Saturday, April 30, 2005

Many miles, many thoughts

So, I limp back into cyberspace. I've been on mental health leave and traveling the countryside. I'm currently on a three-week journey westward and I'm writing from a festive Minneapolis, where the 40 degree temps have not deterred Friday night festivities. Last night, just outside Milwaukee, I dined at a friend's house and watched Scott Williams explain on NBA TV the positive influence Dan Gilbert's had on the Cavs. Tonight I visited a friend who lives in an apartment building with "John Dillinger" painted across the front door. What a long, strange trip it's been and I haven't even hit Vegas yet.

In many hours on the road I've done a lot of thinking about the Cavaliers. I cannot believe the honeymoon ended so quickly. What I mean by that is that I figured the pressure of winning and the depression of not meeting expectations would strike next year, not this just finished season. Especially when the gents were cruising along in first place.

Here are my thoughts looking back in no order. Oh, and I have some Phil Jackson feelings as well at the end.

--Jeff McInnis' personality hurt the team. At his core, Jeff is a streetballer. He will always be concerned with himself first, which is deadly for a point guard. But it manifests itself when he's threatened because he tends to take a bunker mentality and believe everyone, even sports writers, are the enemy. In the end he quit on his teammates even as they messed with the balance of the team by standing up for him when he was benched.

--LeBron is great when he doesn't score. This may shock you, but I thought LeBron was at his worst going down the stretch. Not that his worst is bad and not that he did it on purpose. Without help as he poured his heart out in never leaving the floor, but he wasn't playing good basketball. As he would pound the ball and force shots or jump for steals and get out of defensive rotation. Sure it made for great stats, but not too many wins. He's at his best when he's leading by sharing and contributing, like in the season finale in Toronto when he nearly had a triple-double at the half.

--You can't win regularly without identity. Just think, what were the Cavs about this season? It goes to stability, of which there was none considering the ownership and head coach changed midseason. But even on a small scale, the team didn't display a constant attitude in anything. This is especially glaring at the defensive end where they were constantly trying to fix what was wrong with broad changes without realizing that was part of what was wrong.

--This season was one game from success. Had the Cavs started 12-20 and then finished 30-20, everyone would've hailed them. Instead it was the other way around and they were deemed failures. In truth, a lot was accomplished this season especially with LeBron, which is most important. The team growth was stunted at the end, the playoffs were missed by a game and the physche was harmed. In the end, the team did win seven more games than last year and is likely poised to increase it by the same number next season. So fans, don't be happy, but don't abandon optimism either.

Now, for the news of the day, Phil Jackson. Here's my latest story on the matter.

I'm not sure why Phil wants to pick from this sickly lot, which basically includes the Lakers, Knicks, Cavs and Blazers. The Lakers hate each other and Jackson and Kobe Bryant have deep issues. The Knicks and Blazers have proven that you can throw hundreds of millions at a team and it can still stink. If I were him, I may wait for a better choice.

The Cavs actually have the most upside with LeBron and valuable cap room. But can you really see Phil in Cleveland? I mean, I suppose Dan Gilbert's money is enticing, but does Phil really need money? Most people in the league I talk to think he'll eventually wind up with the Lakers again but not before the Cavs get a little red-faced in wooing him.

I suppose there is no harm in it, especially since the team can't really target many GM candidates with the playoffs going on right now. And if they somehow get him, it would be the sort of splash that might sell out the season before it starts.

Trust me, even though I'm away I'm making dozens of calls on the matter daily. I'll being updating more frequently during the searches as they heat up. Until then, next stop is Denver and a Rocky Mountain high.

Take care,
Brian
bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com.


Take care,
Brian

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

So what do you want me to say?

Five days ago I thought the Cavs were in. Today I think no way. Tomorrow it could be different again.

I've been putting a lot of thought into what has happened this season, which is certainly one of the wackiest in Cleveland sports history. I have some thoughts, which I will share with you in full at the end of the season.

Here's what I know, I've decided I'm not going to assign blame to any individual or individual act. There are a number of things that got them to this point.

It would be therapeutic for the team to make the playoffs and a nice important step. But in a week and a half things all the issues with this team will still be there either way.

I give the team credit for playing hard in Washington and Detroit, but I have very little sympathy for them after wetting themselves against the Knicks. That loss is a little glaring now, eh?

So we'll save the reaction for this week and this season until it's over. Until then, here's some light reading:

Check out my season-long diary that was published in today's Beacon Journal, along with my Sunday column, which has a bunch of information about what the team would do this summer.

I'll be back soon,
Brian
bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Upon further review

UPDATE: MCINNIS, WINDHORST BURY HATCHET!

After the game in Orlando the other night, J-Mac approached me and said he was sorry for the things he'd been saying to me. On his own, no less. Harumpf! I told him OK, it was too bad that he became enraged about something I wrote. He said the bad PR really hurt him in his contract year and I told him bad PR means nothing if you keep playing the way you are, that's what will get you paid. So we'll try to stay out of each other's way the rest of the season.

