CLEVELAND — For people who think the Bulls have it bad in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season ending prematurely, please consider the case of the Cavaliers.
Cleveland is 4-12 to start a season in which there were playoff expectations following the re-hiring of head coach Mike Brown, drafting No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and acquiring the likes of veterans Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark in free agency to pair with the young nucleus of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, second-year shooting guard Dion Waiters, power forward Tristan Thompson and center Tyler Zeller, as well as holdover big man Anderson Varejao.
Instead, the Cavaliers are floundering on both offense and defense under Brown, Irving is having a rough start to the year, Bynum has predictably struggled to remain healthy, Bennett has been historically bad for a top draft pick and after a reported confrontation with both Irving and Thompson at a team meeting following his demotion to the second unit, Waiters is the subject of trade rumors.
Not exactly the way to entice former franchise player LeBron James — who spent Thanksgiving in his nearby hometown in Akron when the Heat won in Quicken Loans Arena over the holiday — to return next summer.
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Veteran power forward Carlos Boozer, who began his career in Cleveland, shared his perspective on the Cavs’ struggles before the Bulls’ morning shootaround Saturday, in advance of the team’s game in the evening.
“Look, for me personally, I’ve been in the league a long time. Rumors are always going to fly. Usually, there’s a little bit of truth to it. Sometimes there’s not much weight behind it, but as a player, you’ve got to keep playing. You never know, when you’re struggling and things aren’t going well, the team is always trying to improve. It’s part of the business. This is an incredible, incredible dream that we’re living right now, but it is also a big business,” Boozer explained to CSNChicago.com. “So for those guys, just play hard and whatever happens is meant to happen. I can’t really speculate on what’s going on with them. I don’t really know well enough. But at the same time, it’s part of our business. Teams swap players all the time, thinking that piece might be the piece to their puzzle or what have you. Sometimes it could be a better opportunity, sometimes it could be a worse opportunity. But that’s out of their control. I think players get traded all the time and most of the time, it’s not in your control.
“They are very talented. I think coming into the season, I would say they would be a playoff team. I don’t know what seed they would be, but Kyrie, by far is one of the best guards we have in the game. You look at Bynum, he’s one of the best centers we have in the game — when he’s healthy, of course — and they have a bunch of young guys around them who can play. C.J. Miles is very talented and has had big games, Tristan Thompson’s come a long way, playing very well, and Dion Waiters has been a scorer,” he continued. “So when you looked at them before the season started, you said, ‘Yeah, this could be a playoff team in the East.’”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had a less philosophical take on Cleveland’s start to the campaign.
“When you dig deeper into their record and their season, they’ve had a heavy road schedule, they’ve had some injuries and their Miami game here, they played very well. They’ve got three losses at home. One’s to Miami and they have another loss to San Antonio, so they’ve had a couple tough home games. But this team is very, very talented,” the coach said. “[Irving is] an elite point guard and I think when you look at their perimeter, especially when they play Jack along with Irving and Waiters, you’ve got three guys who can go off the dribble, so it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
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All-Star small forward Luol Deng, one of the supposed targets of the Waiters trade rumors, concurred: “It’s still a good team at home. They’ve lost to some good teams. It’s been tough for them on the road. But I think they’re 3-3 or something like that at home, so they’re a very good team at home.”
Deng, like Boozer and Irving, a Duke product, also gave his opinion on Irving, who emerged as one of the NBA’s best young talents last season, but has struggled with his shot and ball security, as well as reportedly having issues with both Waiters and Brown, his coach.
“It’s just early in the season, man,” Deng told CSNChicago.com. “I still think he’s had games where he showed how good he is. Sometimes when a team’s struggling a little bit, it kind of plays a role into guys not playing as well. If they’re losing by a lot and he doesn’t play the fourth, it’s just different games. But I still think he’s as good as he was last year.”