Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Atlanta mayor wants to keep Hawks in city | Report: Nowitzki to play in EuroBasket | LeBron banner may return to downtown Cleveland | Zeller hopes to start for Celtics

No. 1: Atlanta mayor determined to keep Hawks in city — The Atlanta Hawks are in a state of flux in many ways off the court (which our David Aldridge spelled out excellently in his most recent Morning Tip column) due to recent comments from GM Danny Ferry and an e-mail from owner Bruce Levenson. Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves are moving out of the city limits to a new stadium in the suburbs in the coming years and, just three years ago, the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. As Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is determined to not let another team (namely the Hawks) leave the city limits, even if it means the city has to help the team out:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has already seen two professional sports franchises leave the city limits during his administration, is determined not to let a third get away.

Reed said Tuesday that the city will play a role in the sale of the Hawks and that he has committed to keep the NBA franchise in Atlanta even if that means anticipated public assistance.

The controlling interest in the Hawks – which Reed revealed to be 50.1 percent – is at stake after co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last week that he will sell his share in the team after he admitted writing a racially-charged email in 2012. The email was discovered after an independent investigation into racist comments made by general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call with ownership and management in June. Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

The revelations of the words of Levenson and Ferry have set off a firestorm that has engulfed the Hawks franchise. New ownership is inevitable. So is uncertainty about the Hawks future.

Reed pledged public money to keep the Hawks in Atlanta. He said the city was prepared to spend between $150 and $200 million to keep the Braves. The sale of Turner Field would provide further assistance.

“We also have an interest in making sure that the new buyer wants to keep the team in the city and in the city,” Reed said. “Let me be clear what that means — in the city and in the city. That means that a prospective owner that receives my support, and I believe the support of the Atlanta City Council, will make a long-term commitment to keep the Atlanta Hawks in the city of Atlanta and will make a long-term commitment not to move the franchise.”

Reed, flanked by area civil and human rights leaders and Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, said the city’s interest in the sale centers on the fact it owns Philips Arena and its approximate $124 million debt. Reed said he spoke to at least six prospective buyers, all of whom had the financial ability to buy Levenson’s 24 percent stake. However, with fellow Washington-based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman also intending to sell, the available percentage is now more than half of the franchise.

Reed said that Atlanta-based ownership of Michael Gearon Jr., Michael Gearson Sr. and Rutherford Seydel currently intend to keep their stake in the team.

Reed, who would not reveal those interested in buying the Hawks, said he expects the sale process to move quickly. The NBA has hired an investment banking firm that will vet all potential buyers. Reed said he is scheduled to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26.

Ensuring a diverse ownership group is important, Reed said. The mayor was in China last week and spoke to a businessman there interested in buying Levenson’s 24 percent share and said that he wanted at least five percent of the stake to be minority ownership.

Still, Reed said, “My sense is some assistance will be needed from the city of Atlanta in one form or another.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s recent comments (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA romps, silences critics | Irving caps off amazing summer with MVP | Rose gets early jump on 2014-15 season | Rubio never got to talk Love into staying

No. 1: USA silences critics, takes home the gold — As the superstar names either opted out or dropped off the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the questions seemed to grow with each missing player. Could this U.S. team continue the dominance it had previously enjoyed on the world stage? Who would step up to fill the superstar gap left by (pick one:) LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love and others not taking part? As our Sekou Smith points out, though, Team USA’s romp of Serbia not only clinched the gold medal for it, but proved once again why the U.S. has the best overall basketball talent:

After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The U.S. started pool play in Bilbao, plundering through Group C without playing their very best and still smashing the opposition in all five games. They weren’t tested deep into any of their three games in the medal round in Barcelona, smashing through Mexico, Slovenia and finally Lithuania in the semifinals. They won their first eight games by an average of 32.5 points.

Not only was this game and the entire competition a showcase for an up-and-coming group of young NBA stars — Faried, Davis, Cousins, Klay Thompson and even a young All-Star like Irving will all return home to greater expectations with their respective NBA teams — it serves as proof that whatever leaks there have been in the USA Basketball pipeline in recent years have been plugged.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski have made sure of it with their resuscitation of the program over the past nine years.

