Conrad Kaczmarek of our Cavs blog Fear The Sword was gracious enough to stop by and answer a few questions about his team.
How has the addition of Luol Deng changed the Cavs? Is he taking an active leadership role or is it more what he's contributing on the court at the SF position?
He's obviously had a really positive impact already. The Cavs are 3-2 with him thus far and those were all on the road. Today's game will be Luol's first game at Quicken Loans Arena in a Cavs uniform, so that's exciting. It really seems like he's embracing this opportunity to be a leader, help the young players, and "change the culture" in Cleveland. Of course, it helps that he's a really good player too. He rarely makes the dumb mistakes that Cavs fans are so used to from this young team. He's just solid and consistent ... and that's something the Cavs were really missing.
Mike Brown has a reputation as a defensive mastermind, but Cleveland is rated only 19th in D. How much of that is young guys adjusting to Brown's scheme and how much is lack of defensive-minded personnel?
I'm pretty sure it's a combination of the two in the sense that the young guys aren't very good at defense yet and therefore the team doesn't have the proper defensive personnel. Does that make sense? I think everybody on this Cavs team has the ability to defend at a decent level, but they're incredibly inconsistent. Furthermore, the Cavs are a very good defensive team at home and a pretty terrible one on the road. They're allowing 97.5 points per 100 possessions at home and 108.0 points per 100 possessions on the road. That's an enormous difference and can probably be attributed to youth.
Kyrie Irving is only 21 and he's already one of the best PG's in the NBA. How much better can he get and what do you want to see him add to his game over the next few years?
He can get a lot better on the defensive end. I think he's still really adjusting to caring about defense and figuring out how to balance effort on defense with his usual awesomeness on offense. But the area that he can probably improve the most is his "intangibles." He's only 21, as you said, but he's got a long ways to go in terms of maturity, leadership, and consistency. For a guy that some people want to call a superstar, Kyrie has far too many games in which he just doesn't show up. I don't think he likes losing, but I'm afraid that all the tanking in his first two seasons made him accept losing to a certain degree.
It's not that he doesn't want to win, I just think that there's a feeling around these young players that when they get into a tough, close game (particularly on the road), they figure "oh well, we're not going to win this one." That's obviously a mindset that needs to change and I think Luol Deng will help with that. Again, Kyrie's only 21 and hasn't had a taste of winning in the NBA yet. I'm pretty confident that he can still become the best PG in the league if we give him some time to grow.
Walk Mavs fans through the Cavs thought process when it came to drafting Anthony Bennett. He's being called the worst No. 1 pick of all-time already. How concerned are you about him?
Okay, I'll do my best. As far as I understand it, the Cavs looked at last year's draft and thought "wow, this draft is bad and none of the players that we take #1 overall will be starter for us right away." Victor Oladipo wouldn't have started over Dion Waiters or CJ Miles, Noel wasn't starting over Thompson or Varejao, etc. With that in mind, they went for the guy that they thought had the highest upside longterm and picked Anthony Bennett. Now, you can disagree with their conclusion, but that's what they were thinking.
Bennett was an incredibly skilled offensive player in college and looked to be a deadly pick and pop guy in the NBA with some really unique skills for a big guy. So far, we have seen none of that in the pros. He was coming back from the shoulder surgery, was out of shape, and then had his confidence shot in the first two weeks. I'm basically chalking this up as a lost year for Bennett - but when I watch his college tape, I can't give up on him. The dynamic athlete with the ability to score from anywhere on the court didn't just disappear.
Why did things not work out for Bynum in Cleveland? And do you think he could help a playoff team this season?
We'll never really know what happened behind the scenes with Andrew Bynum unless they do a 30 for 30 documentary about him. But as far as I know, the Cavs just wanted to get rid of his negative influence in the locker room. He was really really struggling on the court and my guess is that they went to him and said that he wouldn't be as big of a part of the offense anymore. He probably didn't like that and started sulking. The Cavs saw how bad he had been on the court and came to the conclusion that he just wasn't worth having around if he's unhappy. As I said before, they're really concerned with creating a better and more professional culture within the locker room. I'm not sure if there's a more drastic swap in that department than going from Bynum to Deng.
As far as what he can do going forward, I really don't know. When he played for the Cavs this year, he looked done. He was slow and had none of his usual touch around the basket. I know there were flashes of brilliance, but they were just too infrequent to make up for his disastrous defense. If a playoff team can keep him happy and healthy and find a way to make him never have to move on defense, then maybe he'll be helpful. I just think that he's lost too much mobility for him to be able to play defense. For a team like the Mavs, it might be worth a shot though. He'd be really cheap, your locker room already has a lot of strong veterans in it, and you aren't a team that's really trying to win a title right now. If the Mavs signed Bynum, the hope would be that he was still just shaking off the rust of having not played for over a year and isn't actually as bad as he was in Cleveland. I don't know how likely that is, but considering what else Dallas has at the center position, it's probably a decent gamble.