TrueHoop: Cleveland Cavaliers

Now the Cavaliers can't lose

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
11:35
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Nearly two weeks ago, after a Cleveland loss, David Thorpe noticed things he liked about the Cavs' play. They haven't lost since.

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Kevin Love's killer plays

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
3:30
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Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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What the Cavs should be running for Kevin Love, according to David Thorpe.

Draymond Green is no Kevin Love

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
6:12
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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At least, David Thorpe doesn't think so. Here's why.

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Heat fans hurting from LeBron's decision

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Israel Gutierrez says the hurt is real among Heat fans as LeBron James returns for a Christmas Day matchup with the Cavaliers.

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Young Wiggins vs. Young LeBron

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
11:36
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe has been scouring video to compare Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. Some of his findings may surprise you.

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John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
12:22
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
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Is John Wall or Kyrie Irving the better player? ESPN Insiders Amin Elhassan and David Thorpe discuss.

Things looking up in Cleveland

December, 4, 2014
12/04/14
12:56
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe sees seeds of teamwork in Kyrie Irving's play and Kevin Love's demeanor.

Do the Cavs need to make a trade?

November, 24, 2014
11/24/14
7:46
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe says it's time for Cleveland to bring in some more athletic players.

The Kyrie Irving Problem

November, 7, 2014
11/07/14
5:07
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Bomani Jones drops by to discuss Kyrie Irving and the new level of scrutiny on his game.

LeBron's paint problem

November, 6, 2014
11/06/14
8:23
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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We go inside the numbers to reveal how bad LeBron James is shooting in the paint.

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The challenge in Cleveland

October, 30, 2014
10/30/14
7:11
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Tom Haberstroh goes inside the numbers to show where LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and the Cavs need to be if they want to be true title contenders.

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Cavs not looking for more arc types?

October, 25, 2014
10/25/14
6:32
PM ET
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPN.com
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James has already recruited two former members of “The Heatles” -- Mike Miller and James Jones -- to Cleveland. But it looks like he’ll have to hold off on helping to facilitate any other moves to get more of the band back together.

The Cleveland Cavaliers announced Saturday that they waived forward Shane Edwards, bringing their roster size to the league maximum of 15.

Cavs coach David Blatt made it sound like that’s how the roster would stand going into opening night against the New York Knicks.

"As of right now, yes, this is our roster,” Blatt said after practice Saturday.

That of course means that one notable former Miami Heat teammate of James, Ray Allen, won’t be joining the Cavs in the next five days before the season starts.

Allen has long been rumored to be making the trek from South Beach to northeast Ohio eventually, the most recent round popping up in early October that was summarily discredited by Allen’s agent, Jim Tanner, and Allen himself on Instagram.



Cleveland has 12 guaranteed contracts on the books, plus forward Lou Amundson, point guard A.J. Price and rookie center Alex Kirk rounding out the group. One of those three would need to be scuttled to make room for the league’s all-time leader in 3-pointers should the rumored reunion between James and Allen ever come to fruition.

Of course, Allen’s biggest strength, outside shooting, has been a point of contention during training camp for the Cavs already.

Cleveland averaged 27.7 3-point attempts in its seven exhibition games, causing Blatt to say on more than one occasion that his team was settling too often from the perimeter.

[+] EnlargeRay Allen
ChinaFotoPress/Getty ImagesWill the Cavs bring in Ray Allen? It appears they will start the season without him.
One of the players on the Cavs launching the most frequently from beyond the arc was Kevin Love. While Love shot a quality percentage (43.5) on those 3s, he felt that too many of his overall looks were coming from deep. Last season, Love averaged 18.5 shots per game and out of those shots, 35.5 percent were 3-point attempts. In six preseason games with Cleveland, Love averaged only 9.0 shots with a far greater portion of them (42.6 percent) coming from downtown.

Love piped up about the disparity, telling Cleveland.com, “My entire life I've played the game from inside-out. So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I'm not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it's just something that I see.”

James took note of Love’s comments, saying after practice Friday that, “I think we’re all going to go through an adjustment getting less touches” and adding, “he will get his touches, we need him to get his touches in order for us to be successful. Both inside and outside.”

James also said that he believed what Love said was “blown out of proportion,” but Blatt’s reaction to them suggest that Love drawing attention to the issue through the media served a purpose.

Love said that Blatt is using the week of practice the Cavs have between their last preseason game and their season opener against the Knicks to address his concerns about the offense.

“It’s been great putting in a lot of new sets in today, ones that I’ve been familiar with in the past,” Love said Saturday.

