TrueHoop: Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving's challenge

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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.

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Then & Now & Later: Kyrie Irving

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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
Oct 20
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.

Scott Raab on LeBron's return

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
3:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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TrueHoop TV revisits with Esquire writer and "Whore of Akron" author Scott Raab.

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Why Kyrie Irving won the NBA offseason

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
3:25
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
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IrvingGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesThough he and the Cavs stalled out in 2013-14, Kyrie Irving bounced back in a big way this summer.
"The third year is a big year for a person in my position -- kind of on the cusp, on the fence between being good and great."

That’s Kyrie Irving, just before his disappointing 2013-14 season. Like just about everyone else, Irving saw himself in the lineage of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose: young players who became MVP candidates and led their teams to the playoffs in their third seasons.

Irving accomplished neither in 2013-14. His personal production and his team's performance both stagnated, and the rancor among Irving, his teammates and his coaches could be felt through the TV. Instead of ushering in an era of dominance as a do-it-all point guard, he ranked 37th in WAR at his own position. By summer 2014, Cleveland Cavaliers expert Brian Windhorst was calling his attitude "defeatist," and statistics guru Nate Silver used him as an example of a player who shouldn't receive a max contract.

For someone who had so many trophies -- rookie of the year, All-Star MVP, 3-point Shootout champion -- Irving had won very little. His Cavaliers have never had a record over .500 other than starting the past two seasons 1-0. There were even rumors that LeBron might not want to come to Cleveland unless the Cavaliers dealt Irving. Routinely characterized as selfish, weak spirited and overrated, the Kyrie Irving brand limped into the 2014 offseason.

Yet after this summer, it's almost hard to remember that Irving was so recently so ridiculed. The tsunami of coverage the accompanied James and then Kevin Love joining the Cavs washed that all away.

Irving has helped himself, too. His performance in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup was in step with the paths current NBA greats have taken -- most notably Durant, who torched teams throughout the same tournament four years ago.

Irving has a knack for shining brightest when he's next to other stars. Even among luminaries such as Stephen Curry and James Harden, Irving's talent stood apart. Though his coordination and quickness are undeniably special, Irving has impressive but not exceptional explosiveness -- he's no Rose. Instead, he has an unmatched gift for deceptive dribbling and Steve Nash's ability to carve into the heart of the defense even when he doesn't appear to be moving full speed. He just gets where he wants. Irving's elusiveness is such that defenders can appear to be participating in a choreographed routine that ends with Irving at the rim.

It's untrue to call Irving's international play a revelation; this guy was a better rookie than James was. It was a reminder, in both a good and a bad way. He controlled the pace and mesmerized his defenders. He pressured the ball and sprinted into closeouts. In his committed, commanding performance leading a team full of stars, Irving showed why the Cavaliers and their fans had a right to be disappointed in his previous season.

So maybe he still takes bad angles on defense and it's possible that he is drawn to screens as though by magnets, but is there anything better than Irving walking down his man at the top of the key with a live dribble? There's a certain definition of talent that focuses more on what a player can do rather than what he does. In Irving's game, as in no other young guard's, unexpected method mingles with seemingly inevitable result.

This summer Irving didn't prove he is ready to carry an NBA team (how could he?), but there is no doubt his talent is unmatched among his generation of guards. With Love and James by his side for the foreseeable future, will anyone even remember Irving's underwhelming seasons?

You would forgive the casual fan who really has no idea what Irving's game is about. The Cavaliers played on national TV a total of 10 times in his first three seasons, a rust belt team struggling in obscurity. This season Irving's game will be broadcast nationally 24 times, including five of the 15 showcase games on ABC.

No one outside of Cleveland, and likely few die-hard Cavs fans, will remember Irving slumping his shoulders after a bad turnover or getting torched by D.J. Augustin. These moments, like Kobe Bryant's demands to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers, will likely end up as blips in Irving's professional legacy.

It’s not exactly an NBA title, or even a playoff berth, but you can add The Summer of 2014 to the list of things Kyrie Irving has won.

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
AM ET
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
AM ET
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.

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