By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:24PM
Byron Scott, kindergarten cop. Or maybe Byron Scott, vaudeville plate spinner. Or just Byron Scott, cat herder.
It's about the same thing, the Cleveland Cavaliers' head coach trying to coax along a bunch of fragile, unruly, precocious and raw pieces all at once, never dwelling too much on one lest another slips up or spins out of control.
It's a truism in sports meant to reassure coaches that "the best thing about young players is, they get older." Maybe just not fast enough for Scott and the Cavs.
This is a team with something like 11 players who are age 24 or younger. Two more, Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles, are 25. General manager Chris Grant has future draft picks in his cupboard, too, which suggests the Cavaliers are going to be getting younger even as they're getting older.
Scott, you might remember, didn't exactly sign on for this. He was hired in 2010 as part of Cleveland's pitch to keep LeBron James in the house. When James opted for Miami, the Cavaliers immediately shifted into rebuilding mode. Instead of facing the pressures of nudging a top contender across the Larry O'Brien finish line, Scott found himself at the kids' table at a very big family's Thanksgiving dinner.
He has embraced the challenge to the tune of a 40-108 record the past two seasons, but building isn't nearly as much fun as having built. And in the NBA, a hefty percentage of the newbies qualify as special-needs kids, at least in basketball and maturity terms.
"One day a guy's playing video games. The next he's in a video game. That's a moment that can turn your head," one NBA head coach said recently. "He's got a shoe contract and keeps looking at the check, and he doesn't realize that everyone gets a shoe contract in this league."
The No. 1 Cavs youngster putting his coaches through the spin-and-shy mode these days is Dion Waiters, the No. 4 pick in the June draft. Waiters arrived after two years at Syracuse with a thick folder of press clippings -- crammed flash drive of Internet reviews? -- and no small sense of entitlement. He and his agent took him off the workout grid prior to the draft, banking on a lottery-team promise that he wouldn't slide far. The Cavaliers grabbed him after little or no direct exposure to his game or his personality.
The fact that he wasn't in great shape after that street-clothes spring bled into the summer league in Las Vegas, where Waiters underwhelmed by shooting 30 percent and playing reckless with the ball. He arrived at camp Oct. 1 lighter but with an expectation that he would be starting alongside point guard Kyrie Irving. Then, in Cleveland's second preseason game, Scott yanked Waiters after a two-point, 1-of-7 performance featuring three assists and four turnovers in 14 minutes against Milwaukee in Canton, Ohio.
"[Waiters] struggled offensively big time," Scott told reporters. "I took him out in the second half because I drew up a play, guard ran the play, he messed it up. To me that was a lack of focus so I figured he didn't need to play the rest of the game."
A rookie bump in the road, yet a pain in the boss' rump too. "You've got to know the plays," Scott said. "I can't draw up a play during a timeout and you go on the floor and mess it up."
Miles, a seven-year NBA veteran despite his tender years, was signed in part to push Waiters for minutes and keep him honest in effort and focus. But how pushed can a young fella feel when he's got a two-year guarantee worth $7.6 million and an employer desperate for what he, at his best, can produce?
Scott would just as soon never hear another Dwyane Wade comparison -- a few of those cropped up at draft time -- and actually see the inputs from Waiters that might, someday, get him close to that level. In the meantime, the Cavaliers' coach will try to offer up carrots and sticks in just the right mix, nurturing not just the rookie shooting guard but Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels, Tyler Zeller, Omri Casspi and even Irving too.
A year ago, Scott used Ramon Sessions to keep Irving's head on straight, though it turned out the Duke guard really didn't need that. This year, it's Miles and as much guessing game as Scott can muster.
"I know as much as people want to think they know who the starting lineup is going to be," Scott said, cautioning everyone before the team's open scrimmage. "Just tell [fans] to chill out a little bit. Just relax. We're still in the process of understanding who we are as a basketball team and letting guys play with one another as much as possible.''
It's a process that could take months and darn-near 82 games.
1. No one had to remind the No. 4 draft pick in the 2011 draft to work hard. Thompson had the ethic, he just needed to hone his game. This fall, that means an extra 15 pounds (the good kind of weight) and a more refined, less adventurous shooting touch, which he hopes will keep him at the top of the team's grouping (Samuels, Jon Leuer) at that position.
2. With Antawn Jamison off to the Lakers and Anthony Parker retired to a scouting job in Orlando, the Cavaliers will be looking for some reliable perimeter shooting. They ranked 29th in field-goal percentage overall, 15th from the 3-point line. Miles, after hitting just 30.7 percent from the arc last season in Utah, hopes to boost himself at least up to the 39 percent range where Irving and Daniel Gibson dwelled in 2011-12.
3. The news that the NBA would enforce an anti-flopping policy this season seemed almost to convey George Mikan status on Anderson Varejao -- y'know, a player so adept at something that they change the rules to thwart him. Varejao does take a lot of charges but contends that few of them are flops. Given the injuries he has battled through the years, including last year's broken wrist, he might want to stay on his feet a little more anyway. Better for his health and, now, better for his wallet.
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LAST YEAR: 21-45, 5th in Central
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
KYRIE IRVING, POINT GUARD
18.5 PPG | 3.7 RPG | 5.4 APG
Franchise guy and the reigning Rookie of the Year winner is hoping to avoid Curse of Knee Injuries that have hit other recent No. 1 picks.
DION WAITERS, SHOOTING GUARD
A shot-creator who can help at both backcourt spots, Waiters provides versatility that last season's starters (Anthony Parker and Donald Sloan) often could not.
ALONZO GEE, SMALL FORWARD
10.6 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 1.8 APG
Getting to the line perhaps his best skill, but he needs work as shooter and defender. New arrival (and shooter) C.J. Miles will challenge him for minutes.
TRISTAN THOMPSON, POWER FORWARD
8.2 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 0.5 APG
The Cavs are committed to this project big man and most of the results they've seen from him are on the boards. He'll get plenty of chances to shine this season.
ANDERSON VAREJAO, CENTER
10.8 PPG | 11.5 RPG | 1.7 APG
The Cavs were a semi-decent 10-15 before he was lost for the season. The NBA's anti-flopping initiative (and his injury history) will challenges this manic rebounder.
|Omri Casspi||6-9||225||F||Season to forget in 2011-12 after trade.|
|Daniel Gibson||6-2||190||G||Shooting the ball has become an adventure.|
|Tyler Zeller||7-0||250||C||Solid backup likely to log long minutes.|
ADDED: F Jon Leuer, G Dion Waiters, C Tyler Zeller
LOST: G Manny Harris, C Ryan Hollins, F Antawn Jamison, G Anthony Parker
KYRIE IRVING, POINT GUARD
Bouncing back from LeBron James' departure has been quicker in Cleveland than most expected, thanks to Rookie of the Year Irving. The Cavs are slowly beginning to surround the sparkplug point guard with pieces. Any playoff run rests on his shoulders.
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Jordan Hamilton is given a flagrant 2 foul and is ejected from the game.