The Optimist

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Aloha, knuckaheads! It’s me, the People’s Champion – optimizing from The Greatest Location in the Nation.

Well, I don’t need to tell you readers that it’s been one fakakta season here on the North Coast. And on Wednesday night, our beloved Cavaliers put the wraps on it against the Wizards at The Q.

As tough as this season has been, as I look out across Cavs Nation, I could swear you guys look no worse for the wear. And for those of you who made it through this season, who didn’t jump ship, who still bleed wine and gold and made it this far – I’m proud of you. We’ve made it through the tough part.

Nothing has been easy this season. In the past calendar year, the franchise has faced a crushing playoff ouster at the Celtics’ hands, the Decision and departure of LeBron James, cardiac surgery for Joe Tait, season-ending injuries to the Wild Thing and Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson’s yellow shoe phase, a home Heat beatdown, a losing streak of Biblical proportions and a raving lunatic chasing Christian Eyenga and the Clippers dance team around the Staples Center with a steak knife.

What's new, pussycat?
And if all that wasn’t enough, two nights before the regular season was about to come to its quiet conclusion, we nearly faced Round 2 of “Malice at the Palace” when Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva blew a gasket over a Ryan Hollins’ screen and had to be tugged off the floor by his shorts.

Monday was Fan Appreciation Night in Auburn Hills, and midway through the fourth quarter of a pretty competitive game, when new Pistons owner Tom Gores (pictured) launched into an impromptu version of “It’s Not Unusual” during a TV timeout, the sparse crowd – and apparently Charlie V – had been worked into a lather.

Fisticuffs were bound to ensue.

I guess that’s what passes for Fan App Night in Motown. But that’s not how we intend to celebrate it here in Cleveland. And that’s not how I do it in this column.

Being a sportswriter by trade, I’m obviously loaded. But I can’t afford to give away $1 million in prizes like the Cavaliers intend to this evening at The Q. But I can pass out some gratitude in what’s been a difficult, yet enjoyable and rewarding season.

There’s nothing worse than being underappreciated. With that in mind, I’d like to appreciate the brains out of the following individuals and say …

Thank youJoe Haden.

Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden didn’t have to attend as many Cavalier (and Monsters) games as he does. He’d be a big star in Cleveland whether he did or not.

But not only did the former Gator, seated courtside with his younger brother or a foxy date, get behind the Cavaliers all season long. After the All-Star Streak, he started dressing like one!

And when the Wine and Gold welcomed the Heat for a March 29 rematch, Haden went full-Baron, painting on a beard and donning B-Diddy’s No. 85 uniform – shorts, headband – the whole nine.

That March 29 win over Miami made me want to say …

Thank youLeBron James.

When the erstwhile Chosen One first left town, I was hurt. But now I feel liberated.

The first time LeBron came back to town, he wreaked havoc on the place – scoring 24 points in the third quarter and jawjacking with our bench while beating his former club by 28 points. After the game, James’ tainted embrace put the malocchio on Jawad Williams, who was released the day after Christmas.

But hell hath no fury like a Cavalier scorned. And Cleveland was ready for the Heatles when Numeral 6 and Co. returned in March.

Despite having to go No. 2 throughout the National Anthem and player introductions, LeBron was eventually subjected to a focused and fiery Cavaliers club, which jumped on Miami from the opening tip and didn’t stop until they completed the 102-90 stoot-slapping.

We don’t know if any Heat players wept following that March 29 loss, but as we’ve already established in this column, there’s no shame in crying like a little sissy-mary, yellow-bellied, lily-livered pantywaist after losing a regular season game.

After that game, and to this day, I want to say …

Thank youRyan Hollins.

At the start of the season, if you had given me 10 guesses as to which Cavalier would have the grapes to stand up to the Heat, to push back when pushed, to get under the opponent’s skin and have the guts to back it up, Ryan Hollins might have been my 11th guess.

It’s not that Ryan doesn’t seem tough. He just seems quiet, mellow, almost introspective. But still waters run deep.

All Cavalier fans asked – especially after Miami ran roughshod over the Wine and Gold on December 2 – was for someone to stand up to the Heat. And Hollins did that – working up Dwyane Wade and setting the nasty tone for what was essentially Cleveland’s playoff game this season.

Ryan got DeMarcus Cousins completely rattled in a Cavaliers win over Sacramento and had Charlie Villanueva ready to give birth in Monday’s road win in Motown.