“Coach K told us before the game that we were going to play our best game tonight,” Thompson said. “And we proved him right. I can’t put this into words, man. I haven’t won a title since high school, certainly nothing this big.  Winning in high school was great, but this is something I’ll hopefully be able to show my grandkids one day. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks with GameTime about the thrill of winning FIBA World Cup gold (more…)

MVP Irving takes Serbia to school, USA to World Cup gold


VIDEO: USA takes gold with rout of Serbia

MADRID – Maybe it’s LeBron James that will have to adjust more to playing off the ball this season, because Kyrie Irving is going to need it quite a bit.

Irving arrived at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on July 28, looking sharper than any of the other 30 guys in the gym. While other guards may have offered the roster better passing or two-way play, Irving’s one-on-one skills were impossible to ignore.

“Coach called me about three times [before camp] and kept asking me if I was in shape,” Irving said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there. But coming in, being ready and throwing myself in there, whatever happens happens and living with the results.”

The results speak for themselves. Seven weeks later, Irving was dropping 26 points on Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal game on Sunday and earning tournament MVP honors.

After Serbia built an early lead and Anthony Davis was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, Irving went to work, scoring 15 points as the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Especially against slower defenders, Irving can always slice and dice his way to the rim. And he did that a couple of times in that first-quarter run.

But Irving is also a dangerous shooter off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he’s basically impossible to guard. And it was falling, and falling, and falling on Sunday. Irving shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-3 in that first quarter.

Before the game, there may have been questions about how well Irving could defend Serbia’s star point guard, Milos Teodosic. That didn’t really matter, because by the end of that first quarter, it was clear that Teodosic had no chance in trying to defend Irving.

“He made so many plays and kept the pressure on their guards to defend him,” Stephen Curry said of Irving. “He gave us what we needed, him and James [Harden] in the first half, to open up the game.”

When the U.S. is hitting its 3s, their opponent’s main defensive strategy basically goes out the window. That was the scenario in the gold medal game as, led by Irving, the Americans shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“That made the difference,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “I don’t think anything worked, what we planned.”

The U.S. didn’t stop at the break, scoring 38 points on 19 possessions in the third quarter, rolling to a 129-92 victory and an average margin of victory of 33 points in its nine World Cup games.

“They really kicked our butt tonight,” Djordjevic said.

The U.S. didn’t have Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook at point guard. And Derrick Rose was shaking off the rust of not having played since November and Damian Lillard was left at home so the team could carry an extra big man.

None of that mattered, because Irving held it down at the one. When Rose took a few days off after the first exhibition game in mid-August, Irving took over the starting point guard spot and never gave USA coach Mike Krzyzewski a reason to go back to his original lineup.

“Playing with this team,” Irving said, “you have so many pieces to go to. It’s easy for me to take a back seat when Stephen Curry’s hot or James Harden is hot or AD is in the post and he’s killing another big man. It’s easy for me to do that.”

Irving may never be a true, makes-his-teammates-much-better point guard. But good luck staying in front of him. And good luck trying to defend him at all when his jumper is falling. Uncle Drew will be taking you to school today, kids.

“I’m doing whatever’s needed to win, playing with the best in the world,” Irving said. “I feel like that’s where I want to be and where I should be. Going back to Cleveland, I’m just going to have the same mind set, just being myself, working extremely hard every single day, and maintaining my confidence that has made me who I am and who I want to become.”

The Cavaliers have Kevin Love. They have the best player in the world. And now they have best player at the World Cup, who is only 22 years old.

