The Optimist

Hello, Cleveland!

It’s your wayward, sometimes crazy cousin – the Optimist – checking in from the homeland, that glorious slice of heaven we like to call Cleveland, Ohio. It has my cereal bowl in it. And my bed.

Those of us aboard the Cavaliers Team Bus have trekked across this wondrous land of ours, sowing the seeds of love. We have journeyed high and low, over hill and dale. And after the first dozen games of the season, anyone across the NBA landscape can tell you: Ain’t nobody wants to play the Cavaliers right now.

In his second season, Coach Byron Scott has ensured that every game will be a tough day at the office against the Wine and Gold.

Laughers were for 2011.

Me: I’m all about 2012, at least until the Mayans blow it up. Like the Cavaliers, I’m determined to be a new man in 2012, and my “New Year’s Resolution” – if you feel the need to label it as such – is to plan ahead; stop rushing the process. Be the Early Bird. Get the Worm.

The Optimist

If you’ve watched the Cavaliers play ball over the last couple weeks, you realize that it’s already been a zany 2012. And I’m going to get that Worm. With a 2012 Year-in-Review, I will.

Now, I’ll bet you jug-heads are thinking: ‘Hey, Optimist – aren’t “Year-in-Review” columns generally saved for the last of December? The year 2012 is, like, 16 days old.’

Yeah, normally they are. And yes it is. But the Mayans have the end-of-time penned in for December 21.

I know writers. And I know these mutts will be just starting around December 20. They’ll still be on “Tebowmania” when the Rapture comes and blows the whole place to smithereens, Michael Bay-style.

Not us. We’ll have already had our fill, thanks to today’s Year-in-Review/Golden State Warriors gameday preview.

(Editor’s note: Set aside some time during recess or print this bad boy out and take it to the commode. Either way, prepare to get your read on – as the kids like to say. As with most Year-in-Review columns, we may run a bit long. I took out all the boring parts about Alonzo Gee fighting off that pack of vicious wolves when we got the flat tire in northern Arizona. I know you readers have a busy day.)

New Year’s EveHey! Quit rolling your eyes!! Of course everyone has an awesome story about vomiting in a planter outside an elevator. But it’s not that kind of New Year’s Eve story.

I don’t know if you guys believe in signs, but tell me my New Year’s Eve story isn’t a sign …

So, at the Optimette’s behest, on the Cavaliers off-day – after a quick road trip to Detroit and Indy and before a New Year’s game against New Jersey – we drove up to Fallingwater, the jaw-droppingly beautiful home built by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann Family in 1935.

The home – which is a national landmark and was once named “the best all-time work of American architecture” – was built partly over a waterfall on Bear Run in the Mill Run section of Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

If that last part doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it doesn’t to most people from Cleveland. Fallingwater, or at least the motel where we stayed in a small PA town called Ohiopyle, is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Before checking in, we asked the woman at the motel office – who seemed to be the last person left in town on New Year’s Eve – if there was any place nearby to get a decent meal.

She gave us directions to a bed & breakfast down winding roads about 14 miles away. As we drove and pulled up to the restaurant, we thought: This is even further into no man's land than the deserted little town we were staying in.

The Inn restaurant was cozy and comfortable and the Optimette and I ordered steaks and a bottle of wine. It wasn’t fancy. Little kids ran around, playing. Everyone in the rural town seemed to be filtering in. When suddenly, HE filtered in …

He was the hugest man I’d ever seen. The hugest man anyone had ever seen. Kids froze.

I exclaimed: “Holy sh*t!!!” and was promptly smacked on the arm by the Optimette. She said: You’re staring. But everyone was staring.

I told her that I’m around seven-foot dudes way more than most people, and even I can’t believe how enormous this dude is.

At first I thought he was maybe the biggest farmboy the nation had ever bred. He pulled the plow. He won arm wrestling contests and pushed pickup trucks out of the mud. He once loved a puppy to death by crushing it.

But at that point, this giant, this monolith, this leviathan ducked his head into the dining area.