And to think, Ryan Hollins was half of the trade that also brought Ramon Sessions to town. For that, I want to say …

Thank youChris Grant.

Chris Grant comes across on the tube as a pretty straight-laced guy. Serious. Almost nerdy. But I can tell you from experience that the Cavs GM can break chops with the best of them.

Chris must have had Minnesota and the Clippers in stitches when he pulled off a pair of deals that shaped the Cavaliers’ future – dealing Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair for Ryan Hollins, Ramon Sessions and a second-rounder that the Cavs parlayed into Semih Erden and Luke Harangody.

This season, Delonte played in 24 games for Boston, averaging 5.6 points and 2.6 assists per contest. Ramon Sessions played in 80 games for the Cavaliers, averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 assists per game. Instead of becoming a headache when he was moved to the bench, Sessions went on to average 16.5 ppg when Baron Davis assumed the starting spot.

Baron Davis – along with an unprotected lottery pick from the Clippers – was acquired at the trade deadline for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.

Mo and Jamario were both good guys, but when things got bad this season, they made me feel like my aunt’s collection of sad clown paintings when I was a kid. And Baron Davis has done nothing short of change the entire attitude, mindset and focus of the Cavaliers. That extra lottery pick should come in handy this June, too.

Those moves for the future were just one way for Chris Grant to join me in saying …

Thank youByron Scott.

Coach Scott didn’t know – and barely cared – if LeBron was staying or leaving when he took the Cavaliers coaching job last June.

And since then, LeBron has left. Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao went down for the season. Five rookies were brought in. One of Cleveland’s starters this year was last year’s Rookie of the Year (in the D-League).

Through all that – and a 26-game losing streak – Byron Scott was steady as a rock. He kept the team together – there was no bickering or back-biting. And with even more injuries piling up to end this season, Scott has the Cavaliers steadily improving as the finale approaches. J.J. Hickson, for example, once was lost and now is found; was blind, but now he sees.

The Cavaliers imploded in the Playoffs one year ago – falling to the Celtics in an embarrassing six games. There was a leadership void that no man could fill.

With Byron Scott around, that won’t happen again.

Coach Scott, in several recent postgame media sessions, has mentioned the need for “cajones” in the sport of basketball.

“Cajones” as Semih Erden could easily tell you, is Turkish for “guts.” And I think we can all agree that the Cavaliers owner has a big set of guts – and that’s why Clevelanders will follow him into a fight. And on behalf of Cleveland, I’d like to say …

Thank youDan Gilbert.

Dan G. didn’t become a trillionaire by not battling back. And when the two-time MVP made Cavalier fans eat a shart-sandwich on national TV, Gilbert reacted knowingly and with malice – firing off the most famous letter in sports in the ugliest font possible.

Cavalier fans will always love Dan Gilbert for that letter.

As Clevelanders, we’re used to getting knocked down. But as in the case of Ryan Hollins – all we ask is for someone to fight back, to push back. Someone who’s not going to take it anymore.

Dan has the cajones to do that.

And on Wednesday, April 13, Dan G. will join me and the rest of the Cavaliers organization when we all appreciate the most important people in this whole process when we say …

Thank youCavalier fans.

Over the years, I’ve been to every arena, every city in this crazy league of ours. Every one.

And in every arena, at some point, the P.A. announcer will lie to those in attendance – telling them they’re “the best fans in the NBA.”

The Best Fans in the NBA are in Cleveland. There is no doubt about that.

You have stuck with the Wine and Gold through thick and thin. (And this year, there’s been plenty of thin.) You suffered through a month-long losing streak and tore the roof off the mutha when it ended. You gave the team the juice it needed to beat New York, the Heat and the Lakers. And there’s zero doubt that you’ll bring it when the Wine and Gold dismantle the Wizards to close out the campaign on Wednesday night.

You ARE the best fans in the NBA, Cleveland. I’ve seen it first-hand – here and around the country.

And I think I speak for the entire organization when I say you didn’t have to love us, but you did, but you did, but you did. And we thank you.

You’ll see a different team next year, Cavalier fans. We can rebuild it. We can make it better than it was. Better, stronger, faster.

And you’ll be right there to see it.

I’ll see you all next week at the 8th Annual All-Optimist Awards Banquet – (featuring a special guest co-MC).

As for now, remember: next year begins tonight, Cavallieros. And thank you, fans, for always remembering to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Fondest wishes,
The Optimist