Blogtable: Ranking the starts

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks


Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Rank, from the roughest to the smoothest, the start that these re-worked teams face this season, and why: Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, Houston.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go Houston, Golden State, Chicago and Cleveland. The Rockets are dealing with offseason loss and dashed ambitions, a lousy way to open any new season. Golden State faces a learning curve under Steve Kerr and his staff and apparently some bruised feelings for Klay Thompson and David Lee. The Bulls didn’t get Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love but they’ve done this depth-and-new-parts thing before, assuming Derrick Rose flakes off his rust. The Cavaliers face all sorts of adjustments, but the big-risk, big-reward payoff is so enticing, their growing pains will feel like a brawny chiropractor’s adjustments, well worth it when they’re done.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Depending on the conditioning and the game feel of Derrick Rose after missing virtually two years of NBA play, the Bulls potentially have the roughest start just to get him back in the lineup, up to speed and meshing with everyone else.  I’d slot the Rockets next, because after Dwight Howard and James Harden they have a glaring lack of depth that the addition of Trevor Ariza doesn’t cover.  Houston will be relying on many young faces — Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson — to step up and deliver.  The Warriors roster is not re-worked — add Shaun Livingston — but they’ve got a new coach.  It always comes down to the health of Andrew Bogut.  But either way, they’re still likely in the mid to bottom of the West bracket.  Not much changes.  Then comes the Cavs.  A bump here, a loss there and, of course, every time it happens the world will panic.  But LeBron is back in Cleveland and that makes things smoother than a baby’s bottom.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I put the Rockets at the top of the list. There’s been a ton of turnover and I’m sure the remaining players at some point had to be shaking their heads at what had gone down. I’m not sure the Rockets really ever developed a true identity last year (they sure couldn’t close out a game regardless how big the lead), and now it’s up to Dwight Howard and James Harden to handle the pressure of expectations and lift the team even as it might overall be weaker. Next I’ll go with Chicago because of the Derrick Rose factor. I think he’s got double-duty in the sense that he has to get himself right, regain his confidence, find his shot, etc., while also figuring out his team. Cleveland is next as three All-Stars try to come together under a first-time NBA head coach. As for Golden State, I just see a pretty smooth transition here with Steve Kerr. The core roster is the same and I think Kerr’s style is going to be a fun and quick learn for his players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chicago (roughest), Houston, Cleveland, Golden State (smoothest). The Bulls are in the hardest position because so much of their success will depend on a player, Derrick Rose, coming back from a long injury absence. That will take time, even if he is doing well physically. The Warriors are in the best position because they basically return the same roster. New coach, so the system might be different, but Steve Kerr isn’t going to make dramatic adjustments that will cause players to grind gears. He isn’t going to install a slow-down, half-court brand of basketball. The Warriors are not that re-worked. Take Golden State out, and the Cavaliers have the smoothest start. A lot of new players, yes, but veteran players, unselfish players, mature players. There may be an adjustment period in Cleveland, but if you have to go through one, go through it with the best player in the world.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors will have the roughest start, because they hired a guy who has never coached before. The Rockets lost two of their playmakers, so they will take a step back offensively. The Cavs have a new coach and new starting lineup, so it will take some time for them to be the juggernauts that we think they’ll be eventually. Derrick Rose won’t be at his best in October and November, but the Bulls have that defense to fall back on. This is now Year 5 for Tom Thibodeau, who will have his foot on the pedal from the start.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comCleveland should have the toughest time because they have the most change to adjust to from new stars to a new coach who is new to the NBA. Chicago is next with Derrick Rose coming back and Pau Gasol coming into the fold. Houston lost an important piece in Chandler Parsons but replaced him with a guy in Trevor Ariza who has played a similar role in a couple of spots, so his transition should be relatively smooth. Golden State’s major change came in the coaching ranks, so if Steve Kerr is as ready as people think, the Warriors should have the smoothest start of anyone on this list.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland — They aren’t adding just one new player, they’re adding several starters, as well as a coach with zero NBA head coaching experience, plus expectations will be sky-high, despite LeBron doing his best to tamp those down. Golden State — There may be a moderately difficult adjustment period, but as they’re returning mostly the same roster, the level of familiarity between players will help as they adopt Kerr’s system. Chicago — Adding Pau Gasol may cause a bit of a wrinkle, as they lose Carlos Boozer who’d spent years in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. But Gasol is smart and versatile enough that it shouldn’t be a major disruption. Houston — They may be swapping out Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza, but it’s essentially that, a swap. Houston pivots on Dwight Howard and James Harden, and as they go, so goes everyone else.

Dieng among international guys who have raised their stock in Spain


VIDEO: Kia Rookie: Gorgui Dieng

MADRID – The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is primarily about 288 guys playing with pride for their country, great games and the drama that comes with them. But it’s also a level of competition and exposure that allows players with little or no NBA experience to raise or lower their profile.

Tuesday, the U.S. team faces Slovenia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), which boasts Suns guard and NBA vet Goran Dragic, who has had little trouble replicating his domestic success in international play.  

