TrueHoop: Cleveland Cavaliers

Anderson Varejao ready to return to form

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:14
PM ET
By Mark Woods
Special to ESPN.com
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Anderson VarejaoNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith LeBron James back, Anderson Varejao is hoping to return to the player he was four years ago.
MADRID -– Anderson Varejao was once among LeBron James' favorite running mates during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The four years apart have not been among the most enjoyable of the Brazilian center’s career. But he has declared himself ready to play his part in delivering an NBA title with Ohio’s homegrown superstar back in the fold.

Just contending will be a nice change for the lone survivor from the Cavaliers' run to the NBA Finals in 2007 and one of the few holdovers on a roster that has been overhauled this offseason thanks to the additions of James and Kevin Love.

[+] EnlargeJames/Varejao
AP Photo/Leo CorreaSoon after LeBron's big decision, Varejao was by his side again, at the 2014 soccer World Cup in Rio.
“I’m happy for the city of Cleveland,” Varejao said. "I’m happy for myself that we have LeBron back. And I believe we have a pretty good team and we should all be excited for next season."

Varejao, now 31, got off to a strong start after James departed, averaging a near-double-double to start the 2010-11 season, but injuries would limit him to just 146 games over the past four seasons, and the shuffle at head coach caused he and the Cavs to lurch from one lottery to the next.

But the veteran big man who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons in Cleveland is already showing signs of his former self at the the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Playing for his home country of Brazil, the center has scrapped for points and chipped in on defense like the highly effective role player of old. Through six games in Spain so far, Varejao is averaging 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per night

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve had some tough years in Cleveland with injuries and going through a rebuilding process. It’s never fun. But I’m happy right now. I’m healthy and that’s who I want to be.

“The only thing that players worry about is getting injuries. It was tough for me but now I’m fine I’m 100 percent and looking forward to staying healthy forever.”

Including Wednesday, he hopes, when Brazil faces Serbia for a place in the semifinals against either Spain or France.

Having overcome old rival Argentina in the previous round, the 2016 Olympic hosts know all too well what the Serbs are capable of after blowing an 18-point lead against them in group play before securing an 81-73 win.

“We know how tough it will be,” Varejao said. “They have a lot of size. But we’ve prepared ourselves for this. We came here to fight for the championship. That’s what we want.

“We know we’ll have to play well to beat Serbia but if we do a good job, we have a chance.”

Future Power Rankings highs and lows

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:08
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The future of the Spurs and Cavs looks bright. Not so for some of the marquee franchises, including the Lakers, Knicks and Nets.

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Kyrie Irving, best point guard in the NBA?

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
12:37
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan predicted Kyrie Irving would be the best point guard in the NBA by 2015. He still has time to be correct.

Theory of gravity

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:24
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Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
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The shooting ability of LeBron's new Big 3 have the potential to make life on offense whole lot easier for him.

Old Cavaliers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
1:17
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Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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When the Cavaliers hired David Blatt they were one of the youngest teams in the league, but not anymore.

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Cavs fan gets tattoo of Love and LeBron

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
10:34
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Rovell By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com
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Cavaliers tattooCourtesy of Nick GrossmanKevin Love and LeBron James could be sharing the same frontcourt soon; for now, they share a back.
An impatient Cleveland Cavaliers fan couldn't wait for a Kevin Love trade to be consummated, so Sunday night he had the Minnesota Timberwolves forward join LeBron James -- on his back.

Nick Grossman, 16, said he was walking the Virginia Beach boardwalk when he saw a shop that made henna tattoos of NBA players. When Grossman saw both James, available in a Heat jersey, and Love, available in a Timberwolves jersey, the lightbulb went off.

"I asked if they could put LeBron and Love in Cavs jerseys instead and they said they could if I showed them what the jersey looked like," said Grossman, who is from Richmond, Virginia, but grew up a Cavs fan (his father's family is from the Cleveland area).

Thirty minutes and $60 later, Grossman brought LeBron and Love together on his shoulder blades.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's likely that Love gets traded to the Cavaliers on either Aug. 23 or 24. Cavs rookie Andrew Wiggins, who is expected to be part of the deal, is first eligible to be traded on Aug. 23.

If somehow the deal doesn't work out, the best part is that the tattoo is temporary, but Grossman doesn't think of it that way.

"It lasts up to a month, so it still should be on by the time Love gets traded to Cleveland," Grossman said.