Say what you will about this being the pros, it is very much like any CYO team. When the team is winning, things are grand, when they're losing, things are bad. Even with the beat writers.

It is sort of like my favorite writer, George Will (no, I don't agree with all his politics) and his feeling about the designated hitter. He once felt it was the greatest abomination on America's game since WWII forced the cancellation of the game. Now, its tradition compels the Greek conservative Will to believe the DH is a blessing to the pastime, bestowed on the rulemakers by the benevolent finger of God.

As such...

Last week, I deemed the Cavaliers an inferior and disorganized outfit that was deeply flawed and injected with such hubris that they're destiny was nothing less than a draft-pickless lottery and a summer of discontent for LeBron James, who would sit knowing he wasn't a star enough to get his team into the playoffs (again).

On second thought...I think they may be a tough-minded bunch with steely reserve and a willingness to sacrifice their individual success for the team goal of getting to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, an act that could bond some core players for the long haul.

OK, so like Will, I may be overstating on all angels. Allow me to say this, though, certainly the negativity around the team has melted away with the last few wins combined with Philly and Jersey finally losing a game. They are still flawed, aren't very good on the road, don't play consistent defense, can't make a jumper.

But it is more than that for me, I couldn't be more impressed with the way Drew Gooden has played since Zydrunas Ilgauskas went down. His discipline and drive while playing almost as many minutes as LeBron has really sold me on the guy. I cannot ignore his talent and his willingness and ability to step up has me thinking he's maturing, which is what can be taken from this stretch run.

Anderson Varejao's hustle and fearlessness is vital in close games and will be very important in the playoffs. I really don't think he's ready to be a starter in this league but he's the kind of reserve that is extremely valuable.

I don't care if he is a Silas guy, the Cavs should bring Robert Traylor back next season. He has a very reasonable salary at $1.76 million. He's too small to play center and takes to many jump shots, but he always plays with energy and always tries to keep the team upbeat.

As a whole, the team has really impressed me with how much they want to make the postseason. You could just see it in the way they played in Philly and Orlando, they fought very hard and played without fear, something that has really been lacking on the road for the whole second half of the season. I mean, did you notice how many "and 1s" they had against the Magic? Like, probably, six. That means they're going to the basket and they're going hard.

So here's way I'm saying: This team has warts, but don't let me or anyone convince you that this was a failed season. There was an ownership change and a coaching change and that messed some stuff up and they underachieved for awhile. But no Cleveland team has made it to the playoffs in three years and the Cavs haven't been there in seven. That's something to hang your hat on.

Think of the way it will look in the the history books:

2002-03: 17-65
(LEBRON)
2003-04: 35-47
2004-05: 4X-3X
2005-06: 5X-2x?

By the way, these were the Bulls w/Michael Jordan
1983-84: 27-55
(JORDAN)
1984-85: 38-44
1985-86: 30-52
1986-87: 40-42
1987-88: 50-32

Take care all,
Brian
bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com

p.s. Can you tell the first back-to-back days off in a month has allowed me to get some sleep?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Nothing but blue skies and gray hopes

Orlando -- Woke up this morning, ate Cherrios, went to shootaround at the O-rena (I know it's called the TD Waterhouse Centre, but it'll always be the O-rena to me). Jeff McInnis wore his practice jersey backwards (just for me?), then proceeded to curse me out on sight and swore to continue doing so for the rest of his life. All for a two-sentence note I wrote two weeks ago that was true, because he told me so. When I reminded him I've written about 20 times as many positive things about them as negative, he swore at me again. I'll continue to act like a professional, even if the crabby millionaire won't. I understand, after all, I'm his biggest problem.

Then I had to check the pulse of Drew Gooden, who was rumored to have been killed in an auto accident last night. The news was being reported on radio stations in Orlando and Cleveland. I found him alive, in good health, and good spirits. He said he was watched Napoleon Dynamite at his house here.

Afterward, played putt-putt golf with fellow beat writers. Mary Schmidt Boyer of Cleveland Plain Dealer netted four aces and Bob Finnan, the only non-golfer in the group, proved to have a steady stroke. But neither could deal with my stinging consistency as I was victorious by eight strokes (that's right, Boyer had four aces and I still was undaunted).

It's sunny here and currently sunny in Cavsland because they actually won a game on Saturday. I scoffed at it, it was fool's gold. My belief in the team's chances has waned considerably because I flat out have no faith in their defense, especially since the All-Star Break. They used to play good team defense in the fourth quarter early in the season, but they've dropped a lot of the principles that got them to 11 games over .500. They don't challenge, they don't rotate, and they don't help consistently.