But what about the other squads? Here are the three young international players who really raised their stock in the last 10 days, along with five more who helped themselves out…

Bojan Bogdanovic – 25 years old – Croatia

21.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 50.0 FG%, 13-for-36 3pt
The older, bigger Bogdanovic was the 31st pick of the 2011 Draft and was acquired by the Brooklyn Nets that night. They waited three years to bring him over, but their patience could pay off, because the 6-foot-7 small forward has improved quite a bit in that time.

There will be an adjustment to the speed, athleticism, and schedule of the NBA, but this guy can score, as evidenced by the 27 points he put up against France on Saturday, being guarded by NBA (or former NBA) guys Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Mickael Gelabale. Bogdanovic won’t exactly fill the void left by Paul Pierce, but he should play right away.

Gorgui Dieng – 24 years old – Senegal

16.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 42.0 FG%
With the No. 1 picks in each of the last two drafts, the Timberwolves are looking toward the future. And you have to include the No. 21 pick from 2013 as part of the team’s young and promising core. Dieng’s skill set goes beyond scoring and rebounding; he’s a very smart and willing passer out of the high post.

He averaged 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 15 starts as a rookie last season, and just led Senegal to a surprise trip to the round of 16. Facing Spain (and their NBA frontline) on Saturday, Dieng had his worst game of the tournament, shooting 1-for-9. But his play in Group B made it clear that Flip Saunders will have to find him more playing time this season.

Joffrey Lauvergne – 22 years old – France

10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 53.5 FG%, 3-for-8 3pt
The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is playing out of position with France, starting at center in the absence of Alexis Ajinca (and ahead of Rudy Gobert). But he’s a solid defender, a willing screener, and has used his quickness to combat the size of opposing centers, playing his best game against Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica. This is the biggest role he’s had on the national team (which has four NBA players this year), and he leads it in scoring and rebounding.

After breaking out with Partizan in the 2012-13 season, Lauvergne was drafted with the No. 55 pick in 2013 and acquired by the Nuggets. They offered him a small deal this summer, but he chose instead to sign with Khimki in Russia. That deal has an out clause next year.

In group play, Lauvergne had some issues with the size of the Gasol brothers, who he’ll face again in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Five more

Aron Baynes – 27 years old – Australia
Baynes isn’t all that young, but he looked like a guy who deserves a bigger role in the NBA than he’s likely to get in San Antonio, where he was the fifth or sixth big on the depth chart last season. It would make sense for another team to grab him and move him up a spot or two, especially since the Spurs already have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster and another guy with a partial guarantee. But Baynes is a restricted free agent.

Matthew Dellavedova – 24 years old – Australia
Dellavedova’s numbers weren’t consistent, but he played a big role on a good team. He’s more of a steady, run-the-offense kind of point guard than a scorer, though he did hit a huge shot over Omer Asik in the closing moments of Australia’s loss to Turkey on Sunday. The Cavs were a pretty good team (plus-3.8 points per 100 possessions) with Dellavedova on the floor last season, and he should continue to have a role on what is now a title contender.

Raul Neto – 22 years old – Brazil
Playing behind Marcelo Huertas, Neto’s role can be limited most nights. But with Huertas not playing his best and Brazil struggling with rival Argentina on Sunday, Neto helped turn the game around with 21 points on an incredible 9-for-10 shooting, scoring multiple times in late-shot-clock, one-on-one situations. Neto, a 2013 second-round pick whose rights are held by the Jazz, has skills, but is only 6-1, which makes it difficult to project him as a clear rotation player in the league.

Emir Preldzic – 27 years old – Turkey
Speaking of making big shots, Preldzic hit the two biggest shots of the tournament, turning a five-point deficit into a one-point victory on Sunday, and putting Turkey in the quarterfinals against Lithuania. The 6-9 forward with skills was drafted five years ago, but is still at an age where NBA teams should keep an eye on him. The Mavs got his rights from Washington in the DeJaun Blair sign-and-trade in July.

Dario Saric – 20 years old – Croatia
Most people were already high on Saric, who the Sixers took with the No. 12 pick in June, even though they knew they couldn’t have him for at least two years. But the World Cup has been a showcase for his size and skills, which will make you wish he was coming to the league sooner.

