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Wine & Gold Welcome New Guys Over Unexpected Four-Day Break
Throughout the course of a season, an NBA team is literally a living, breathing organism that’s constantly morphing into new forms. And as the Wine & Gold head into this week’s action against Brooklyn, they’re a vastly different squad than they were a week ago.
That’s not just because of last week’s trade – which we’ll get to in a second. It’s also due to J.B. Bickerstaff’s squad finally starting to get healthy. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland haven’t started together in any of the last five games and both went through full-contact practice on Monday.
On top of that, Dylan Windler – who hasn’t played since injuring his left wrist in the opener – joined his classmate and the Young Bull in the MLK Day workout at CCC.
The circumstances were unfortunate – with the Wizards mired in a coronavirus conundrum during a difficult week in Washington – but the Cavaliers got an unexpected, welcomed and well-timed four-day reprieve. Four days off, outside the All-Star Break, is a true rarity – especially during the truncated 2020-21 season.
Those four days allowed Cleveland’s coaching staff to start working in the newest Cavaliers – Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, who arrived as part of the three-team ‘James Harden trade’ late last week.
Because one of the players in the deal had yet to pass his physical, neither were able to go on Friday night against New York. But with the back-to-back against Washington postponed, both will be able to get a couple full practices under their belt before facing their former team this week.
That rare 96-hour break will also give them time to get their affairs settled after being traded – a real-life experience Larry Nance Jr. talked about after the deal last week.
"I’ll go back to when I got traded and what guys did for me,” said Nance. “When you get that phone call, you’re drafted by a franchise and you feel thankful to them and grateful for the opportunity and you spend years with them. And then you see your name in a trade and you think: ‘Damn, they didn’t want me?’ That hurts. That’s a genuine feeling. ‘You gave me up.’
”That’s what a lot of people don’t realize: these are people’s lives. Jarrett and Taurean have to move – NOW – from Brooklyn to Cleveland. That takes a mental and emotional toll on you. They’re going to want to prove a point when they play against the Nets. That’s just what that’s gonna be and my job is to help them prove that.”
As one of the team’s veteran leaders, Nance’s job is also to welcome the newbies into the fold.
"When I got traded here, even though it was home, it still hurt,” continued the sixth-year man. “Tristan was unbelievable in welcoming me to the team and making me feel like: ‘No the Lakers didn’t give you up, we wanted you more than them! It was our drive to get you.’ So that’s my job to reiterate to them: ‘Hey, we didn’t pick you up just because we could, just because we needed bodies.’
”Taurean and Jarett are two great basketball players and they’re going to be excellent for the Cavs – now and whatever happens in the future. ‘There’s a plan for you here, there’s an opportunity, We’re happy to have you in Cleveland, you’re going to be a huge part of this.’
Both Allen and Prince talked about being welcomed with open arms.
"It makes you feel a part (of the organization),” said Prince. “That’s all we as basketball players really want – especially being traded, not knowing anybody, coming into a new situation that you’re not familiar with. But these guys are doing a great job from the moment we stepped in. And as soon as we got traded, Larry texted me and Jarrett in a group text – and that was good leadership on his part, just inviting us in.
"He’s from Cleveland, so I guess he’s the plug around here for everything you need.”
Prince, the 26-year-old swingman was originally drafted by Utah in 2016, but was dealt in a three-way deal involving Indiana and Atlanta before ever playing a minute with the Jazz. In the 2019 offseason, he was dealt to Brooklyn.
Before having his minutes trimmed this year, the former four-year man from Baylor averaged double-figure scoring in each of the previous three seasons – drilling at least 120 triples in each.
"I’m ready to be here. I love what the front office is doing. I love how our coaches are teaching us ... I kind of feel like that this is another place that I can grow, another place (where) I can improve all around."
When he learned of his trade to Cleveland, he was driving to Brooklyn’s matchup with the Knicks. He did a U-turn, went home and played with his kids.
If nothing else, the first availability for both players on Monday at CCC illustrated that it’s unfortunate fans and media won’t get to know these guys better this season.
Jarrett Allen was described by Cavs GM Koby Altman as “brilliant” and somewhat of a techie. And Allen affirmed that on Monday, explaining how he once assembled a computer by himself, describing himself as a guy who “likes to take things apart and push buttons I’m not supposed to push.”
The affable Allen described how he felt when he heard the news last week.
"I wasn’t mad; I wasn’t sad either. I was disappointed that I couldn’t have my career in Brooklyn,” said the fourth-year man from Texas. “But at the same time, I’m glad to come to a place like Cleveland where we’re all growing.
"With Cleveland, I’m ready to be here. I love what the front office is doing. I love how our coaches are teaching us. It was MLK Day today and we watched a video about what he’s done and what he’s brought to the world. I kind of feel like that this is another place that I can grow, another place (where) I can improve all around.”
The 22nd overall pick in 2017, Allen comes to Cleveland averaging a double-double – a career-best 11.2 points on 68 percent shooting, with 10.4 boards and 1.6 blocks per. His field goal percentage (.677) is the league’s 3rd-best mark.
Only 22 years old, Allen’s already logged 234 games, with career averages of 10.1ppg, 7.9rpg and 1.4bpg. He leaves Brooklyn as its all-time leader in field goal percentage at .612.
Both players have had a few days to being getting adjusted to the North Coast. The Wine & Gold’s de facto Chamber of Commerce – Larry Nance Jr. – has rolled out the red carpet. Now they’re ready to get rolling on the hardwood.
"It’s been pretty cool here; I’ve been able to fit in here,” smiled Prince. “It’s more slow-motion, similar to Texas, so that’s a plus. And then, obviously a chance for me to be a leader again, to step up and be accountable and be held accountable for the good and the bad – I’m all for that. I’m just ready to progress and get going with my new organization.”
"It feels good,” beamed the Cavs new young center. “To be honest, I’m getting ’17-18, ’18-19 Brooklyn Nets vibes. We’re not the Lakers, we’re not the Nets when I got traded. We’re not one of the top three teams. We’re all competing for something. We’re all trying to have a common goal, working our hardest at practice, staying late -- trying to grow not just as basketball players, but as human beings, together.”