Even though Grossman said he knew the Cavaliers had retired No. 42 for Nate Thurmond, he noted that UCLA had retired that number for Walt Hazzard and Love still wore that number after receiving permission from Hazzard.

Andrew Wiggins and the power of potential

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
11:41
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By Seerat Sohi
Special to ESPN.com
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Andrew WigginsJack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesWho is Andrew Wiggins as a pro? Who knows? But his promise is driving NBA-shaping trade talks.
It’s Thursday night at summer league in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing the Houston Rockets and for a brief moment, Andrew Wiggins appears to be in control of his destiny.

Wiggins catches the ball, sizes up Nick Johnson and begins to back him down. In a matter of seconds, the whistle blows. The 6-foot-9 Maarty Leunen, who came over to help and ended up fouling Wiggins’ jumper, is visibly exasperated. For an undersized power forward just trying to make it in the NBA, ticky-tack fouls like this one may be a death blow. Wiggins, who is about to line up for his 19th and 20th free throw attempts, has been dealing them all game.

The Cavaliers' reported willingness to include Wiggins in a deal for Minnesota's Kevin Love has been met with mixed reviews. From a pure basketball standpoint, Love is the obvious choice. He is coming off a 26-point, 12-rebound season. His best skills -- shooting, court vision and fundamentally superior rebounding -- are the kind that age like good scotch. At 25, he’s still young enough to take over the team once LeBron James wears down. Any defensive upgrade Wiggins could provide is offset by the fact that young players almost always take years to translate their defensive chops onto the court. A trade for the disgruntled big man would pair two of the league's most efficient superstars with one the best young point guards. So, yes, Love is by all means the better basketball player. But there is no one who is better than what Wiggins represents.

Wiggins carries unprecedented star power, even for a No. 1 pick. He doesn’t just inspire belief in his future, he inspires us to prioritize it over a sure thing. Think of how many players have been able to do that before stepping on an NBA court. It’s a short list.

But in about 25 minutes, Wiggins will be shuttled away under some guise or another -- perhaps a photo shoot or an autograph session -- from reporters trying to unearth how he feels about the prospect of being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Underneath all those layers of potential and hope through which we’ve come to understand Wiggins is a guy who is just as clueless as everyone else. He doesn’t even know where he’s going to play, let alone how he’ll perform.

A San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson-to-Tim Duncan-esque scenario, where Wiggins eases LeBron’s load until eventually taking over, is tantalizing. It’s funny, when you think about it: The same “built vs. bought” and “right vs. wrong” paradigm that infiltrated the Spurs vs. Miami Heat NBA Finals just a month ago is back again, except this time, LeBron and the Cavs have a choice between the two.

A tendency to side toward keeping Wiggins -- and the route of unhurried team-building -- has little if anything to do with winning the ever-so-preachy “right” way, but with how some prefer to experience their favorite teams. The biggest draw the NBA has against the NCAA is that the former gives you the chance to watch something grow. The zenith of fandom, of course, is winning the last game of the season. But before that, there’s an entire process of imagining and contemplating a team’s trajectory. There are little joys along the way, like watching the result of a veteran player teaching a young player old tricks, and seeing tiny improvements -- as well as their ripple effects -- laid bare on the court.

To be a fan of an up-and-comer is to hope that things go right. To be a fan of a contender is to pray nothing goes wrong. In essence, optimism is more fun than anxiety.

Of course, trading Love for Wiggins isn’t as extreme. Any team featuring LeBron is bound to be a contender, but a trade for Love shifts the team’s focus from salivating over the sheer possibilities to figuring out how to fix the pipes. It’s already prominent in most trade discussions. The questions that skew heavy in a LeBron-Love-Kyrie Irving scenario -- How will they defend? How will they shore up their frontcourt depth? -- are surprisingly absent when you replace Love with Wiggins.

Such is the world of dreaming: fun, inconsequential and limitless. Everyone has to wake up at some point though, and when they do, the world around them won’t be likely to conform to those dreams. The reality in Cleveland is replete with “ifs," even outside of how Wiggins will pan out. No one knows what to make of Anthony Bennett, who showed up to summer league slender and invigorated. Whether Dion Waiters will smarten up under LeBron’s influence is another if. The verdict, to a lesser extent, is out on Tristan Thompson. Throw in injury-prone Anderson Varejao’s health concerns, too. On the other hand, there is concrete evidence that Love is a top-10 player.