“Just make a conscious effort to get down there,” he continued. “I think more than anything that was my mindset of just making basketball plays. For me, that’s always started from the inside out. That’s really what I was trying to get across. That’s something that even in putting in the new plays today, the last couple days, something that we’ve spoken about. I think in the preseason we did shoot a lot of 3s but a lot of those shots are there just because of how well we space the floor. So, it’s just something that I mentioned. It’s going to take us a little while to look for different things out there, but we’re going to try to balance out the mismatches and go with our strengths.”

Kyrie Irving's challenge

October, 21, 2014
10/21/14
1:16
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Kyrie Irving has far better teammates this season, but will he get the ball enough to do what he does best? Amin Elhassan and Henry Abbott discuss.

Then & Now & Later: Kyrie Irving

October, 21, 2014
10/21/14
9:31
AM ET
Foster By DJ Foster
Special to ESPN.com
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Kyrie IrvingGetty ImagesKyrie Irving looked like a future star as a rookie. Will he become one next to the NBA's best player?
"Then & Now & Later" is a scouting profile series that analyzes the perception, development and potential of young players in the NBA. Previous editions tackled Anthony Davis and Ricky Rubio. Up now: Kyrie Irving.

Then


Kyrie Irving was the rebound for a spurned sports town.

As impossible as it might have been, it was on the then-19-year-old to bring the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the grieving process after LeBron James left for Miami.

To his credit, Irving played that role well. He demanded attention right from the start, his brilliance with the ball forcing you to live in the moment, not the past. Though the sample size was only 11 games at Duke, he played almost exactly as most predicted -- an average athlete with an unreal handle and smoothness around the rim. Though James' shadow still lingered, Irving was a budding superstar Cleveland could really grow with.

But that process was quickly accelerated. General manager Chris Grant, perhaps mandated to live up to owner Dan Gilbert's guarantee to beat James to a title, made multiple win-now moves and routinely tried to outsmart the draft process.

In large part because of that, the perception of Irving became complicated when the "next level" to his game never came. Some of the shine wore off as time went on and the losses continued to pile up, and it didn't help matters that Irving rarely looked engaged defensively or that his key percentages (true shooting, effective field goal, rebound and assist) all declined after his marvelous 2011-12 rookie of the year campaign.

But despite the hit in production and reputation, Irving provided post-James Cleveland with what fans needed: a pleasant distraction and, more important, a recruiting chip. Maybe James would have come home regardless, but Irving’s potential probably made that decision a little easier.


Now


Up to this point, Irving has spent most of his professional career on an island. His best moments have come almost completely independent of his teammates, whether during All-Star Weekend or in isolation at the top of the key in the regular season.

Irving’s greatest strength is his ability to create for himself off the dribble, a skill he has been able to hone thanks to the ineptitude of his teammates and the stale offensive systems he has been in. Irving makes opposing big men in the pick-and-roll look like dancing puppets -- a quick in-and-out dribble makes limbs go limp, a crossover sends them flying comically in the wrong direction.

There have been negative side effects to the overreliance on those abilities, though, as Irving has developed into a sometimes reluctant distributor, content with taking the first shot that is available to him. Irving’s usage percentage was practically identical to Stephen Curry’s last season, but Curry’s 39.9 assist percentage was drastically higher than Irving's 31.6.

A lot of that has to do with the quality of teammates around Irving and the general lack of trust. Irving and Dion Waiters would reluctantly take turns trying to go 1-on-5 while the other stood around and watched -- the type of offense usually reserved for bad pickup basketball.

And if Irving wasn’t hitting, the Cavs were pretty much toast. He shot 47.9 percent from the field in the 28 wins he was a part of last season, but just 40.1 percent in 43 losses. His isolation scoring could give Cleveland a puncher’s chance, but his negative impact defensively and the lack of two-way talent around him made every game an uphill battle if he wasn't on fire from the field.

Could Irving have done more the past three years to help the bottom line? Absolutely. His defensive real plus/minus rating was 71st out of 82 eligible point guards last season, and at least some of the blame for his team’s lack of chemistry has to fall on him.

But it’s not that Irving is incapable of playing a complete game. Some of the league’s poorest defenders just don’t have the foot speed or the intelligence to be useful on that end, but that isn't the case here. There’s just very little consistency in terms of his effort and technique, as he’ll often lazily walk into perimeter closeouts or provide faux help and actually guard no one.

Some of that is understandable. Buzzing around the court defensively is much less appealing during meaningless games, which make up the majority of Irving's career as a pro thus far.

Scoring has taken clear priority, as it often tends to for a bad team’s most gifted player, and that has created some clear accountability issues. Your best player can be a below-average defender, but not an unwilling one. Irving and Cleveland were caught in a vicious cycle that we see swallow up some of the league’s most talented young players time and time again.


Later


Wipe the slate clean. Locker-room tiffs, shabby defense, bad body language, empty stats. Forget it all.

