Brian Windhorst and the Sportzshala insider team dig into life and news in the NBA world and beyond.
Minutes before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first home game last month, club owner Dan Gilbert addressed the players in the locker room.
He opened up about pre-season excitement before getting serious and telling them about his eldest son, Nick Gilbert. NBA fans may remember Nick from the 2011 draft lottery when he was the team’s stage representative and good luck charm. When the Cavs won the lottery that night to pick Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall, 14-year-old Nick declared, “What’s not to like?”
Nick has neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves. For Nick, they have always grown in his brain. He fought them all his 26 years, and this battle was difficult.
Dan, who was in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke in 2019, said Cavs players Nick had needed three different brain surgeries over the past two months.
“He’s a fighter,” Dan said, which was shown on team series on YouTube “Return trip”.
And he fights.
The team dedicated the 2022–2023 season to Nick and the players wore a bow tie sticker in warm-ups as a nod to Nick’s signature tie. The bow tie he wore in the 2011 lottery is credited by the Cavs as the reason they won the lottery again in 2013 and 2014 and moved up to the No. 3 draft in 2021 when they received young star Evan Mobley. It was present in everyone, even when he was not around.
Uniting around Nick is another link for this Cavs team, which has been slowly and purposefully building a wonderful team culture over the past few years that has been the backbone of its 8-2 start.
This, of course, is not a new concept, but wanting this and selling this culture are completely different realities. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff sold this to his team, and perhaps best of all it epitomizes honor after wins, which he conceived as a unifying force.
Halfway through last season, Bickerstaff introduced the Junkyard Dog award, which is given to the player who was the most cocky and hungriest player in a win. It was accompanied by a deliberately ridiculous oversized gold chain perfect for press conferences and social media posts.
This is also not a new idea, but it is much less important than the purchase. Receiving this award was a big event in the Cavs locker room and therefore a competition on the floor during games. It goes to players who dive to the floor, take a vital charge, or provide a big bounce.
On Sunday night, after a road win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Bickerstaff was about to announce the bounty and reached into the bounty bag to find it was empty. It was then that Kevin Love, now in his ninth season with the team, roared and revealed that the players had flipped the tables and given the chain to their coach after an emotional halftime speech fired up the Cavs defense. Bickerstaff had to blink away tears.
— NBA (@NBA) November 7, 2022
All of this may sound a little fake to adult multimillionaires. But the connections are also present in more tangible ways.
When Donovan Mitchell arrived in the summer after a major exchange, he did his homework on how the inner life of the Cavs works. Possibly sensitive that he had issues with former Utah Jazz teammates, Mitchell came in with an attitude about the team that immediately impressed Cavs players, team sources said.
Cavs players, coaches, and front office staff observed that Mitchell was not selfish in preseason practice from the start of the season, with many team members saying they thought it helped him fit in. When All-Star defenseman Darius Garland went down in Game 1 with an eye injury, Mitchell’s transition to a more prominent leadership role went smoothly.
Mitchell was one of the best players in the Eastern Conference in the first month of the season, averaging 31.4 points and shooting 49.2%, a career high.
The team’s cohesiveness is evident in its collective second-place defense in the league and how it has had a great start despite some injuries. The main four of Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Jarrett Allen spent a total of 28 minutes together in the first eight games due to various injuries.
Everything is set for a surprise big game on Friday when the Cavs visit their old foe, the Golden State Warriors. For the first time in the five seasons since LeBron James left the Cleveland, the game made real sense. It’s also been 25 seasons since the Cavs made the playoffs with a team without him, and it looks like that streak may finally be broken.
Speaking of the Warriors, here’s an NBA reporter. Tim Bontemps on a brewing question for the defending champions:
The fountain of youth is both fruitful and troublesome for Warriors
The Golden State came into Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings 4-7, which was shocking. The fact that the Warriors were leading 4-7 with their starting five of Stephen Curry, Clay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney leading by 26.2 points per 100 possessions was incredible.
Why is Golden State struggling? He runs off the court when his young men come into play.
Over the summer, the Warriors decided not to sign veteran benches Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II and Nemanja Belitsa, who played minutes in the 2022 NBA Finals. In doing so, the Warriors have sent a clear signal that the team’s continued pairing of veteran core and young talent (namely Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Jonathan Cuminga and Moses Moody) will take it one step further.
Pool, a rising star who received a $140 million extension last month from Golden State, is down 97 points for the season, ranking 447th out of 448 players. Kuminga minus 59, 432 in the league. Wiseman, who didn’t play on Monday, is down 69 in just 137 minutes.
What’s particularly troubling for Golden State is that, aside from back-up defenseman Donte Di Vincenzo’s missed time due to a left hamstring injury, the Warriors were relatively healthy by the start of the season.
In other words: there is no cavalry riding to the aid of defending champions.
Where can Golden State go next? In the short term, doing nothing may be the right approach. Wiseman, in particular, needs to play, having played just over 1,000 minutes of NCAA and NBA playing time since starting his first season in Memphis.
But can Golden State allow its youth to train in the workplace while competing for a championship? Warriors coach Steve Kerr said last week his rotation would be changed, but after previewing those changes during Saturday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s unclear what Kerr’s end product will be.
This leaves one more possibility: the trading market.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine the Warriors making such a turn away from their young players. Too much time, money and sweat has been invested in them.
But at the end of the day, the NBA is a profitable business. And if the second division continues to struggle while the starters shine, difficult decisions may arise.
NBA Reporter Winning Number One (!) Utah Jazz Tim McMahon:
Mike Conley will not tolerate any jazz tank talk.
As wise meme once asked, “What’s going on in Utah?”
The short answer is much more winning than expected for a franchise that went into a sudden recovery last summer.
“If they’re going to lose, they should get rid of me too.” – Conley, the only Utah player last season who did not have traded last offseason, Sportzshala told.
Conley smiled broadly when he made this statement, but there is some truth in the joke. Jazz veterans realize that Danny Ainge and the front office are focused on building the future after a thunderous influx of draft capital topped the trading profits for former franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
But there’s an opinion in the Jazz dressing room that they’re good enough to win now, and a 9-3 start provided strong evidence that they were right. These players – a combination of last season’s leftovers and recent trading arrivals – take pleasure in proving the naysayers wrong in predicting that Utah would have the best lottery odds of receiving French phenom Victor Wembanyama.
Conley, who is a few months older than 34-year-old rookie head coach Will Hardy, describes the Jazz’s vibe as “loose, fun and really brash.” This is in stark contrast to last season, when the Jazz had chemistry issues and the pressure of inflated expectations.
The Jazz lack star power, though Mitchell is replacing Lauri Markkanen (21.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and the rest of the Utah Jordan Clarkson (17.9 ppg, 5.3 assists) is thriving in bigger roles, showing the best results in your career. Opponents and scouts are in awe of how hard and selflessly this hodgepodge plays for Hardy.
“It’s a completely different team,” says Conley. “We have something harsh, mean and carefree at the same time.”
Here’s an insider from the NBA front office Bobby Marks with some free tips:
On the net I speak, I make mistakes, I type from experience
Despair: The deadliest word in the front office lexicon.
I have a lot of experience with this word when I worked in the Brooklyn Nets front office.
The examples are endless:
Failed trade for All-Star Carmelo Anthony that led to Deron Williams.
The Gerald Wallace trade (and the lightly defended lottery pick that became Damian Lillard) after Dwight Howard left him at the altar.
Potential five-year maximum contract with Williams despite concerns over whether he could become the face of the Nets franchise.
But how can you turn down a player you’ve pledged part of the future to acquire? (We don’t need to go into details about…