There’s nothing wrong with nosediving in the possibilities of what isn’t yet known -- it’s a lot of fun! That's the entire point of the draft. But curiosity needs to be measured with an eye toward reality. Combine too many unknowns and the ground underneath them starts to get shaky. Trading Wiggins for Love wouldn’t sell the future for the present; it would stabilize both.

Seerat Sohi writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow her, @DamianTrillard.

LeBron James, popularity king

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
12:54
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
9:08
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Ethan Strauss and Amin Elhassan discuss the possibility of the Cavs trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love.

Delonte West, going for it again

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Delonte WestDominic DiSaia for ESPNAfter two years out of action, Delonte West is attempting a comeback with the Clippers in Vegas.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ summer league squad has just beaten the Miami Heat’s summer iteration 91-85, in part because of Delonte West’s heady play. As West strolls off the floor, he’s besieged by well-wishers, players and former players alike. It’s unclear if West notices, but a young man in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey starts screaming, “LeBron James! LeBron James!” at West from seats overhanging the locker room tunnel. The heckler shouts downward at West, from directly above West’s head, as the 30-year-old point guard continues to the locker room, surrounded by friendly faces.

As LeBron is returning to his Ohio roots, his former Cleveland teammate is attempting to reboot his NBA career. West hasn’t played in the league since 2011-12, after a fraught divorce with the Mavericks. It appears he has a window of opportunity with the Clippers this summer. Doc Rivers says he’s considering West for a spot on his roster. It would be a resurrection of a career that has an almost haunted quality, given how associated West is with a time and place in LeBron’s saga that ended so abruptly. A combination of West’s personal struggles and misinformation about those struggles has fueled the sense that a promising career went irrevocably astray.

Life doesn’t seem so bleak when you talk to West, though. He’s engaging, hopeful, introspective and reflective. Now a father, his world has grown beyond the next game. It’s unclear if he will get to reprise his NBA role, but West appears to have gained an improved perspective regardless of whether that happens for him.


Is it hard to mesh your style of play in summer league, where everybody’s trying to show off?

Actually, it's not, because we don't have a consistent go-to guy, and therefore you have to use your team and your offense to create most of your offense. And collectively, we have to win games offensively and defensively. Somebody has to be from whatever position more of a creator, like a point forward or a point shooting guard. If my pass leads to a bucket, that's what all this is about.

I read the Slate article about all that you've been through. Would making the league again be an even bigger accomplishment than the first time you made it.

Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, since, I mean, since I, I've pretty much taken care of my body over the years. I feel like I'm in the Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher boat, not as far as age just yet, but as far as can play eight more years. Those guys played 'til 38. I feel almost like a rookie again, and it feels great because you have a whole different perspective because my game done changed, introducing it all over again. It's fun for me. I'm more confident. So I'm just enjoying this, like I said. This time around will be better than last time around.

[+] EnlargeDelonte West
Dominic DiSaia for ESPNWest is trying to overcome past issues with taxes, bipolar disorder and more in eight NBA seasons.
What kind of different perspective have you gained?

I'm putting pieces together off of my complete game. I've been successful in this league being able to be a piece on a puzzle. And now I'm coming back. I'm giving teams the whole puzzle, and therefore I think I'll be a real asset.

Do you think with what you've added that you're better than you were on those Cleveland teams?

Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm confident in my ability, growth. All those things off the court. I preach this to young guys all the time. That translates on the court. How good was Joe Schmo All-Star when he first came out of college or high school, and look how good he is eight to 10 years later. He's a phenom now, but look at him then. Pulling up 3-pointers, everything, so, that's that age range where you go from a phenom and a super talent to a super player, and super players win championships.

Does LeBron returning to Cleveland evoke any nostalgia for you?

You know, Cleveland is still home for me. Cleveland is one of those cities. It's blue-collar, it's been through so much, and I can relate to all that. Anytime I been anywhere in the world, I ain't been to too many places, tell 'em I go through Cleveland. Clevelanders, you know, they just good people, man. And they deserve some greatness. And LeBron knows that and he's doing the right thing. It's great, man. It's great.

Has being a father changed your perspective immensely?

Well, you just can't make the same silly decisions. Everybody gets frustrated when a call don't go your way or something and you want somebody to know you're mad. See that's my thing -- I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. You just want someone to know I'm upset. Injustice! Didn't y'all see that?! But, as you get older and wiser, you learn everybody gets technical fouls. Last season I played, I might have had two techs the whole season. For me, if those little things like that are causing teams' second-guessing, then out the window. And that comes with growth and maturity.

