaliers youngsters are one of the reasons for the abundance of optimism on Thursday. J.J. Hickson (22 years old) closed out the campaign with eight straight double-doubles and established himself as one of the best young bigs in the Conference. Ramon Sessions (25) was one of Cleveland’s steadiest performers – starting or off the bench. Samardo Samuels (22) had a strong run before injuries ended his rookie season.
Christian Eyenga (21) displayed the athleticism that made him a first-rounder and Manny Harris (22) had a nice mid-season push. Ryan Hollins (26) and Alonzo Gee (24) both finished the season strong – with Gee notching double-figures in eight of his last nine games.
“I’m excited for this summer,” said Samuels, who averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 boards in 10 starts. “I feel that this summer is going to be big for me as far as going back and watching game films and seeing what I need to work on. This summer, I want to get my weight down as much as possible and see how that works out for me. Playing this year when I got down to 258, I was a lot quicker. I’m going to try to get around 250, 245 and see how that works out.”
Next season, the power forward combination of Samuels, Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson is enough to warrant some summer excitement.
Hickson was successful when he made the move to center in early January and continued that success through the rest of the year at the 4, his natural position. Would Hickson, who resisted the thought of playing center in Camp, be willing to do double-duty again next year?
“Whatever it takes to help my team win,” said Hickson. “If that means I have to play the 1, that’s what I’m going to do. I know I had to sacrifice to play the 5, but that’s something I do for my team and my teammates.”
Hickson was the emblem of Byron Scott’s influence over the young squad. Hickson scored in single-figures in 19 of Cleveland’s first 33 games, notching a pair of DNP-CD’s. He grabbed double-digit boards in just three games.
But after being benched against Toronto, Hickson was the model of consistency, racking up 28 double-doubles down the stretch.
Hickson, Hollins, Samuels and Gee were all benefactors of the Baron Davis acquisition.
Davis changed the Wine and Gold’s focus and gave Byron Scott a voice on the floor. Baron came in and filled the Cavaliers leadership gap. And, like almost everyone at CCC on Thursday, was eagerly looking ahead.
“I would say the last 20 games or so, for us, was a chance to form some camaraderie, form a brotherhood; form a family – a family environment,” said Davis. “Once you have that, you have a solid foundation to build on. And you have a trust. And I think with these young guys buying into the system, that they developed a confidence and a trust in each other that’s going lead us into the summer.
“But I think overall, it’s definitely a positive outlook going into next year. We have the talent, we have the system, we have a great organization. And we’re just going to take steps forward.”
When Baron Davis arrived, critics around the country predicted the worst case scenario. Instead, Baron has embraced the city, the organization and the situation. And based on fans’, teammates’ and coaches’ reaction, the love has been reciprocal.
Baron has a chance to revive his career in Cleveland, something he sounds ready to do.
“I’m one to not listen to a lot of criticism or what skeptics say,” continued the former Bruin. “I’m just trying to find my own way around the town and I’ve found some cool places, some cool hangout places and I think (Cleveland) is a very unique place – you just have to spend some time here to understand it. And a lot of people don’t spend the time, so it’s all a perception. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of great restaurants and a lot of great places and areas to hang out. I love it here.”
Lost in the Cavaliers youth movement is Daniel Gibson, who is viewed as one of the team’s elder statesman but is just 25 years old.
Gibson has been with the team since some of its earliest playoff successes. This getaway day was his first that didn’t end after a playoff run. And yet, Boobie – like each of his teammates – had that chomping-at-the-bit eagerness for next year.
“I feel like this season is just a great start to building something special,” said a hopeful Gibson, flashing his trademark smile. “A couple years from now, when we’re winning and we’re playing great, we’ll be able to say this is where it all started at. I think that we’re laying the right foundation of winners and hard work and doing everything the right way. So now it’s just a matter of us collecting those wins and winning those games and bringing it to fruition.”
Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.