There are plenty of reasons for this, some which lay at Paul Silas' feet and the players willingness to help each other. Even in beating Milwaukee, when they held them to 81 points, it was more because the Bucks couldn't run pick and rolls because Joe Smith was out with injury and Desmond Mason got ejected. Also, Michael Redd and his teammates were out there freelancing and taking jumpers, letting the Cavs get long rebounds and run.

When the Cavs score, they can beat anyone. That's what LeBron James does best and when he's at his best, like Saturday, he's almost unbeatable. I will admit, it was quite a show even for those of us that see him everyday. But he can't do that every night, especially on the road where he doesn't shoot as well. I may have to take this back later, but I don't see any light for this team as it is currently constructed. I know that is a chance in stance from my thoughts earlier, but we all know this is a changed team.

For more on the Cavaliers current state and what life is like for Brendan Malone, read by Sunday Column.

Take care all,
Brian aka bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com

Friday, April 08, 2005

These are savage times

A sampling of recent e-mails/comments:

"Hey Windhorst, if you spent less time eating and more time updating your blog everyone would appreciate it." -- Matt Neff

" There are three factors involved in appreciating New Orleans: 1. Bourbon Street is NOT what New Orleans is all about. It's what it's all about for tourists who visit New Orleans. There are cool places in the Quarter, but none of them are on Bourbon and tourists don't know about most of them. 2 . The place grows on you and grows on you -- after a while, you don't even notice the fact that it's run down and dirty because it has so many other charming qualities. 3. What New Orleans IS about is life, and how it should be lived. It's about being cordial to strangers, having good friends, slowing down and enjoying life and a good meal. It's about art and culture and quirkiness. It's about France and Spain and America, about black and white and everything in between. It's quite simply the best city I've ever lived in and you can bet that I'll retire there in about 20 years -- 15 if I'm lucky." -- Jim Banks.

"Here comes that (blanking) Mr. (blanking) negative mother(blanker) Windhorst" -- Jeff McInnis at practice the other day

"Hey, I really enjoy your blog," guy on Continental Airlines Flight 2952 yesterday.

Can't you just feel the love? And I'm supposed to be in freaking Philadelphia, city of, well nevermind.

Things are going just wonderfully in Cavalierland. Jeff McInnis officially hates me because I correctly wrote he was wearing his practice jersey backward to send a message that he no longer cared about the team. He now curses me out just about every time he sees me. Brendan Malone knows he doesn't stand a chance with anything -- his players, his owners, or the media -- so he's doing his best to just finish out the season so he can focus on the real love of his life...baseball. No, that's not a joke. Dan Gilbert is being questioned by everyone from LeBron James to Pete Vecsey for his actions since taking over the team.

With the exception of three or four players, I don't think the Cavaliers really care about making the playoffs - read about all the laughing on the bench here - and they're certainly tired of seeing me around everyday. I think LeBron cares, I think Eric Snow cares, I think Andy Varejao cares, I think Z probably cares, after that I'm not sure. Drew Gooden will follow the crowd. I'm not sure Sasha Pavlovic has emotions. I'm pretty sure Jeff McInnis, Lucious Harris, Robert Traylor, Scott Williams, DeSagana Diop, they all know they're gone and are making vacation plans. Or at least they're playing that way. Ira Newble seems cool either way.

I haven't been blogging much because I'd prefer to think about what has happened to this team as little as possible. Frankly, they're not that pleasant to be around, certainly much less than last season when they were a losing team the whole way.

As a member of the media, we don't have rooting interests. In fact, when a team is going bad like they are now, it often makes for some of the best stories. But the real issue is that if the team is awful, then they become irrelevant and if they become irrelevant, fans don't care. That hurts the fan and it hurts the reporter.

Since Gilbert took over the Cavaliers my enthusiasm to see what happens with the franchise has been completely zapped. Now, I'm wondering just how they can avoid totally screwing it up. The Cavaliers have become a mess, the thing they worked hard to emerge from when the got James and Paul Silas. They will fire Jim Paxson as I wrote last week in my Sunday Column before Stephen A. Smith started spouting falsehoods. So that means a new GM, a new coach, or a new GM/coach and $25 million in cap room to deal with this summer. Some would see that as a chance for a fresh start, my current thinking is that it is a chance to screw everything up even more. So, what of LeBron's future? I don't think anything more has to be said at this point. The clock is ticking quickly.

Look at what wins in the NBA: A star, stability, character role players and defense. This is what the Spurs have, this is what the Pistons have, this is what the Heat have, this is even what the Sonics have. Yet there is no stability whatsoever in the Cavalier organization and I don't think I have to mention the lack of role players or defense. All they have is a star, one that is growing more upset by the day. They win when they shoot well, which is why they only win at home. When they don't shoot well they have no chance because they can't play defense.

This is the end of the season, when teams fall into two categories, those rising and those falling. Last season, even though they missed the playoffs, the Cavs were rising. Now, well, I think you know. It is also the time when players, coaches and even snarly beat writers get sick of it all.

Take care,
Brian