During the summer of 2010, as the drill sergeant of a head coach in Byron Scott was being introduced to the Cleveland media, he envisioned a Cavaliers team that would get up the floor and do so with the utmost efficiency. Surely, it was an indirect sales pitch at LeBron James who, entering free agency at the time, was said to be deflated by the half-court sputtering of former head coach Mike Brown. Nevertheless, Scott had a utopian scenario where his team would hit the ground running; they would never lose a game due to fatigue.
“I can’t let go of my roots,” said Scott. “I want to run [on offense]. We’ll still run some Princeton but emphasis is to get up & down floor.”
The only hurdles were the names which littered the roster he had just inherited. Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison were veterans who, despite careers which extended into their mid-30s, simply were not of the transition basketball mold. The options at small forward were Jawad Williams, Jamario Moon and (eventually) Joey Graham. Mo Williams, though having made an All-Star game alongside LeBron James, was not a player who was known for creating his own shot.
When I asked him point blank if he felt these players could fit the mold he desired, Scott confirmed. Call it company line, misjudging, or simply not wanting to suck any remaining life out of the situation at hand, but the new head was assuredly wrong. This team would go on to set depressing records, producing efficiency figures that were essentially compounded by increased pace of play. Needless to say, if Scott was in fact of the belief that his inherited team could meet his expectations, he found out the hard way that this was certainly going to take some time.
Enter Kyrie Irving. Enter Alonzo Gee. Enter Tristan Thompson. And now, enter Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, one of the best shooting guards in the 2012 draft class as well as a big man — a much-needed one at that — who can run the floor as well as any of his peers. A vision was there at the start, and now, a mere two drafts (and a D-League gem) later, the core of the Cleveland Cavaliers is starting to take shape.
Every player who had his name called on Thursday night has a fault or question mark of some sort — Waiters and Zeller are no exceptions. There were no private workouts to be had when it comes to last night’s fourth-overall selection. Though he hit 36 percent of his three-pointers during his sophomore campaign, can he be a threat at this distance in the NBA? We won’t know for sure until the team’s newest lottery addition takes the floor. What we do know is that his body and game are NBA-ready and that Byron Scott sat proudly during his post-draft address with general manager Chris Grant, stating that he was ecstatic that the Syracuse product was available to them on this very evening.
“Ultimately, we had to make a decision what was best for us and best for this organization,” said Grant. “With all the information, we felt very comfortable.
“We had a very good day today in Cavalierland.”
Grant, though chasitized by some for taking a player who never made the trip to Cleveland1, confirmed that he did more homework on Waiters — game, personality, desire — than any player who he has ever had a hand in selecting for an NBA employer. He has close friends at various levels, all of whom were of the iteration that the 6-foot-4-inch wing was just what the numbers-savvy general manager needed to continue the ascent back up the Eastern Conference standings.
A 20-year old who is praised for his ability to get to the rim but can also run the offense in times when Irving is given rest, Waiters — and all of his four percent body fat — will arrive as a phyisically gifted player on the offensive end and an opportunity-creating defender. Boasting a much-needed mean streak, Waiters will compliment his high-level abilities during pick-and-roll and transition situations with a disruptive, constant-motion brand of defense. Running a fast-paced offense with a player like Waiters in tow versus the catch-and-shoot stylings of an Anthony Parker, should only serve to provide higher levels of not only excitement, but execution.
Certainly, fans who are not blown away by Grant’s decision will monitor the box scores of the high-powered Golden State Warriors offense to see what Harrison Barnes did the night before. Proponents of Thomas Robinson will watch to see if his game can develop in Sacramento2. Even the one Andre Drummond fan will say “I told you so” at the first sign of life. But with Anthony Parker’s retirement, Daniel Gibson’s contract status and Anderson Varejao’s age, selecting players who draft pundits had as the second-best players at their respective positions is barely a “reach” when you factor in team need as well as style of play3.
On Friday afternoon, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller will both make their first visit to the city of Cleveland. Two summers ago, Byron Scott verbally depicted the architecture which would be put in place for his basketball team, an increased pace of play that focuses on work ethic and execution. The two worlds will collide in just a few short months as the confident Waiters and the NBA paint-ready Zeller become two intergral pieces in this team’s long term blueprint.
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)