Varejao matters again, for Cavs and Brazil


VIDEO: FIBA: Round of 16, Day 2 Wrap

MADRID – It’s easy to forget how much of an impact Anderson Varejao can make on a game. The little things he does don’t mean much when his team is losing more than twice as many games as it’s winning, like the Cleveland Cavaliers have done over the last four years.

Come Oct. 30, when the Cavs tip off the 2014-15 season with LeBron James back and Kevin Love on board, Varejao is going to matter again.

In fact, Varejao matters right now, with Brazil having a chance to earn a medal at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Brazilians advanced to the quarterfinals with an 85-65 victory over Argentina on Sunday, avenging losses to their South American rivals in the 2010 World Championship round of 16, 2011 FIBA Americas final and 2012 Olympics quarterfinals.

Down three at the half on Sunday, Brazil just blitzed Argentina with 52 points on its final 29 possessions (1.79 points per possession) after scoring just 33 on its first 38 (0.87). Point guard Raul Neto, whose rights are held by the Utah Jazz, came off the bench and gave his team a huge lift, scoring 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting.

“In the second half,” Tiago Splitter said afterward, “that was our team — the way we played good D, running fast breaks, finding the open man and going for offensive rebounds.”

Brazil is now 5-1 at the World Cup, looking like the tournament’s third best team behind Spain and the United States. They haven’t hidden that they want to go home with a medal.

“We came here for that,” Varejao said. “We know that it’s not going to be easy. But we prepared ourselves.”

Their NBA frontline of Nene, Splitter and Varejao is obviously seen as a strength, but it had its ups and downs in group play. On Sunday though, the trio stepped up and played is best collective game of the tournament.

The three bigs combined for just 25 of Brazil’s 85 points. But Nene and Splitter shut down Argentina’s Luis Scola, holding him to just nine points on 2-for-10 shooting. (He dropped 37 on Brazil when these two teams met in the same round four years ago.)

Varejao, meanwhile, attacked the offensive glass. He picked up five offensive rebounds, including three in a critical stretch late in the third quarter. With Brazil up five, he saved a Marquinhos Vieira miss and, as he was falling out of bounds, got the ball to Splitter under the basket for a layup. A few possessions later, he grabbed two offensive rebounds that eventually led to a Neto layup.

“I had to be aggressive, going for offensive rebounds,” Varejao said, “because they had Scola and [Andres] Nocioni [as their bigs]. We had size on them. We spoke about it. We said if we shoot the ball, crash the glass, because we have a chance to get a second-chance shot. That’s what I did.”

Varejao finished the game eight points, nine rebounds and four assists. He was doing the dirty work that we can expect him to do in Cleveland. When you have James, Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, you need that fifth guy to defend, rebound, set screens, and just give his team extra opportunities.

Varejao’s activity and playing time (more than 32 minutes) on Sunday are clear indications that, after playing just 146 games over the last four seasons, he’s healthy.

That’s good news for the Cavs, and good news for Brazil, who will play Serbia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. A win there would put them in position to play for that medal they seek.

It’s also good news for Varejao, who’s happy to be playing big games again.

World Cup stint helps Irving hone leadership skills

Kyrie Irving is learning a lot in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

Kyrie Irving continues to hone his craft in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

BARCELONA — A hard fall late in a September game a year ago would have been just a part of the deal for Kyrie Irving, nothing out of the norm for an NBA player getting ready for the upcoming season.

But this summer has been anything but normal for the Cleveland Cavaliers star. From the moment LeBron James announced he was coming home until the day the Kevin Love trade was finally completed, things have been completely abnormal for Irving.

So he wasn’t surprised at the intense scrutiny that followed that hard fall in the U.S. National Team’s final pool play game last week against the Ukraine. Irving was back on the practice floor Friday and in the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 win over Mexico. But that didn’t stop Cavaliers Nation from worrying.

“We’ve got a few more followers now,” he said, laughing sarcastically as he spoke the truth. “I realize that everything that I do now interests a lot more people, even something like this.”

Irving’s work here, as the starting point guard on a team that boasts a former MVP in Derrick Rose and an All-Star in Steph Curry (who is also in the starting lineup but not as a point guard like he is for the Golden State Warriors) speaks volumes about Irving’s still evolving game.

It speaks the trust U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have in Irving and the belief his teammates have in his abilities and leadership skills. This competition is the ideal place for Irving to hone those leadership skills. He’s directing traffic for a group of stars, All-Stars really, with the world watching.