Irving, just 22 years old, has received a fresh start. He has a new max contract, a new coach in David Blatt, a new pick-and-pop big man in Kevin Love, and the reigning Best Basketball Player on the Planet next to him in James.

The big question is how Irving will adapt to all of it. You would hope he knows better than Ricky Davis, who once famously said: "I thought LeBron James was just going to be another addition to help me score." The ball is going to be in Irving’s hands a lot less, whether he’s ready for that or not.

Some established habits may die hard, but if his ramped-up defensive efforts this summer with Team USA during the FIBA Basketball World Cup are any indicator, Irving is mentally prepared to redefine his game. His role will be more complicated and will fluctuate on a game-to-game basis, but James has a habit of making basketball much easier for everyone on his side.

Where we might see the biggest difference in Irving’s production is away from the ball. He shot just 35.3 percent on 3.3 spot-up attempts per game last season, according to NBA.com. But with defenders unable to stay glued to him because of the presence of James and Love, those numbers should improve. Gone are the days of hoping Alonzo Gee will find him open on a drive-and-kick; defenders will have to actually pick their poison now instead of staying glued to Irving.

It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of Irving’s play, but no point guard in the league is in a better position. After a temporary delay, Irving is right back on track to have the type of career befitting his immense talent.

D.J. Foster is a contributor to ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network. Follow him @fosterdj. All stats via NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com or ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

Mind of the Fan: LeBron's homecoming

October, 20, 2014
10/20/14
1:05
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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videoIt took years, but LeBron James is finally more popular than ever, according to an ESPN Sports Poll. In the latest September survey, 18.4 percent of NBA fans cited James as their favorite player, almost double the 9.4 percent figure from the 2011-12 season, when he was still mired in Decision backlash.

But LeBron's surge in popularity is confined to certain demographics.

MOF 1ESPN
The "I'm coming home" bump was pronounced among whites and Hispanics polled. In the 2012-13 season, 9.7 percent of white NBA fans listed LeBron as their favorite player. That figure crept up to 13.2 percent last season and registered at 16.0 percent in the latest September survey.

Hispanics supported LeBron to the tune of 13.5 percent during the 2013-14 season and now do so at 17.4 percent. Even though LeBron rejected a heavily Latino market in Miami, his homeward turn certainly didn't hurt him with Hispanics polled.

There wasn't much evidence of LeBron's move resonating with African-American NBA fans or younger NBA fans. LeBron was the favorite player for 28.1 percent of the African-American NBA fans polled during the 2013-14 season. Our latest figures show no "I'm coming home" impact in that demographic, with LeBron most recently registering as the favorite player for 27.8 percent of African-American fans.

MOF 2ESPN
Younger demographics also received the LeBron news with apathy. Fans ages 12 to 17 went from a 22.4 percent favorite rating during the season to 21.4 percent in our September report. Support among fans age 18 to 34 crept up only 0.6 percent during this time frame. The millennial NBA fan seems to care little as to where LeBron works.

In stark contrast, older fans wholly embraced LeBron's embrace of his old team. The 35-54 demographic went from 14.7 percent support to 18.4 percent. Fans over the age of 55 went from 11.7 percent to 16.6 percent. LeBron's summer bump was powered by fans over the age of 35.

There might be a connection between how LeBron's return was received and how inclined the fan receiving it is to root for a local team. Older fans are generally more likely to support the local squad. Last season, 57.5 percent of fans over the age of 55 said they support the team in their market. Only 39.1 percent of fans 12-17 said they support the in-market team. There's a similar contrast between white and African-American NBA fans, with 58 percent of white fans supporting the local team to 37 percent black fans pledging local allegiance.

MOF 3ESPN
LeBron's popularity had been slowly building after falling precipitously in the Decision aftermath. In surveys conducted during the 2013-14 season, 16.1 percent of NBA fans named him as their favorite player. In surveys conducted over July and August, that figure jumped to 20.7 percent. Some of that positive feeling has since ebbed -- James isn't the story in the sports news cycle like he was in the summer -- but much of the afterglow still surrounds him. His latest 18.4 percent favorite rating easily exceeds his old Cleveland apex of popularity in 2010 (15.6 percent).

In terms of reputation, leaving Miami has been the opposite of leaving Cleveland. When LeBron ditched the Cavs in 2010, his favorite rating sank from that 15.6 percent figure to 10.2 percent in his first season with the Heat. Spurning Cleveland meant a sudden loss in over a third of his fans. In stark contrast, breaking hearts in Miami has led to many new LeBron converts nationwide, especially among demographics that tend to root local.

It would appear that if you root for the home team, you're more predisposed to cheer LeBron for coming home. If you like rooting for local clothing, you were probably rooting for Cleveland.

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