The Tractor Factor: One-on-One with Robert Traylor

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

When Robert “Tractor” Traylor was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers – along with Cedric Henderson – on August 3, 2001, his departure barely made a ripple among Cavalier fans. But back then, not a lot of Cavalier news stirred the public’s passion.

Tractor returned to the Gund, signing a free agent contract with Cleveland three years to the day later. Again, fans were not exactly gearing up for a ticker-tape parade. Clevelanders were still smarting from BoozerGate and weren’t willing to accept that a former Cavalier from the dark days of the franchise would ease the pain.

But Tractor came into camp with a new attitude and the body to match. Traylor was in the best shape of his pro career – mentally and physically – and his contributions to Cleveland’s bench have been immeasurable. And when Tractor fractured his small finger on December 7 against New Jersey, his absence was truly felt. Suddenly, the Cavaliers were missing a huge piece of their puzzle and counting the days until his return.

It isn’t the numbers that the Cavaliers missed. Traylor is netting a modest 4.8 points and four boards while averaging just under 17 minutes per game. No, it’s the muscle that Cleveland missed in Tractor’s absence. He’s been backing up both the center and power forward spots, but mainly he’s been the first Big off the bench, a message to opponents that there’s no time for a break. In fact, the message is that you’re going to have to run with, bang with and defend a 6-8, 284-pounder who’s at the top of his game.

Tractor talked after Tuesday’s practice about his role on the Cavaliers, his second tour of duty with the club and Paul Silas and team chemistry …

JG: You came into Cleveland as the backup at power forward behind Drew Gooden, but you’ve probably gotten more minutes coming off the bench to replace Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Do you have a preference of what position you play off the bench?

Traylor: For me personally, it doesn’t matter. I just want to be on the floor. I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s just being out there. If it’s at the four or the five, it doesn’t make a difference. I just want to play.

JG: During your short stretch on the IL about a week ago, was there anything that gave you a different perspective on the team watching from the bench?

Traylor: When you’re sitting there, you’re constantly watching your team play game after game, you get to see a lot of the do’s and don’ts that you can point out to your teammates and you also things that will help you when you get back on the court.

And I think for me it was just watching us play defense. The games where we’re real effective on defense – getting out and running – is really when we’re at our best. And that’s the one thing I can tell the guys from looking at it from the same point of view as the coaches that when we’re playing our defense, we’re a great basketball team.

JG: When you do replace Z at center, you’re usually giving up a few inches to the opponent. How do you deal with opposing centers?

Traylor: Just depends on who it is. The smaller guys, you just want to get physical and push them around a little bit. And guys who are taller than me or my size, guys like Shaq or Jahidi White or Yao, you just want to make them run.

Once the ball comes off the glass, you want to push it out and make those guys run and work as hard as they can. Kind of wear them down a little bit.

JG: We all know what’s different about the Cavaliers since the last time you played here in Cleveland. What’s different about you?

Traylor: I’m just a more confident player. I’m just more confident in my shots and the way I’m playing basketball. And I think that’s the biggest difference from the last time I was here. I think I was feeling a little bit unsure of myself and my purpose in this league, but now my role, I just go out and play hard and try to do my best for 48 minutes.

JG: What’s the secret to the Cavaliers’ success this year?

Traylor: The one thing is the young kid. I think LeBron’s playing great. But there’s Jeff and Z. And we all have a common goal and that’s to win games and get to the playoffs and that helps us a lot, because guys just go out and work and we don’t care who gets the glory or the fame, we just want to go out and win basketball games and be a good team.

JG: A team’s starters usually have a bond among them. Is there a special relationship – like the offensive line on a football team – that the Cavaliers’ second team has?

Traylor: Any time that you’re together for as long as we are, there is. The first five in practice in practice is getting after and the second unit tries to really get after them.

So I think we’re one whole team but we also have two to three smaller teams inside of that. There’s a bond between the guys who are at the start of the bench and guys who are just coming in and out and off IR. We just try to get after each other and get better every day. And we treat the practices like they’re real games.

JG: Is the chemistry on the team as good as it looks and how much of that is due to Coach Silas?

Traylor: I think the chemistry is as good as it seems. Maybe even a little better. We get along off the court as well as on the court.

And a lot has to do with Coach. He makes it a lot easier for everybody. We don’t have anybody who has any animosity towards the coaches or the organization. And it makes it easier for guys to come in and work hard and do the things they need to do every day. I think we have a great team and a great unit. And I think we’ve formed some great bonds over these first two months of the season.

We know when we go on the court that it’s 12 guys in uniform and we’re going to war and that’s how we take it.