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Bubble Wrap

Wine & Gold Burst the Downtown Bubble Ready to Roll
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Bubble Wrap

Wine & Gold Burst the Downtown Bubble Ready to Roll

There’s nothing odd about the Cavaliers finally getting together in late September after a long summer off. They’ve been doing that for 50 years. What’s odd is that the guys are going their separate ways after 10 days of workouts this year.

The Wine & Gold’s downtown mini-bubble came to an end this week, with the Cavs joining 28 other teams not named the Lakers and Heat in a holding pattern until the league decides exactly how and when the 2020-21 will tip off.

Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. were on hand to steer the squad. Dylan Windler, who missed all of last year, made more strides towards his pending return. Darius Garland is trimmed down and Collin Sexton is bulked up. And after taking the reins after last year’s All-Star Break, J.B. Bickerstaff can come to camp with a nice blueprint laid down after the bubble.

”As a group, we’ve gotten better – and you can see that from the first scrimmage on Thursday to the scrimmages we had (Tuesday),” said Bickerstaff, who went 5-6 before the season ended. “We’re a better team for sure today than from the time we got to the bubble. That was the most pleasing part of it.”

As we head back into the temporary unknown, building up for the 2020 NBA Draft and beyond, here are some of the other storylines from the bubble over the past couple weeks …

According to his head coach: "There's a different Darius Garland in the building" this year.
Courtney Payton/Cavaliers Photos

On Saturday afternoon, the Cavaliers experienced the closest thing to a regular season game that they’ve had since knocking off the Spurs in overtime back on March 8 – replete with game lighting, music, floor and all.

”It was some of the most fun I’ve had in the last six months,” smiled Larry Nance Jr. “This is the longest we’ve gone without playing ball in too long. So the fact that we got to simulate a real game, I got a chance to bust up Kevin Love – it was great!

“It was really cool. They even had our intro video going in the background. We had the lights on, we had our main court down – it was fun. To be honest if we had another two weeks, I’d be here. My wife might not be too happy about it, but I’d be here.”

Dylan Windler back in action was a big story from the bubble. And Collin Sexton’s enhanced physique was another. But the evolution – physically and mentally – of Darius Garland heading into his sophomore season might be the one that pays the biggest dividend.

Garland was rock-solid as a rookie, appearing in 59 contests, leading the team in assists and finishing third in scoring. Garland was also well on his way to breaking Sexton’s rookie three-point field goal mark before the season ended in early March.

His presence in the bubble drew raves from his head coach.

“Watching him do the things that he’s been able to do – the speed is there, the shiftiness is there, the ability to finish in traffic, make shots and make the right plays,” praised J.B. Bickerstaff. “There’s a different Darius Garland in the building than the one that we saw leave Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in his last game.

There’s been a commitment on his end. He looks different. Physically, he looks different. He made the decision to stay here in Cleveland and work with our strength and conditioning group because he wants to commit to his body. There’s a doggedness there when he defends, he wants to prove a point. I can’t say enough positive things about Darius.”

Garland’s growing up in the NBA, but he’s still got the same blithe smile and energy.

”There was a lot of excitement (in the bubble),” said Garland. “Day two was kind of jittery a little bit, but everybody was super-excited to get out and start playing with each other again. That’s all that really matters – that we’re all getting better, getting our chemistry down.

”(My) confidence at an all-time high. I feel really good.“

It wasn’t all business in the bubble. To get a break from workouts, guys did a pair of field trips – one, to Top Golf Cleveland, right down the road from the practice facility in Independence. And another to Punch Bowl Social in the Flats.

You might have seen some clips from the driving range. Collin Sexton seemed very happy to stick to his day job. J.B. Bickerstaff assessed some of the other cuts. “D-Mill (Strength & Conditioning Coach Derek Millender) had an interesting swing, to say the least,” quipped Coach. “I’ve seen Alfonzo McKinnie go. He’s a little suspect, too.”

At Punch Bowl Social, things apparently got competitive in a cornhole mano y mano between the aforementioned Millender and assistant coach Mike Gerrity.

Bickerstaff said the pair have shared “years of animosity when it comes to the game of cornhole. And it got pretty intense, to be honest with you.”

Gerrity eventually won the showdown. “We got a belt made and everything,” said Bickerstaff. “It’s this new thing called ‘Bubble Mike.’ He won all the competitions. He feels pretty good about himself in the bubble. I don’t think he wants it to end.”

A signing that kind of flew under the radar over the summer was young veteran forward Jordan Bell.

Bell – who won a ring with the Warriors when they dropped the Cavs in the 2018 Finals (finishing with 10 points and six boards in Game 3) – is in his third season out of Oregon, where he was the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. He spent last year with the Timberwolves and Grizzlies, averaging 3.2ppg and 2.8rpg in 29 appearances.

Bell will provide some muscle, depth, and experience to the Cavs versatile frontline.

”I’m not out here hunting shots,” said Bell. “I know the backcourt has some really good scorers, so I won’t have to worry about that part. Me, I’m just taking what I’ve learned from all the teams I’ve been on, the years that I’ve been in the NBA. I’ve always been a defensive player, so that’s my mindset.

”I’m just being the most vocal guy on the defensive side, making sure we’re in the right spots, making sure at the end of the day that we’re playing hard.”

The Cavaliers had excellent attendance at the downtown bubble these past couple weeks. Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, both pending free agents, were not in attendance. Nor was Andre Drummond, out with a personal matter.

Cedi Osman remained overseas to do his workouts. And while he’s there, he recently picked up a prestigious honor, being named Turkey’s newest Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF.

"It is a dream come true to become a UNICEF National Ambassador," said Osman, entering his fourth season with the Wine & Gold. "lt’s a huge honor to be part of the UNICEF family. UNICEF has done tremendous work in Turkey and globally, I am looking forward to meeting as many children and young people as I can, hearing and sharing their stories. Sports unite people and give them hope. I will do my best to share my vision with children and youth to support them in fulfilling their dreams.”

One of the team and the league’s truly good guys, Cedi (along with fellow good guy Larry Nance Jr.) donated $10,000 for earthquake victims in Elazığ, Turkey last year. In his role with UNICEF, he’ll focus on youth engagement and sports, using his global platform and audience to help raise awareness of children's rights and issues affecting youth.

“Cedi will be a wonderful National Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF,” said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF Representative to Turkey. “He has a real commitment and passion for the cause of children and young people. His engagement with UNICEF during this very challenging period will definitely help reaching the youth and children with the right messages of encouragement and hope."

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