It was Gheorghe Muresan.

Gheorghe freaking Muresan! Former NBA player. Romanian co-star of “My Giant.” Star of an Eminem video and that hilarious Snickers™ commercial. (“For the kids!”)

Seen here working with pro and college centers at Pete Newell's Big Man's Camp.

On New Year’s Eve! Here, in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvakia!

After he’d climbed the stairs to the second floor restaurant, I called the hostess over and asked her: 1. Was that Gheorghe Muresan?

She smiled and said yes, it was.

So I asked 2. No offense, but what is he doing here?

And she replied: “He was here last night and he really liked it.”

And that, my fuzzy friends, is my New Year’s Eve story. And I believe that if that’s not a sign that it’s going to be a GIGANTIC year – I simply don’t know what is!!

The next day, still somewhat in shock, I returned to Cleveland to watch, in my opinion, the unsung hero of the Cavaliers – Boobie Gibson – drop five treys on New Jersey as the Wine and Gold pistol-whipped the Nets, 98-82, on the first day of 2012.

Road Trip, the Cold Part – By the time Jeff Phelps slapped me out of my Gheorghe Muresan coma, the Team Bus was just outside Waukesha, Wisconsin and the northern portion of the Cavaliers’ longest road trip in five years was about to begin.

Back then, Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving were just learning about a back-to-back. (The Cavaliers played Charlotte at The Q the previous evening.)

Tristan is bigger in Canada than Maynard Ferguson, and he was given the rock star treatment in his hometown. He proceeded to go 0-for-5 from the floor. Samardo Samuels left his passport in some shoes he gave away. Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, was called “Kyrie Evans” in the Toronto Sun. He went 3-for-13 from the floor and the Cavaliers lost by 15.

Needless to say, the Cavaliers – who’d already been shamed by the Hosers in the home opener – couldn’t get out of Canada fast enough, even if it meant ramming our way through the gate in the Team Bus.

Luckily, that was unnecessary. And the trip moved on to Minnesota – my second-favorite NBA city.

We win again, Kahn.

I went to the bar Esquire magazine once ranked the Coolest Bar in America – truly because it’s so un-cool: Nye’s Poloanise, where I ate a burger with my favorite cousin, Todd. And it turned out that the Cavaliers liked Minnesota, too.

Kyrie Irving – (as he was known to me at the time) – bested Ricky Rubio in a much-anticipated duel at the Target Center. One female beat reporter commented how cute she thought Rubio was, I can only assume in a Muppet™-kind of way.

This was also the game in which Anderson Varejao began his reign of terror that lasts to this day. (And I see no reason it’ll end against Golden State.)

Cleveland closed out the cold portion of the road trip in Portland and Utah and got pretty much worked over in each.

Portland is hands-down my favorite NBA city. The Cavaliers practiced twice on Nike’s campus and, as you can imagine, the place is mint! I was also able to share potato skins and chicken fingers with the capo di tutti capi of NBA beat writers, Brian Windhorst, while I was in Portland.

The Cavaliers turned it over 24 times to the Blazers at the Rose Garden. That won’t beat most teams on most nights. It’ll almost never beat the Blazers at the Rose Garden.

In Salt Lake City, the Wine and Gold got mauled inside by Big Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap.

Never has a home gym had a more ill-fitting name than “EnergySolutions Arena” in Utah. It’s as old-school as an NBA arena can be and still qualify. Jazz players must have bigger TVs than their jumbotron. Every girl on the dance team looks like Mandy Peppridge. Jazz beat reporters still use typewriters. It’s a trip!

The young Cavaliers mounted the Team Bus after the cold portion of the West Coast junket at 1-3.

Road Trip, the Warm Part – Everyone knows you’re not from around these parts when you go rolling through Maricopa County, AZ in a Team Bus with chains on the tires.

By the time the Cavaliers were set to face the Phoenix Suns way back on January 12, the road trip was already a week – and four games old. Byron Scott was keeping his troops together as we forged forward.

