Follow the Leader

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In all sports, all leaders are veterans. But not all veterans are leaders.

The Cavaliers have five rookies, have had veterans injured intermittently all season, and the remaining vets have been young twenty-somethings, themselves. The lone, healthy vet has been Anthony Parker – and he’d probably tell you that he’s not a get-in-your-face guy.

When the Wine and Gold landed Baron Davis at the deadline, most of the focus was on L.A.’s unprotected draft pick. And it probably will be again on April 14.

Right now, Baron Davis is giving the Cavaliers a jolt of something they haven’t had all year. He’s been a leader. But he’s also been the Cavaliers closer. Coach Byron Scott – who famously once butted heads with Baron – hasn’t minced words in his praise for Davis.

“I think he makes everybody better,” said Scott. “Obviously, the big guys can benefit even more because of the way he’s able to get in the lane, and he dishes off, he throws lobs. Again, he sees the game at a different speed than a lot of people do.”

Baron was part of one of the Cavaliers' most satisfying wins, one month ago in Madison Square Garden. And he almost got the Cavaliers past New York on Sunday night in the Big Apple, going on a one-man 11-0 run, leaving Whoopi Goldberg aghast.

The Cavs have come up short on three straight after last Tuesday’s dramatic win over Miami – (that Davis iced with a layup in traffic and 1:35 to play). Cleveland fell in Charlotte, were dominated by the bigs in D.C. and fell to the Knicks on Sunday night.

On the floor, Davis has had to lead a young team that’s getting its NBA baptism by fire.

“I, myself, being a leader on this team, I have to make sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing on the floor, getting guys in the right position and keeping guys together,” said the two-time All-Star.

“I’m learning the team and guys are learning me. And I just think that we’re getting better. We have (six) more games to go.

“We just have to use these last games to really build some momentum and build some camaraderie and chemistry with each other to have that confidence and that trust out there.”

The Los Angeles native has seen it all in his 12 years in the NBA, and he’s been through a lot this season.

He was traded from his hometown right after the Break. Then, days after arriving in Cleveland, he got news of his grandmother passing. He returned to Los Angeles to be with his family and rejoined the Cavaliers in Portland.

Baron came to Cleveland with career averages of 16.5 points and 7.3 assists per game in 801 games. Among all active players, he ranks fourth (behind Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Andre Miller) in total assists and is one of just seven players with over 13,000 career points and 5,000 assists (along with Kidd, Nash, Billups, Bibby, Miller and Kobe).

In ten games with the Cavs – four recent starts – Davis is averaging 14.5 points and 5.9 assists. But Davis has been more than about the numbers. He’s provided the fire and leadership the squad has lacked on the floor. And he’s gotten other Cavaliers involved in the action.

“He can break people down, he can get to the basket,” began Byron Scott. “We already know he can hit big shots. He can make guys better because he draws so much attention. The one thing about B.D., he’s always had very good explosiveness and he’s always been one of the strongest point guards in this league.

“He’s able to get in the lanes, he’s able to back you down. And if you double-team him, he has such great vision that he finds open guys. So, again, just playing with him, you have to have your hands ready because you have to know if you’re open he’s going to find you.”

J.J. Hickson is definitely one player who’s keeping his hands ready, and he’s been the beneficiary of Baron. He’s finished with 20-plus points in every game Davis has started. Even Ramon Sessions, whose play suffered when Davis arrived, has been strong in reserve, averaging 17.3 ppg off the bench.

“We’re improving since I’ve been here,” said Davis after Friday’s loss in Charlotte. “But the mentality is, when you’re young like that, you’ve never been in that (losing) situation. It’s hard to find something to draw on. You’re so in the moment that a lot of times it’s hard to really shift your focus, re-focus on what you have to do.

And I think that’s our main Achilles heel right now, our inconsistency to play with that fire and that passion each and every night.”

It’s hard to argue with the 12-year vet. The Cavaliers have won 15 games this year and three of them have come against the Lakers, Heat and Celtics. Cleveland almost made it four straight over New York – which was reeling after three quarters.

Frankly, Davis also gives the Cavaliers a little more star-power, too. In one way or another, Baron Davis in known league-wide. He got a warm reception in Charlotte, and went up to a coach he once locked horns with.

“Me and Baron had some real issues, initially because I didn’t start him and he never lets me forget that,” quipped Paul Silas, who had Davis in New Orleans before coaching the Cavs in 2003-05.

“He can go to the hoop as well as any guard I’ve ever seen and finish,” continued Silas. “How are you going to guard him? Get up on him and he’ll get around you, lay off and he’s going to shoot the jumper. He gets everybody involved. Tells players where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do. And that’s very special, because the Cavs are so young they need it, they need a leader.”

The Cavaliers have just a half-dozen games in the roughest season in recent memory. They’ve had some big highs, but plenty of low lows. But Baron Davis – and the Clips’ Draft pick he’ll likely to be dishing off to next season – could be part of a bright future on the North Coast.

“I think next year, barring injuries, is going be a great year for us,” said Davis on Sunday night in New York. “You know, our young guys are developing, we’re going to have a strong bench and with Antawn back and Wild Thing back in our lineup – it just changes the complexity of our team.

“(If we) get some guys healthy – get myself healthy – and I think we’re not far off being where you see the Knicks and a lot of these teams in the Playoffs. We’ll be fighting for a Playoff position definitely next year. We just need to continue to work on chemistry, and with our coaching staff, our players and our system, I know a lot of good things are in our future for us.”


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.