[A few players congratulate West on his game.] It seems like you get a lot of love here.

I'm a team player, man. I think when I've been out there, even in the past, I want to see a smile on my face. And that's how you should compete. If you look back at the days when gladiators were athletes. People would probably chop somebody up, and then after winning, they put their sword down and have a cocktail or something, you know? So as a point guard I compete and battle, but I want to show the teams that I can compete with a smile too if that's a problem.

In Dallas, what didn't exactly work out? Why wasn't the fit ideal?

It was ideal. Obviously it had nothing to do with the team. I kind of, in the summer, put all my eggs in one basket. In my own thinking, this next contract was going to be a step up for me. But that's my own thinking then. Like, that was probably going to be that situation, which the organization explained to me if certain pieces fell into place, like Dwight Howard, or this guy or that guy. So, it was almost a rebuilding, and they had a lot of young guys. And at 29, 30, I just wasn't receiving that well. I was looking for more stability.

You know, [Mark] Cuban used to talk to me all the time, talk to me all the time, even afterward. He would call me, "Whatcha got going on? You still working hard?" And that's what's up. He was a mentor to me for a while even after I left Dallas with the whole Twitter thing, finances and tax situation. He'd go, "I know you're in a tough financial spot, but you can't focus on the contract. You should focus on basketball. He told me once or twice. The third time he was like, "Look dude, this is the direction we're going to go." So I understood that.

It seemed like you were misunderstood, and it contributed to this stigma that wasn't exactly fair. What are your thoughts on that now?

Life is not fair, and I'm so thankful and blessed for these last two years of my life. That's for real. The hardest thing about being, is when you set yourself up. And then it hurts you more when you set yourself up, know what I mean? If that situation forced me to take control, to grow up, to fight through, not accepting being bipolar and fighting through it and talking to the right people and making sure I am understood and I'm not the only man in the world that has to do that. People in all walks of life have to go to work and prove themselves every day. It helped me grow as a person and a man, so I'm very grateful for that. And sometimes you gotta learn by bumping your head and going through it, and that's what I did.

Andrew Wiggins' dunk inspires Cavs hopes

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
11:23
PM ET
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- It was only the second quarter, but Andrew Wiggins won Monday's NBA Summer League game pitting his Cleveland Cavaliers against the Philadelphia 76ers with his incredible dunk. Dribbling toward the baseline, Wiggins spun free and rose above the defense to dunk powerfully yet gracefully.

The crowd in the intimate Cox Pavilion went wild. Writers declared Wiggins a superstar, too good to trade for Kevin Love. Fans chanted for a replay, and booed when it failed to materialize on the video board.

The dunk was breathtaking. It was athletic. It showcased Wiggins' potential. It was also his only basket of the first half. Consider that a microcosm of the disconnect between the excitement generated in Las Vegas by Wiggins and his fellow No. 1 pick (and Canadian), Cavaliers teammate Anthony Bennett, and their production on the court.

Wiggins has delivered multiple flashes of the talent that made him the top pick in this talented draft. Shortly after his dunk, he rose to reject a Nerlens Noel attempt from behind, the kind of defensively play few wings can make. And he's been a consistent presence at the defensive end of the floor, racking up deflections with his long arms.

As at Kansas, however, Wiggins' offensive contributions have come and gone. His scoring totals have gone down each game, from 18 in Friday's debut to 13 on Sunday to just 10 points Monday. Philadelphia rookie K.J. McDaniels, the No. 32 pick, took defending the No. 1 pick as a personal challenge, keeping him from seeing any airspace in the half-court offense. (When Wiggins shook free for the dunk, McDaniels was on the bench.)

Something similar is true of Bennett, who's enjoying the soft bigotry of low expectations. Bennett was so bad as a rookie that any positive contributions are met by huge excitement. Consider the positive response to Bennett getting in shape, something that's usually a bare minimum for NBA players.

Bennett too has offered momentary reminders of why he was considered a consensus top-five pick a year ago, if a surprise at No. 1. He's been aggressive in attempting to dunk any opportunity around the rim, and his rebounding (26 in 94 minutes, a cool 10.0 per 36) has been impressive.

The concern remains Bennett's shot selection. If Wiggins can occasionally get too passive on offense, that's never been an issue for Bennett, who's happy to lob off-balance 3-pointers at the rim if given the slightest opening. Bennett has shot 2-of-11 from 3-point range (18.2 percent), a step back from the 24.5 percent he made during his rookie season.