At this point in an extended trip, everyone starts getting a little edgy from the closed quarters. So I sat next to Cavaliers legend and current radio color analyst, the philosophical Jim Chones, who unknowingly gave me the greatest compliment he could have: he thought I was Jewish.

The Kid.

In the convincing 101-90 victory over the Suns, one could really tell that Kyrie Irving’s mojo was rising. And it was in that game that I decided to give him a nickname – (encouraged strongly by PR muckety-muck, Garin Narain) – that I will use from this point, forward …

The Kid.

His initials are K.I., which is admittedly pretty tenuous, but it’s a start. He’s already been disrespected in Detroit’s media guide – (as “Kyle Irving”) and in the aforementioned Toronto newspaper as “Kyrie Evans.” He’s 19 years old and he’s got enough “aw shucks” to his personality that he is still a kid. But he’s got enough swagger to make him The Kid the same way Billy the Kid did.

The Kid dropped 26 on the Suns and the Cavaliers got their second win on the trip.

After beating the Suns, the team bee-lined it over to Los Angeles. We had a couple hours before taking on the Lakers, so Garin and I went to the famed Venice Beach. We didn’t pump any iron, but we did stop in for to see the Freak Show.

The MC (pictured, lower left) was actually cooler than he looks. People always look more intimidating with a meat hook through their nose and up through their mouth.

Back at Staples Center later that night, the Kid admitted that he ate pretzels before the back-to-back loss to Toronto on January 4. But he ate spaghetti and meatballs before the Cavs dramatic back-to-back matchup against Mike Brown and the Lakers in Los Angeles. And it showed.

It was great to see Mike Brown and his self-professed head made of wood. He’s still one of the nicest guys in the NBA.

If Coach Brown’s head is made of wood, I can think of another substance that fills Matt Barnes’ melon. With that bush league move against Omri Casspi, he ensured himself the starting two-guard spot on this year’s notorious All-Nemesis Team.

Against the Lakers last Friday night, the Cavaliers fell behind in the wake of Kobe’s offensive onslaught. But the Kid kicked it into gear in the second half and the Cavaliers put a good scare in the team that drilled them by eight touchdowns and a missed extra-point the previous season.

Either way, if the Lakers need Kobe Bryant playing 41 minutes and scoring 42 points to beat the road-weary Cavaliers by five at home, that might say a lot about both teams.

On Monday afternoon, after a cross-country shlep that might’ve left some young clubs dazed and confused, the Cavaliers closed out the warm portion of their prolonged road trip by mustering up the defensive mustard to shut down Charlotte on Tobacco Road.

Once again, the Kid led the squad in scoring with 26 points.

And that leads me to this – and this column's conclusion: The Kid seems to be getting better by the game. (By the week anyway.)

Over his first seven games, he averaged 14.1 ppg. Over his last five, he’s averaging 22.6 ppg. Now, I’m no mathemagician, but at that pace, the Kid’ll be averaging 50, 60, 70 points per contest by the time April rolls around. And I figure that’ll be plenty good for Rookie of the Year.

But here’s the point about the Kid and these Cavaliers. It’ll never come to him scoring like that because THIS IS A TEAM.

For the first time in a while I can say it. This is a team.

You can really root for these guys. Their humble. They’re cool. They bust it – every night.

And that’s not to say squads in the the recent past didn't give maximum effort or understand the value of teamwork. But that was teamwork in the same way that the Jackson 5 was teamwork. We had Michael, but there was always a Tito or two.

On Tuesday night, when I sit down next to my little Phoenician PR friend, Jeff Schaeffer, that barn on Carnegie and Ontario better be full. Every game that you’re missing at The Q is a game in which these young Cavaliers are improving. They’re working hard. They deserve your support.

I hope I didn’t wear you readers out. But if I can come off the longest road trip since 2007 with 2,300 words, you better be ready to gird up and get with me. It's already been a great 2012. I just hope the next 348 days aren't totally anticlimactic.

This season has just begun. And the time has begun for you to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Shine On,
The Optimist