It’s the same sort of thing he’ll have to do from now on in Cleveland, albeit with the biggest star in the game on his side.

Normal got flipped overnight.

Expectations changed in an instant, the moment LeBron said he was coming home. And that’s what makes this summer crash course in accelerated leadership the perfect preparation for Irving.

“This is awesome for me,” Irving said. “It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had up to this point in my career. This is one of the biggest things I’ve played for at this point in my career, so I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”

There’s never been any question about Irving’s talent. When healthy, he’s proven himself to be among the NBA’s truly elite point guards. A two-time All-Star before he’s ever tasted the intensity of playoff competition, this is his first time competing and running a team on a stage like this. And he admitted that it’s been an eye-opener in many ways.

“We all come from different organizations and we all have different roles on our teams,” Irving said of the leadership style on this U.S. National Team. “So it’s not more or less about picking and choosing when to say something. We all have respect for one another and tell each other the truth and look each other in the eye. That’s how we’ve come together as a group thus far. And that’s why we’re as close as we are after a month and a half together, because we have respect for each other’s games. Obviously, I’m a fan of all these guys games. And it’s a great opportunity to play with all of these other great players.”

The best part in the USA Basketball environment is that everything is earned. Irving was so good in training camp that even if Rose was 100 percent healthy, Irving would still have been the right fit with the first unit.

Either way, he’s learning a lesson in how to handle things from Rose, who has experience in this realm that Irving is just now seeing in the flesh.

“You have players like me, Klay [Thompson] and the rest of the starting five, almost all the players on our team, you have to sacrifice coming off the bench,” Rose said. “With me in the second unit, I believe there is no second unit that can stick with me when I’m on the floor, and that’s vice versa with Kyrie if he was to come off the bench, no one could stick him. That’s what makes us unique.”

How much of this translates to the NBA season and what Irving will be asked to do with LeBron and Love in the mix, remains to be seen. Roles will have to be adjusted. Chemistry will have to be developed. Sacrifices will have to be made.

But if it’s a choice between winning at the highest level and having to sacrifice a few of the comforts he’d grown accustomed to in Cleveland the past few seasons, it’s not even a debate.

“I’m all about winning, winning gold here and winning at the highest level in everything I do,” Irving said. “That’s the ultimate challenge for any of us, to find out if you have what it takes inside to win like that.”

Before he decided to return home to Cleveland, James was already a fan of Irving’s. A well-versed “student of the game” as he likes to call himself, he’d had an eye on the kid going all the way back to Irving’s high school days.

Playing against him while in Miami and alongside him during the All-Star Game, proved what he already knew about Irving.

“Kyrie’s special,” James said after watching Irving earn All-Star MVP honors in February. “It’s just that simple. Very special basketball player, very smart basketball player — his ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim. He has the total package. I’ve always known that, always witnessed that ever since he was in high school.”

What they’ll do together, with Love as the third member of the latest Big 3, could be special, too.

All those folks and new followers in Cleveland and around the world are counting on it.


VIDEO: Kyrie on injury, team chemistry

Blogtable: Where should Ray Allen go?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Loving the Cup | The Bulls’ future | A landing spot for Ray Allen


Ray Allen has taken more 3-pointers, and made more, than anybody in NBA history. (David Dow/NBAE)

Ray Allen has taken more 3-pointers, and made more, than anybody in NBA history. (David Dow/NBAE)

