The Optimist

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Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! It’s me, the Optimist, and on this day – Friday, December 2 – I can announce, with great delight, that you varmints have dialed in to the final NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE of this offseason.

As you all know by now, the warring NBA factions got together over Thanksgiving weekend and carved the turkey up to everyone’s satisfaction. Both sides knew: Ain’t nobody gonna make Uncle Dave miss his Christmas Day games. Not owners or players. Not Heat Miser or Snow Miser. Not even the Abominable Snow Monster.

And so here we are: Tan, rested and ready to gird up for – (gulp) – another season of CAVALIERS BASKETBALL!!!!

Praise the Lord and pass the ammo, I say!

After an entire offseason writing about Movember mustaches, Moses Cleveland, shark attacks, a 222-0 college football blowout, the repealing of the Volstead Act, Padre Pio, Oktoberfest in Alabama and the story of a man hitting a woman with a frozen armadillo – I’m more than ready to talk some NBA hoops.

When I first came around after the Thanksgiving weekend, what I could piece together from last season was a mere blur. The last thing I could remember was Jan Vesley making out with his girlfriend.

Then I started piecing it together. I remember Byron Scott’s rabid Cavaliers club tubthumping the Artist Formerly Known As TheBron at The Q in late March. I remember Nick Gilbert celebrating on a stage in Seacacus in April. And I think the Cavaliers had a little bit of a losing streak in there somewhere.

Then I remembered that right before the deadline, the Cavaliers dealt the Baby Bull to Sacramento for sharp-shooting small forward, Omri Casspi and a future pick. And, oh yeah! The Wine and Gold got the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in last June’s Draft – guard Kyrie Irving and forward Tristan Thompson. That was pretty sweet.

And all through the offseason, I had to maintain radio silence regarding these dynamic players. I knew that the NBA had bugged my column.

But now, I can happily tell you that on Thursday afternoon, Ramon Sessions, Manny Harris, Samardo Samuels and the Wild Thing himself were working out at the palatial Cleveland Clinic Courts.

And later that afternoon, a dapper and visibly-relieved Chris Grant spoke to the collective Cleveland media. Our beloved GM relayed both his eagerness to get the guys back in the gym and his patience with the process of rebuilding a winner.

“We gotta get everybody to Cleveland Clinic Courts – see where they are medically, see where they are from a conditioning standpoint,” began Grant. “And then start to make some decisions on what we’re going to do moving forward.”

The magic word for Cleveland in the upcoming months is flexibility – and right now, the Cavaliers have more of it than that skinny kid who gets out of a box and pulls himself through a tennis racket at halftime. There are moves to be made in the future, and Grant knows the Cavs will be active when the time is right.

“Flexibility, for us right now, is huge,” said the second-year general manager. “Being methodical and process-oriented on how we approach this is really important. So dumping a big, massive contract for an average player wouldn’t be the right thing for us to do.”

In terms of pursuing free agents in the frenzied weeks before the season, Grant explained: “If there’s some nice pieces that fit into our core of what we’re trying to do, we’ll be aggressive – just like we are at the trade deadline or Draft. But if there’s not, we’re perfectly happy where we are, and (we’ll) let this young core group have some time to play and grow together.

“We have these young players – we have to give these guys a chance to work together.”

Man-hugs all around!!!
There you have it, friends.

It’s going to be a fun ride. Think of our floppy-haired friendo, Anderson Varejao, teaming up with a healthy, experienced Samardo Samuels in the frontcourt. (With young Tristan Thompson in relief.) Think of a revived Baron Davis teaming up and teaching the top player in the country – a cerebral, 19-year-old who easily changes gears and directions and can shoot the lights out. Think of both working with a scorer like Antawn Jamison and a shooter like Omri Casspi.

I haven’t even mentioned our old friend Boobie Gibson or Ramon Sessions or even my man, Skyenga. But I will.

If this was your normal, lockout-variety N.A.T.L., we’d be commemorating December 2 for the death of Pablo Escabar and Enron or the birth of Britney Spears and Cathy Lee Crosby. But you don’t care about that, do you?

Me neither.

So let’s wrap up the final News … Around … The … League with the other two of Cleveland’s beloved Big Three and get the halogen outta here for the weekend – shall we?

Grade A – As the hot stove news heats up this winter, our Sons of the Cuyahoga promise to be prudent, as always.

But after dealing for Derrick Lowe last month, the Indians did make one minor move that should make most Tribe fans happy for the holidays – inking outfielder Grady Sizemore to a one-year, incentive-laden deal to remain in Cleveland.

The Seattle native drew interest from as many as eight teams as a free agent, but decided to return to Cleveland – where he’s been named an All-Star three times, winning a pair of Golden Gloves in center after taking over for Willie Mays Hays in 2005.

Despite where the principals landed afterward, Sizemore was still part of one of the most lopsided trades in Indians – and perhaps baseball history – sending zoftig starter Bartolo Colon, along with Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee.

Many players would’ve taken their talents out of the North Coast for more cash or a fresh start. But Grady Sizemore feels a comfort level in Cleveland and actually possesses something called loyalty.

Maybe I’m just high on life from the return of Cavaliers basketball, but I have a feeling the Tribe could make some noise next season. A healthy Sizemore, along with Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo form a solid outfield. Cleveland’s strong up the middle with Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. The Bullpen Mafia is back, and I love the starting rotation of Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derrick Lowe.

Pitchers and catchers report in exactly 80 days.

Backfield in Motion – Today, as long as I have this optimistic plasma coursing through my veins, let’s dream the impossible dream.

I know the big, bad Baltimore Ravens roll into town as three- to four-touchdown favorites. I know that Ray Lewis’ and Co. are the class of the AFC and our beloved Browns are AFC North cellar dwellers. But every dog has his day – and on Sunday afternoon, I see the Brownies’ taking a bite out of the dirty birds.

Peyton Hillis claims to feel as good as he has all year and Montario Hardesty is back to full-strength. Colt McCoy is improving week to week. Cleveland’s new long-snapper, Christian Yount, can get the ball all the way back to the holder on a fly. And maybe best of all – Josh Cribbs is really cheesed.

The Browns and their demon spawn have split their last four matchups, and Baltimore has not brought its A-game against inferior competition this season.

Call me crazy, but the Big O smells an upset on Sunday. And that upset smells like a 17-13 Browns victory.

And with that, we wrap up another offseason of News …Around … The … League.

Today, we will not conclude with the celebrity bloodbath that the work stoppage caused over the past few weeks. Today, we will conclude with a word from the Wine and Gold’s GM, who laid it out succinctly on Thursday.

“For us as a team, where we are – I think we’re in a really good position,” said Chris Grant. “So changing our approach to how we’re building a team is not going to change. We have good young core, we have great flexibility. We have a number of draft picks moving forward. We have tons of flexibility, whether it be with different exceptions, including this large one, or whether it be with cap space next summer and beyond.

“Those things haven’t changed for us; that’s our focus.”

For any readers who stuck with N.A.T.L. lo these many months, I appreciate your extreme patience this offseason.

I’ve been all over the map, but now I’m back. And before this month is done, you’ll find yourself scampering down the stairs in your footie pajamas, the day after Christmas or whenever. And there he’ll be, Uncle Dave, with the greatest present of all: CAVALIERS BASKETBALL – back for the duration.

God bless us! Everyone!

Oh, and also, please …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Bien à toi,
The Optimist