The Optimist in Las Vegas

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend me your ears …

It is none other than your old pal, the Optimist, checking in from somewhere in Nevada. I think.

Unlike the Cavaliers’ pampered Public Relations staff, the Big O decided to make the trip to this year’s Reebok Vegas Summer League via the tried-and-true OptiMobile. Along with my Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, we plan to take this year’s Invitational to new heights.

In the trunk of the OptiMobile, we’re stowing two fat bags of barbeque chips, seventy-five M&Ms, five strands of high-powered Twizzlers, a salt shaker half-full of Pixie Stix sugar and a whole galaxy of multicolored jellybeans, Reese’s pieces, pop rocks and Dippin’ Dots. Under the bags in the backseat, there’s a quart of Shasta, a quart of apple juice, a twelve-pack of Vernor’s, a pint of raw Ovaltine and two dozen Ho-Ho’s.

We’ll get to the Cavaliers’ summer league roster in just a second. Before we do, though, I have a couple of quick points to discuss with you: TheBron’s Bike-a-Thon in Akron and the NBA Draft. Let’s get right to business, shall we?

TheBron’s "King for Kids" Bike-a-Thon
Many of you – including Bowling Green’s irrepressible Steve Gerker – have speculated that I have not published the results of the June 25th Bike-a-Thon because I didn’t win the race, as I, myself had predicted.

Guilty as charged, Gerker.

I did not win TheBron’s Bike-a-Thon. However – and this bears noting – neither did TheBron. Instead, the Chosen One finished in second place, fractions of a second behind 4-year-old Emily Underwood from Barberton, Ohio.

Emily Underwood rang her little bike bell as she tore through the competition last Saturday.

While TheBron was goofing around with his boys – popping wheelies and riding with no hands alongside Tracy McGrady, Dwyane Wade and ‘Melo – little Emily was chugging along with her eyes on the prize. From getting her training wheels off just three weeks ago to winning the eight-mile “King for Kids” Bike-a-Thon is undoubtedly the feel-good sports story of the summer.

Coach Mike Brown came in third and your friend, the Optimist, crossed the finish line 4.97 seconds later. The Underwood-James-Brown trifecta paid out at $41.60.

I’m not going to make excuses for my disappointing fourth-place finish, but I will say that something smelled rotten in Denmark when I noticed that my bike had “developed” a flat tire mere seconds before I was about to embark on a record-setting performance.

Luckily, the good people at Eddy’s Bike Shop were on the spot. They had a stand at the Starting Line and with NASCAR pit crew-like speed and efficiency, they had replaced my inner-tube and I was literally off to the races. The setback might have cost me a trip to the Winner’s Circle, but if not for Eddy’s, I certainly would have been humiliated with a sub-Top 10 finish.

I hate to break out the word “sabotage,” but I have my theories. Without naming names, I suspect a balding, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, webshilling mama’s boy who also works for the Cavaliers’ website.

All I can tell this individual, if he is capable of reading a column other than his own, is: "Wait ‘til next year, chump!"

The NBA Draft
The energy and passion of Draft Nights past were noticeably absent on June 28th at the Gund. This can be easily traced to the fact that the Cavaliers went into last Tuesday night without a pick. (This year’s first rounder is essentially Sasha Pavlovic, who Cleveland acquired during the Expansion Draft last summer. That move is just fine with the Optimist, since I believe Splasha will one day be a total stud in the Association.)

If you've never been with a woman from Kaunas before, I strongly recommend it next time you're in Lithuania.

But this year’s Draft night took an unexpected, but not unwelcome, turn as new Cavaliers GM, Dan Ferry pulled the trigger on a pair of deals that will truly help the club in the future.

I had been biting my lip on Jiri Welsch since he arrived to Cleveland at the Trade Deadline last spring. It’s not that I didn’t like him. He seemed like a nice enough guy. My problem with the shooting guard was that he was sent to us from Boston and as many of you know, I don’t trust Celtics as far as I can bowl them, especially GM Danny Ainge.

Jiri never really worked out for the Cavaliers and he was given a much-needed change of scenery on Draft night when Dan Ferry air-mailed him to Milwaukee. Ferry then used that second-rounder to acquire 19-year-old Martynas Andriuskevicius – a 7-3 center – from the Orlando Magic.

Andriuskevicius hails from the same town in Lithuania – Kaunas – as famed centers Arvydas Sabonis and the Cavaliers’ own Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

At first, this might seem like a bizarre coincidence. That is until you consider that every single person in Kaunas is at least seven feet tall. It’s not unusual to see several 7’4” women in babuskas, strolling around Kaunas with their newborn children, each of whom are at least five feet tall and weigh more than a Dodge Durango. Kaunas’ mayor is actually 13 feet tall.

Andriuskevicius is probably a couple years away from being an effective NBA center, but according to scouts, he’s well worth the wait.

Viva Las Vegas!
When Dr. Gonzo and I finally arrive in Sin City, we’ll get to see the Lithuanian big man in action as he has been named to the Cavaliers summer league roster. The only member from last year’s team to play in this year’s Reebok league is Luke Jackson, who underwent back surgery and needs to work himself back into shape.

The Nuse

Some other members of the Wine and Gold’s summer squad whose names you might recognize are John Lucas III (son of former Cavs coach, John Lucas II), former Vandy star Matt Freije, Maryland’s John Gilchrist and Kelenna Azubuike from UK.

This is a perfect opportunity for the Cavaliers to take a look at some players who might have been passed over in the Draft, but could one day contribute to the squad, even if it’s somewhere down the road.

As far as staffing, the Cavaliers decided to send the big guns to Las Vegas this time around. PR Director Amanda Mercado made the trip to the Reebok invitational this year. It’s just impossible trying to keep an eye on the players and PR toady John "The Nuse" Manuszak on junkets like this.

Every time Cleveland sends that kid on a road trip -- especially to Vegas -- it’s nothing but crisis management. If he’s not vomiting in the fountain at the Bellagio, he’s marrying some female bodybuilder in a late night wedding chapel. So Amanda simply subscribed to the "if-you-want-something-done-right, do-it-yourself" theory.

It’ll be more efficient, but admittedly a lot less fun, without the Nuse on the Strip this year. But at least we’ll all be able to concentrate on basketball instead of passing around a hat for bail money.

I’ll check back in a few days after our beloved Cavaliers have a couple games under their belts. And remember, in Cleveland pessimism never sleeps. So, even though it’s the off-season, I still need all y’all to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Your pal,
The Optimist