Still, there's plenty of time for such skepticism during the long regular season. Summer league is all about dreaming on players, and Wiggins' dunk and Bennett's explosiveness have given Cleveland fans reason to keep dreaming.

LeBron's mission much bigger than titles

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
1:46
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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LeBron James shocked the world by returning to a place that at one point had hated him most of all. With Friday's announcement of his move came an elegant, introspective explanation of his motives to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.

The return to Cleveland is a staggering comeback tale, an earthquake to the NBA’s ecosystem. So it’s a bit surprising to see James offer humble expectations along with a decision so epic. “I’m not promising a championship,” he says in his explanation letter. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way.”

Before the Cleveland rumors started, the consensus opinion was that James would choose whatever situation offered him the best chance at winning -- which Miami did in 2010. Four years later, he is explicitly saying that this route home is about something else entirely. Given the language James is using, he’s on a mission far larger than winning mere titles:

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business.”

Claiming that you aren’t ready to win a championship might seem unambitious, but despite that disclaimer, consider the scope of what James is aspiring to. Ohio’s communities have been hit especially hard by the decline in manufacturing over the decades. Cleveland once had roughly three times the population it claims today. Akron has been losing residents since the 1960s. James is far from the only person to abandon his northeast Ohio home for opportunities elsewhere -- he’s just the most notable to try it.

But James wants to reverse a massive socio-economic phenomenon that’s been going strong for a half-century. By coming home, he wants to make Ohio whole again. Michael Jordan might be the greatest of all time, but he didn’t dare leverage basketball into something far greater than commerce. LeBron doesn’t just want to change the game -- he wants to change the economy.

There are more prosaic reasons for why this is happening, too. As James explains, leaving home can give you perspective on what you left behind and how much you miss it. Time can heal wounds, as evidenced by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and James patching things up after an ugly divorce. James said leaving for Miami was the college experience he never had. Many of us can relate to how finding some separation makes the allure of home that much more appealing.

As many have already noted, the letter offers no mention of No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. If there’s a Kevin Love trade in the works, James might be selling this Cavs team’s chances short.

For now, Cleveland is indeed short on championship-ready players. It's long on so much else, though. The future is murky, and the past was ugly, but today, the most compelling sports story lives in northeast Ohio.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
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Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Conspiracy theories: The LeBron files

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
11:08
AM ET
By Adam Reisinger
ESPN.com
Archive
NBA Lebron James - ClevelandIllustration by Elias SteinWhat will LeBron do? Is a return to Cleveland in the cards? Social media is searching for answers.

What will LeBron ultimately decide about his future? From cupcakes to planes to cars to cops, social media is searching for answers while we wait ...

July 5: Home sweet home?






July 6: Dan Gilbert's plane flies to Florida




July 9: LeBron's cars on the move




July 9: Mike Miller posts a picture ... of LeBron's Cavs jersey




July 10: Tracking LeBron's official website




July 10: Cleveland Zoo's owl picks Miami





July 10: Checking in with the police




July 10: Party at LeBron's house




Almost makes you long for the days of a one-hour TV special.

Wait for the drop

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
9:30
AM ET
By Robert Attenweiler
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Draft lottery Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesDavid Griffin came away from the draft lottery with (another) No. 1 pick. Now comes the hard part.
About an hour west of Cleveland, nestled along a shared Lake Erie shore, sits the grand dame of American amusement parks, Cedar Point. The site has long been northern Ohioans' go-to for sugar-drenched fried dough and Berenstain Bears “live shows,” while lines for its murderers' row of record-breaking roller coasters -- this one’s the tallest ... this one’s the fastest -- snake on and on for hours.

The first ride you’d encounter after passing through the turnstile was the Demon Drop. From 1983 to 2009 (when it was traded to a Pennsylvania park for something called the “Ocean Motion” and a ride to be named later), the 131-foot steel tower would clatter carriages of four riders at a time up its vertical tracks. At the top, the car would pause before inching forward, pausing again, then dropping its riders 60 feet down in a free fall that could top 55 mph.

Take away the part that sounds like any fun and that’s what it’s been like to be a Cleveland Cavaliers fan the past four years. The frustration Cavs fans feel is not for a lack of possibility -- possibility, the Cavs got. It’s that every season since 2010-11, whenever things seemed ready to turn the corner back toward respectability and beyond ... well, the bottom dropped out, cruelly and suddenly.

