Naturally, every year’s Media Day is different. But this one was … different.
For starters: Media Day with Tristan Thompson wearing … No. 12?
Tristan Thompson was one of the storylines from Monday afternoon’s annual Media Day gathering at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. And why he was wearing No. 12 was a storyline at yesterday’s Media Day gathering.
But, of course, that wasn’t all.
Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman – who took the podium alongside Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff to open the event – beamed when he was asked about bringing back the beloved big man.
“When we looked at the 14th roster spot, we wanted to be very intentional with who we brought in – what they were going to bring to this roster and this organization,” said Altman. “Tristan can still play; he played in the [Western] Conference Finals last year. And that’s part of it. But also, the toughness, the experience.
“Having been here, being drafted here, having won several rounds of Playoffs here, winning the Championship here, it’s even more meaningful for us and this fanbase and, to be quite honest, the players. I think he’s going to inject some of that toughness. Our guys are kind of quiet. Tristan is NOT quiet – but in a good way.”
Toughness was an issue that was discussed (and re-discussed) on Monday afternoon. The guys had an outstanding regular season run that came to a frustrating five-game closure at the hands of the Knicks – who pushed the younger Cavaliers around for much of the series. And at Media Day, they answered those questions.
“We will be a much more physical basketball team this year,” said Coach Bickerstaff. “And that will prep us for those (postseason) moments. But we also understand that there’s a process to this. People learn lessons the hard way. It’s just human nature. If everything was easy, you’d never figure it out.
“We learned a hard lesson, but you can’t take away from what our guys have accomplished as we’ve continued to build. We understand the process and steps that need to be taken. And if you look, our track record has been pretty good at coming back better than the year before.”
Jarrett Allen, who had another outstanding regular season on both sides of the floor, admittedly didn’t play to his standards against New York in the Playoffs. The affable center explained that the outside noise about the squad’s toughness was something that he understood, but that it didn’t bother him.
“In this league, everyone’s going to have a narrative,” explained Allen, who took many of the critics’ barbs. “And the realistic part about that is that narrative is going to follow you around until you do something drastic to change it. And so, I feel like if we want to change it, we’re going to have to do something drastic to change that ‘physical toughness’ narrative.”
The second piece of the Wine & Gold’s prized big man combination, Evan Mobley, came back looking a little bigger – seven pounds, as he admitted. After a year in which he became the second-youngest player ever named All-Defensive First Team, Mobley faces great expectations going into his third year. And he went into the offseason knowing he’d have to ramp up his physicality as well.
“(Weight training) was a big focus going into this summer – as a player, just growing and getting better, adding that aspect to my offseason is really going to help me and benefit me, and that’s the reason I chose to do it,” said Mobley. “I added a weight room into my house and chef and nutritionist as well, just trying to build my body up. Your body is a temple and as long as you keep building that up, everything else will follow.”
And, speaking of big men and physicality – that brings us back to Tristan Thompson, who talked about his return to Cleveland, where he spent his first nine seasons.
“It’s something I want to be a part of,” smiled Thompson, who’s won 53 postseason games as a Cavalier. “Especially because I’ve been here, when we were drafted No. 1 and 4 – me and Kyrie – and getting to the championship and being in the finals four years in a row.
“Last year, (the current Cavaliers) getting to the 4th seed, with great young players and adding some good veterans. I wanted to be part of that journey – and I feel like I can help with my toughness, my leadership and just understanding the grind it takes for a full season AND the Playoffs.”
And then there’s the reason Tristan is wearing uniform No. 12. That’s because No. 13 still belongs to Ricky Rubio, who’s taking an excused absence to focus on his mental health. Koby Altman addressed that topic as well on Monday.
“(Rubio)’s working to get himself right,” said Altman. “We give him that time and that runway to get himself healthy. We support him from afar, and I think the thought-process and hope is that he does return to Cleveland, and the Cavaliers and helps us out this season. But we want to give him that time and that space to really get himself right.”
The Cavaliers big men weren’t the only topic of conversation on Monday. The Cavaliers All-Star backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland also talked about last season’s end – and what’s in the Wine & Gold’s future beginning with Tuesday’s practice.
“Right now, my focus is that we’ve added some new additions,” said Mitchell, who had a career year in his first season in Cleveland. “We just had a season that went really well – until it went really poorly. So, for us that’s where all of our heads are at; that’s where my head is at. I’m really excited about what we have going here. We can do something special here, and I think it starts this season – and that’s the main goal. That’s what I related to George and Max when I told them about coming here.
Darius Garland – along with Dean Wade – are now the longest consecutively-tenured Cavaliers. The 4th year man from Vanderbilt put up another excellent season, but he knows that individual success is just part of the equation as Cleveland continues to build an Eastern Conference contender.
“You have to be put in some uncomfortable situations,” said Garland. “And that’s what Coach JB is trying to do this year – just push ourselves beyond what we’re used to. And I think that’s our main goal. We’re going to be pushed by a lot of people. There’s a target on our backs and the East is only getting better. So having that in the back of our mind that we’re a target – and then there’s some other teams that we have a target for – that’s just going to push us over the top.”
One of those additions – Max Strus – who along with Georges Niang, Ty Jerome and Damian Jones were some new faces making their introductions on Monday.
Strus, who started all 23 postseason games during Miami’s Finals run last year, knows something about contending in the East – and he sees big things in Cleveland. He essentially called it a no-brainer that he would sign with the Cavaliers when the sides came together. He was ready to roll on Monday.
“It’s not about anybody else, it’s about us,” said Strus, who had multiple three-pointers in 14 of those 23 Playoff games. “What we do during Training Camp and what we do throughout the season is going to be everything. We’re going to learn a lot about each other and our team over these next couple months.
“The sky’s the limit for us. I think we’re just as talented as any team in the NBA and nobody should be counting us out to win a Championship here.”