> If Ray Allen is to play again – and it sounds like even he doesn’t know – where would you like to see him land? Why?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: San Antonio.  The team that moves the ball better than anyone else in the NBA would get him more free shots than a guy named Kelly in an Irish bar on St. Paddy’s Day.  As the Spurs try to win back-to-back championships for the first time ever, the best pure shooter of his era is the perfect weapon to add to their arsenal.  And, of course, after that Game 6 killer shot in the 2013 Finals, wouldn’t there be some karmic poetry in Ray Allen slipping on the black and silver jersey?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comOklahoma City. He’s done the LeBron thing. Allen’s demeanor and leadership would be great for the Thunder, and Lord knows they can use his floor spacing and shooting, even at his advanced age.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Cavs already have Dion Waiters and Mike Miller. I think he’d a better fit in Washington, backing up (and sometimes playing alongside) Bradley Beal. Martell Webster is recovering from surgery, so the Wizards’ back-up wings are basically Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. Allen could come there, join a team that should rank in the top four in the East, and be a needed contributor. He’s got former teammate Paul Pierce there, as well as the point guard – John Wall – who led the league (by a wide margin) in assists on 3-pointers last season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d like to see him alongside LeBron James in Cleveland for at least one more year, if he’s up to it. That would give the Cavs every conceivable piece they’d need to challenge for a championship this season (instead of this stuff about waiting a season or two for everything to fall into place). LeBron ought to pay him out of his own pocket for one year for that shot Ray made in Game 6 of The Finals in 2013. Plus, he’s worn plenty of different jerseys throughout his career. Why not add one more?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about Oklahoma City? The Thunder have been in the market for an outside shooter for a few years, and ended up last season relying on Derek Fisher to fill that role and play heavy minutes in the postseason. Allen on the Thunder would seem to be a mutually beneficial pairing — he could sit out the first half the season and rest, the Thunder could use that time to develop some of their younger guys, Allen could come in post All-Star and spend the second half of the season learning their system, and then step into that Fisher role in the postseason. And really, who better to have sniping jumpers on kick-outs from Durant and Westbrook than Ray Allen?

Varejao feeling healthy after tough four years without LeBron

Anderson Varejao hopes to remain healthy as he competes with Brazil. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

Anderson Varejao is using the FIBA World Cup to prepare for a title run with the Cavaliers. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

GRANADA, SPAIN – Derrick Rose isn’t the only player looking to use the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a springboard to a healthier and more successful NBA season for a title contender.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao would love to put some injury issues behind him as well. In the four years since LeBron James left Cleveland, Varejao, who turns 32 later this month, has averaged just 37 games per season, dealing with injuries to his upper and lower body.

James is back and Kevin Love has arrived. With Kyrie Irving and a bunch of shooters, the Cavs’ offense should be ridiculously good. But their defense will ultimately determine how far they go, and Varejao will be a big part of their success on that end of the floor.

With Mike Brown on the bench and Varejao playing 65 games last season, the Cavs improved from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency. And they allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

The Cavs lack rim protection, but the last two seasons in which they had James and (a healthy) Varejao together, they ranked in the top 10 defensively. Brown was the coach then. David Blatt, who has had strong defenses with the Russian National Team, is the coach now.

As Blatt gets ready to put his new super team together on both ends of the floor, Varejao is in Spain with his Brazilian national team, a contender for a World Cup medal. Brazil is in a tough Group A, where it will play Spain on Monday (4 p.m. ET).

In Granada, after a win over Iran on Saturday, Varejao spoke with NBA.com about his health and the upcoming season.

NBA.com: How do you feel now compared to the last couple of years?

Varejao: I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m 100 percent. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m in shape. So this helps a lot.

Does this tournament really help you get your legs back and get back in basketball shape?

Varejao: Yes, it does. I believe the preparation that we had was about 40 days. And now we have the tournament. I just want to stay healthy.

How do you look back at the last four years, not only not playing with LeBron, but not being able to play a full season?

Varejao: Tough four years for me. It was very tough on me. It wasn’t easy, because every year that I was doing well, people were talking about All-Star, this and that, and then I would get hurt. So it wasn’t easy, but it’s all past now. The good thing is that I’m in shape, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

How good can the Cavs be defensively?

Varejao: To me, defense is all about effort. If we put effort in, I believe we could do really well.

Have you talked to David Blatt?

Varejao: I did when he signed. I spoke with him during the soccer World Cup. I was in Brazil and he called me. I spoke with him once.

What do you know about him?

Varejao: I know that he’s a winner. He won the Euroleague last year. When he was with Russia he beat Brazil in the Olympics. With six seconds left in the game, they beat us.

He’s a good coach. He’s a winner. Everybody that I asked about him said good things about him. Anthony Parker played for him [at Maccabi Tel Aviv]. He said he’s one of the best human beings that he’s met and he’s a great coach.

Do you feel like you fit pretty well with Kevin Love on the frontline?

Varejao: I feel like I have to do what I always did when I played with LeBron, set screens, roll to the basket, be ready whenever I have a chance to go to the basket, play defense and rebound.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)