Joe G's Vegas Summer League Blog

July 12, 2013
Mike Brown + Carrick Felix
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
The Cavaliers don’t play their first Summer League game in Vegas until Friday night, but it’s already been a busy week of practice with new faces and, more noticeably, a new coaching staff.

Cleveland plays three games before tournament play begins on July 17—facing Lester Hudson and the Lakers on Friday, the Grizzlies on Sunday and the Pelicans on Monday. I can’t speak for the players, but they’re probably ready to get after a squad with some different uniforms. Mike Brown has already had some long, intense practices – twice a day.

Here are some quick notes from the first few days of Summer League practice …

  • Mike Brown is, above all else, a teacher. He’s been filling the youngster’s heads with information and pounding his philosophy home. If it takes, the Cavaliers will be a smart, physical team. (Stress on the physical.) He wants the opponent to “feel” his players, defensively. Practices have been ultra-competitive.
  • Two Mike Brown scenes from early practices: On one particularly strong defense set, Brown was literally jumping off his feet coaching the guys up. (Not a great vertical.) On another, he was so pleased with an offensive set, he brought his guys into a huddle – point guard-style – and praised each guy (Chris Quinn, Tyler Zeller, Dion Waiters, Carrick Felix and Kevin Jones) individually.
  • That’s not to say that Coach has been warm and fuzzy throughout the week. He’s constantly teaching, but there’s been plenty of “tough love” for the guys. Defenses are going to “feel” the Cavs; and the Cavs are going to feel their new coach. This will be a harder, more disciplined team.
  • Another major difference in this year’s staff is the wealth of experience Brown can draw from off a pair of new assistant coaches. Bernie Bickerstaff has 937 games under his belt as a head coach, Jim Boylan has had two head coaching stints and has been an NBA assistant since 1997 (after a five-year stretch as a scout with the Cavaliers).
  • As a long-time Cavs fan and native Clevelander, it’s also been cool to see a pair of guest Summer League coaches in action. Michael Cage – who played with the Cavs from 1994-96 – has been working with the squad, as has James Posey – 12-year NBA veteran, two-time Champion and a Twinsburg native.
  • Already on the staff is new Player Development Coach Vitaly Potapenko – the “Ukraine Train.” Potapenko was the No. 12 overall pick by the Cavs in 1996, eight spots ahead of Zydrunas Ilgauskas (and one slot ahead of Kobe Bryant). Not only is Potapenko working with the bigs, he’s been one of them in parts of a couple practices. The 38-year-old still looks good banging in the post and running the floor. If Coach Brown is looking to stress physicality, he’s got the right guy with Vitaly.
  • One last coaching thing. Practices have been physical, as new Player Development Coach Phil Handy found out on Thursday night. Coaches were wearing pads to simulate rebounding contact and on one particular rebound, rookie center Kenny Kadji knocked Handy directly on his butt. Everyone in the gym got a good laugh and a couple staffers even videoed the rest of the drill in case it happened again.
  • On the court, a good battle has been going on for what could be a possible third point guard spot between Cory Higgins, Matt Dellavedova and Chris Quinn. Higgins and Quinn both have NBA experience, Dellavedova is a rookie from St. Mary’s, but his aggressiveness and leadership abilities have been impressive through the first few practices.
  • The Wine and Gold’s sophomores have looked good in practice so far. Dion Waiters has dropped some pounds and is looking sharp on the floor. Tyler Zeller has added some muscle and has been very physical in practices. Coach Brown and his staff have been really pushing both of them in the early workouts. But the proof will be in the pudding as games finally tip off this weekend.
  • Carrick Felix, the Cavs second-rounder, will be fun to watch on the defensive end (and possibly on the offensive end as well – click HERE to check out a couple of his big throw-downs in the college dunk contest). He’s a legit 6-6 ½ and extremely quick going end-to-end. He has a chance to be a special defender, especially in the pick-and-roll. The coaches love his skill-set and hustle.
  • Word from the World University Games in Russia is that Sergey Karasev – the Cavs second first-rounder (No. 19 overall) is lighting it up. In four games, the 19-year-old is averaging 20.0 ppg and shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc. His Russian team, coached by his dad, is destroying everyone. It’s likely that the USA team will not medal.
  • When in Vegas, I always like to check futures bets to see where my Cleveland/Ohio teams stand heading into their respective seasons (or postseasons). The Indians are 15/1 to win the World Series, 7/1 to win the AL pennant; OSU basketball is a 12/1 shot to win the NCAA title; Buckeye football is 7/2 to win the National Championship; the Browns are 60/1 to win the Super Bowl, 25/1 to win the AFC. The Cavaliers are 125/1 to win the NBA title, but these things change quickly and I imagine that our recent signings will affect that positively. The Rockets, for example, opened at 25/1 but are now 10/1, Brooklyn was 22/1 and is now 8/1. The Celtics opened at 15/1 and are now 50/1.
  • OK, one last coaching thing before I go. After Friday’s shootaround at the Cox Pavilion practice court, the Sacramento Kings summer team had arrived. That gave all of us a great opportunity to congratulate new Kings coach (and former Cavs assistant) Mike Malone on landing his first head coaching gig. Malone is one of the most well-respected and well-liked guys in the NBA. His former (and now current) fellow assistant, Chris Jent, was also swarmed by Cavalier well-wishers. Jent will be coaching Ben McLemore and Sacramento’s summer squad. Malone and Jent are two of the best guys you’d ever meet in the league. And both deserve the big opportunity they’ve been given.