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It seems like just last week that the Cavaliers were cruising down E. 9th Street, enjoying their Championship parade with 1.3 million crazed Clevelanders. But that page has officially been turned as the Wine and Gold tip off Training Camp looking to defend their NBA title.
Despite entering the 2016-17 season as World Champs, the Cavaliers still have some questions that will need to be answered along their journey back to June basketball. Some stalwarts from their recent run have moved on and others have joined the veteran-laden squad in the hopes of replicating last season’s fantastic feat.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tyronn Lue’s squad hit the hardwood for the first time this fall – with the first exhibition contest sitting only eight days away. As they continue to prepare for their upcoming 82-game odyssey, Cavs.com takes a look at some of the news, notes and issues as Training Camp tips off in Independence …
One of the bigger concerns heading into the 2016-17 season is depth at the point guard position.
With Matthew Dellavedova moving on to Milwaukee and Mo Williams announcing his retirement, the two guards who split starting point guard duties through the first 24 games of last season are no longer with the squad.
Along with rotation incumbents, Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving, the Wine and Gold come into Camp this year with a mixed bag of guards – including a late-round rookie (Kay Felder) and sophomore (Jordan McRae), a 14-year vet signed on the last day of last year’s regular season (Dahntay Jones), the D-League’s best backcourt defender (DeAndre Liggins) and a young veteran (John Holland).
Of course, the Cavaliers are fortunate enough to have the versatility to play Richard Jefferson, James Jones, Mike Dunleavy and a guy named LeBron James – who finished second in the Eastern Conference with 6.8 assists per contest last season.
Felder led the nation in assists as a junior with Oakland last year, but he’ll find himself a long way from the Horizon League when the Wine and Gold tip off their preseason schedule next Wednesday against the Magic. Dahntay Jones isn’t a pure point guard, although he is a physical presence at point. McRae was effective in Summer League, but he’s also much more effective off the ball.
For now, the Champs are still relatively deep in the backcourt. But GM David Griffin is always searching for ways to improve the squad, and adding some depth to the point guard position could become a priority as the regular season moves on.
Two players on the opposite end of the physical spectrum could duke it out this season for the role of “fan favorite” – previously occupied by Matthew Dellavedova.
Birdman’s appearance and resume speak for themselves. And the first time he levels someone on a screen or around the hoop, the sold-out Quicken Loans Arena crowd will likely erupt. But there’s something about the underdog that fans will always gravitate to.
At 5-9, 176, Felder was the smallest player selected in this June’s Draft. He also entered the selection process with some of the country’s most impressive numbers – both this past season and over the course of his three-year career with Oakland U.
He was taken with the 54th overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks before being sent to Cleveland in exchange for cash considerations. In his junior year, the Detroit native was the only player in the nation to rank in the Top 5 in both scoring (24.4 ppg, 4th) and assists (9.3, 1st) and became just the fifth D-I player in the last 20 years to average over 23 points and six assists in a single season.
Here with the Cavaliers, Felder admits: “My whole job is just to compete and help guys get better.”
Last year’s Horizon League Player of the Year played over 100 games over his career in Oakland – averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.6 steals, setting the League’s all-time assists mark with 788 over that span.
In terms of playing with a chip on his shoulder, the compact playmaker saved some of his best performances for the biggest opponents under the brightest lights – dropping 37 points and nine assists against Michigan State in an overtime loss at The Palace and averaging 35.0 points and 7.0 assists on 48 percent shooting against Washington, Virginia and the Spartans last season.
In all three of those David v. Goliath matchups, Felder’s squad led at half. And in the December 19 upset over the Huskies in Washington, he led both squads with 38 points – netting 25 of those before intermission.
“It’s a great opportunity, to get to learn from Kyrie,” said Felder after his first official practice as a Cavalier. “I may be in a little more in touch with him, because it would have been me and Mo (Williams) right there; now it’s just me. Just to learn from Kyrie, learn what he’s been through in his career. It’ll be fun.”
The Cavaliers also made some coaching changes during the offseason – although the core group is still very much intact.
Larry Drew – who has served as head coach of the Hawks and Bucks in the past – was promoted to Associate Head Coach on Tyronn Lue’s staff. Damon Jones – who hit one of the biggest postseason shots in franchise history – was named an assistant coach, joining Jim Boylan, Mike Longabardi and James Posey. Phil Handy remains the squad’s Director of Player Development/Assistant Coach and former Cavs big man Vitaly Potapenko will once again be Assistant Director of Player Development.