We got Kyrie Irving! ... DROP. ... OK, well, at least we have all of these high draft picks. ... DROP. ... Another No. 1 pick! ... DROP. ... Mike Brown (again)! ... DROP. ... We signed Andrew Bynum! ... DROP, DROP, DROP.

So, when most fan bases would be ecstatic to win the top pick in arguably the most stocked draft in years, it’s not a shock that Cleveland fans, rather than high-fiving their way toward a rack of Andrew Wiggins jerseys, found themselves stuck in a moment of anxiety-riddled silence before finally muttering to their friends, “They’d better not screw this up.”

The Cavs are now tasked with somehow breaking this vicious cycle, but it won’t be up to Kyrie Irving to do it. Or LeBron James. Or whomever the team picks with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

Since having the “interim” removed from his title following the season, general manager David Griffin has been on a real hot streak. A well-respected basketball mind widely regarded as more than ready for his first shot at running a team, Griffin, who took over when Chris Grant was fired in February, has made a real impact on the public’s perception simply by soldering his own personality -- an infectious optimism made palatable by a steady drip of frank pragmatism -- to a team that still has yet to fashion its post-LeBron identity. Gone are the vague corporate platitudes of the Grant/Brown era (and, even, the stone-faced silence of the Byron Scott era), when everything was explained away as part of a “process.” Griffin has been straightforward in assessing the team’s needs in much the same way as anyone else who had the relative misfortune of watching the 2013-14 Cavaliers play with any regularity: They need to shoot better, get tougher, get bigger, play smarter and fit together better.

That process started in earnest at the place that brought about one of the biggest messes of the previous regime. A year after sending a rowdy posse to the draft lottery and proclaiming, loudly, that it would be their last trip there, the Cavs, after slumping to 33-49 in a dreadful Eastern Conference, nominated Griffin to fill their spot on the podium. Despite holding just a 1.7 percent chance at the top pick, the new GM walked away with the first overall selection, the second straight year and the third time in four years the Cavs won the lottery. It wasn’t an instant ticket to the postseason -- not after Cleveland bungled last year’s top pick -- but the team at least had something.

[+] EnlargeKyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Cavaliers know the thrills and the heartbreaks of having the draft's No. 1 overall pick all too well.
Griffin then turned his attention to an exhaustive coaching search, ultimately settling on former Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt last week. Now, you’d expect a fan base used to being spurned by top-tier choices to be skeptical about a new coach who has no NBA experience and has coached overseas for the past 20 years. But Cavs fans just want to see winning basketball, and Blatt, while an outside-the-box choice, has a reputation as a sort of Gandalf of offensive basketball (and, by all accounts, a pretty good defensive coach, as well). Even if consistent success is still some work away, basketball that does not come at the eyes like Oedipus wielding a broach will do.

It has been a two-month process of Griffin drawing back the blinds and letting a little bit of sun and fresh air into a franchise that often seemed determined to turn its fans mole-blind. Leading up the draft, Cleveland fans had stopped worrying about the rumors of Irving’s unhappiness, of Dion Waiters’ surliness, of Dan Gilbert’s Comic Sans-ness, of the triumphant return of a certain former player. Bright days were ahead.

At least until Joel Embiid hurt another body part. The Cavs have been through this before with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whose own struggles with a navicular bone injury turned everyone in the fan base into Dr. James Andrews. Have a question about a foot issue? Well, here’s literally thousands of Cleveland fans who can talk you through it. Drafting Embiid, though still a possibility, now seems out of the question, especially with a recovery (four to six months) expected to drag into a season for which Gilbert again has high playoff hopes.

Which begs the question: Was this the drop? Was missing out on Embiid -- who was not only the player with the highest consensus upside but also far and away the best fit for this young, center-starved team -- the axe blow to the knees for the nascent goodwill forming between Cleveland fans and the universe? Or is the very fact the Cavs are picking first and not ninth enough to keep spirits bright, still evidence of more charm than curse?

Ultimately, whether this draft is viewed in Cleveland as the second coming of 2003 or 2013 will come down to Griffin. It will come down to the first draft pick this GM has ever made and whether all the good feelings Cleveland fans have already invested in him will be repaid, in turn, with the Cavs fielding a competitive professional basketball team again.

If not, the ride remains the same.

Robert Attenweiler is a playwright and screenwriter living in New York City. He writes for Cavs: The Blog, part of the TrueHoop Network. Follow him, @cadavalier.

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