Tall Order

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Here’s a cliché that Cavalier fans – and players – might have to get used to during the first part of the 2010-11: “(Insert Cavalier here) has some big shoes to fill.”

Yes, that holds true even for the Wine and Gold’s lone seven-footer, Ryan Hollins.

After one season in Minnesota, Hollins came to Cleveland this summer as part of the Ramon Sessions acquisition. And as one of the Cavs’ newly-minted men in the middle, Hollins will help replace the combined 14 feet and three inches of vacated veteran centers.

In one offseason, the Cavaliers frontline underwent a sea change. In the pivot, just the starting and backup center spot – the exodus of Shaq and Z represents a combined 1,941 career games, 38,871 points and 15 All-Star appearances. That’s not even taking into consideration the size of their enormous shoes. (You know – the ones Hollins hopes to fill.)

“Under this system – and based on the way I’ve played in the past – it’s so different from the guys who’ve come before me,” said the Pasadena native. “I bring a different tempo; I’m slender, quicker, more athletic. Those guys are two of the top All-Star big men in this league and they’ve done so much in their time. But I’m going to bring that youth, that energy and hard work and try to create a name for myself.”

Just entering his fifth season in the league, the Cavaliers are Hollins’ fourth team. Like most of the players Cleveland acquired this offseason, Hollins hopes that his best NBA days are in front of him; the former Bruin turns just 26 next month – on 10/10/10.

When Hollins was introduced to the media upon his arrival this past June, GM Chris Grant and Coach Byron Scott said he’s a big man who’s ready to run. Hollins couldn’t agree more.

“Coach already has a system that he wants to play, and I’m definitely blessed to be a part of it and kind of fit that mold,” beamed the Cavs new big. “He’s not going to say, ‘Let’s walk the ball up the floor.’ He’s saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s run. Let’s get into pick-and-rolls.’ And that’s definitely the strong part of my game. When it’s time to execute (in the halfcourt), let’s execute. But definitely knowing that the first push is to run is going to be huge.”

The young center is on a good career trajectory – turning in his best season as a pro. In 73 games (27 starts), Hollins averaged highs in points (6.1), minutes (16.8), rebounds (2.8) and field goal percentage (.558). Injuries to Minnesota’s frontline provided him an opportunity to get some quality minutes. Cleveland’s youth movement should get him even more this season.

Hollins will be among Wine and Gold’s young collection of bigs that features a pair of bangers (Samardo Samuels, Leon Powe), a potentially explosive scorer (J.J. Hickson) and an All-Defensive Team Second Teamer (Anderson Varejao). Varejao is the dean of that group, and he doesn’t turn 28 until later this month. Combined, the nascent quintet averages just 24.6 years of age.

(Asked if he’ll have to talk to the Wild Thing about this unfortunate posterization in Cleveland two years ago, Hollins smiled and shrugged: “He’s the type of guy, I don’t think he cares about stuff like that. He’s just that scrappy, do-anything-to-win component of a championship team. I played against him a few times and he’s one the most frustrating people to play against. I’m glad he’s on my team now.”)

Varejao will be ready to frustrate Hollins further – on the practice court – when Camp tips off next week at the now-buzzing Cleveland Clinic Courts. The national media might have a dark cloud around Cleveland, but don’t tell that to the Cavaliers on the court in Independence.

“I’m excited,” beamed Hollins, taking in the Cavs magnificent practice facility. “I don’t know what else to compare this to, but this is by far outrageously the best facility I’ve ever seen in my life. You almost want to sleep here; you don’t want to leave.

“And as far as the team, I was talking with the guys and saying: ‘This is a positive situation for everybody here.’ I don’t know anybody on this team that thinks of it as a negative situation. We see it as an opportunity – from coaches to players. And there’s a great, positive attitude going around.”