Mike Gerrity was promoted to Director of Player Development for the Charge and will serve as Player Development Assistant with the Cavs and Dan Vincent, former the team’s Manager of Video/Advance Scouting, to Special Assistant to the Head Coach/Manager of Advanced Scouting.
Former Canton Head Coach Jordi Fernandez, who led the Charge to the Conference Finals in each of his two years at the helm, is joining Mike Malone’s staff in Denver. That means Nate Reinking, formerly an assistant coach with the Charge, will take over head coaching duties.
This year’s Training Camp invitees includes a somewhat accomplished group – including a former Canton Charge hero (John Holland) and the squad’s postseason nemesis (DeAndre Liggins).
Here’s a quick look at the quintet who’ll be pressing the Wine and Gold in practice as they gear up for the preseason – tipping off with this Sunday’s annual Wine and Gold Scrimmage on Sunday afternoon.
Markel Brown – Brown was selected with 44th pick in 2014 Draft, appeared in 27 games with Brooklyn in 2014-15 and 62 (with six starts) 2015-16. Last year, he was the only Net to record back-to-back 20-point games off the bench. During his tenure at OK State, he was named “Dunker of the Year.”
John Holland – Like Tristan Thompson and JR Smith, Holland attended St. Benedict’s Prep. Last year with the Charge, Holland averaged 16.0 ppg in 37 games before being called up by Boston in April. In two playoffs games with Canton (vs. Maine), he averaged 28.5 points, 4.5 boards, 4.0 assists and shot 59 percent from three-point range.
Cory Jefferson – The last pick of the 2014 NBA Draft (Spurs), Jefferson appeared in 50 games with Brooklyn in 2014-15 and played eight games with Phoenix last year. He also averaged 17.3 pts with the Bakersfield Jam, tallying nine double-doubles.
DeAndre Liggins – The former Kentucky standout led the Sioux Falls Skyforce to the 2016 D-League Championship, averaging 13.0 pts, 7.0 assists, 6.3 boards and 2.1 steals – earning his second D-League Defensive Player of the Year award. Liggins has also spent time with the Magic, Thunder and Heat.
Eric Moreland – The lone big man invitee, Moreland – who finished his career at Oregon State as the school’s all-time leading shot-blocker (184) – appeared in eight games with Sacramento last year, three the previous season. He also averaged 9.6 points and 14.0 boards with the Reno Bighorns last year.
One year ago, the Cavaliers came to Camp with Timofey Mozgov and Sasha Kaun as their two top bigs. (Tristan Thompson ended his contract holdout right before the start of the regular season.)
After averaging 10.6 points and 7.0 boards per contest – (playoffs and regular season) – and after being traded to Cleveland in 2014-15, with 39 games of double-digit points and 14 games of at least 10 boards, Timo wasn’t the same player after offseason knee surgery last summer. In 2016-17, the Russian center had only 18 games of double-digit scoring, three games of double-digit boards; in the Playoffs, he appeared in only 13 games, scoring 15 total points and 21 total rebounds.
This season, Thompson – coming off another fantastic performance against Golden State in the Finals – is ready to roll for the start of Camp. Timo has moved on to the Left Coast with the Lakers and Sasha Kaun retired after one season in the league.
Enter 14-year veteran, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who rejoins LeBron and James Jones in Cleveland, hoping to earn another Ring.
Andersen has played in 683 career contests with Denver, New Orleans, Miami, and, most recently, Memphis. With Cleveland, he’ll provide interior muscle and point-blank scoring – having hit at least 50 percent of his field goals in each of the last eight seasons. During Miami’s Championship run in 2013, Birdman set an NBA record – shooting .807 from the floor over the Heat’s 20-game postseason run.
Andersen is one of nine Cavaliers with double-digit seasons of experience. Among Cleveland’s rotation players, the Cavaliers average 11.07 years of experience. Coach Tyronn Lue was asked about his mature squad on Monday afternoon.
”What's always important to me is the guys’ health – coming into the Playoffs with everyone healthy and well rested,” said Lue. “They talk about us being old and having an experienced team, but Kyrie's young, Tristan's young, K. Love's young, Shump's young. So the core of our team and what we're trying to do, they're young. And LeBron has the body of a 19-year-old.
“So going forward, I don't think our team is old. But we have to watch our minutes and watch going forward so we have our health going into the Playoffs.”