You’ve seen most of the details by now, but while we were talking about Bro Cruises and Pipefitting Unions, Grantland’s Bill Simmons used his entire most recent podcast to talk about all things Cleveland Cavaliers. For nearly 50 minutes, he and ESPN NBA analyst Brian Windhorst discussed LeBron James and David Blatt’s relationship, how Kevin Love fits in with the Cavs (and his future wearing the wine and gold), and Cleveland’s odds heading into the playoffs, among others.
To begin the podcast, Simmons claimed that James bit off more than he could chew in his return to Cleveland. In response, Windhorst said, “It wasn’t just me who felt that way, LeBron also felt that way.” James even told Windhorst, “this is a really big job. This is going to be the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my career,” following the Cavaliers 19-20 start to the season. James even questioned David Blatt as a coach early on.
Along with questioning Blatt, James also was noticing things about his new teammates.
“At the beginning of the season, LeBron could not believe how much of a ball hog Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were,” Windhorst said. “The first night (following the third game of the season), he got so frustrated, in Portland, that LeBron just stood over in the corner”.
Following his frustration, James told Irving that he had to stop playing so much like a ball hog. James then took the ball and began to play point guard so he could show Irving how to do it.
Best thing that could have ever happened to Kyrie’s career is LeBron being the PG. “His destiny is to be used as a Tony Parker-type guard,” Simmons said.
James wants Irving to be the best point guard in the NBA. From Windhorst:
“The most excited guy in the building when Kyrie scored 55 and 57 points was LeBron because he has never seen that before and has never had a scorer-like teammate like that.”
Both Simmons and Windhorst are very impressed with Irving’s transformation this season. Windhorst stated he was disappointed with his play and as a leader last year but Irving has redeemed himself. The only other team where James has had a world-class scorer like Irving was in 2011, with Dwayne Wade as his wingman. Besides Wade, James has never had a player that could take over a game like Irving, where James can just sit back and basically watch.
Then came James’ relationship with Blatt. The fact that Blatt was a “new guy” in the NBA, many did not know how his career would start in Cleveland, especially since he would be under so much pressure to win a title. Blatt wanted to install a Princeton-type offense, but that quickly changed.
“The Princeton offense that David Blatt installed in the preseason, they just threw that out. What typically happens—and this has been happening for like three months now—is LeBron will take the ball, and LeBron will call the play. David Blatt will see what play LeBron calls, and he will repeat it to the team. That happens on a regular basis.”
The only time that Blatt really calls the plays is when he draws them up in timeouts, and that is not always Blatt either. Either Blatt, Tyronn Lue, and/or James draw up plays in timeouts.
Both Simmons and Windhorst have both noticed that most of the stuff James does toward the bench is directed at Lue and goes completely past Blatt, almost like Lue is the head coach (Windhorst has noticed this for months). Lue would even call timeouts (most assistants do not do that).
According to Windhorst, advanced scouts that he has talked to have never seen anything like what goes on on the Cavaliers’ bench. As a side note, Blatt was very angry when Windhorst approached him about this topic.
According to Simmons, Cleveland’s biggest problem was that they had the wrong types of players on the team – two ball-dominant guards (Irving and Dion Waiters), multiple power forwards (included James in that mix), and no true center (following the Anderson Varejao injury).
To go along with the Varejao injury, Simmons had the following:
“The Varejao extension was the dumbest thing the team has done all year. Didn’t even see if he could play two straight months.”
Then came the trades to acquire Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert. Simmons did not think Mozgov would have the kind of impact he would have and realized that Smith has rejuvenated himself since putting on the wine and gold. Also, he believes that it was addition by subtraction when they traded away Waiters. He even made fun of the New York Knicks when talking about the trade because they gave away Smith and Shumpert for almost nothing.
During the season, Blatt did not have the depth that he thought he had. He even had to rely on Joe Harris and Matthew Dellavedova in key stretches at the end of games early in the season. Harris even played the final 17 minutes in a game in San Antonio earlier in the season. The trades have obviously added depth to this team.
In the Mozgov deal, Windhorst could not believe that Cleveland traded away two first rounders. Although he believed that the deal with the Knicks was a grand slam, he did not agree with giving away two first round picks for Mozgov.
Following the acquisition of Mozgov, James was re-energized (was moping before then). When the Cavaliers lost in Phoenix on January 13, to fall to 19-20, Simons believed that that was almost the point of no return. In fact, he and Windhorst talked about how Love and David Griffin were having a conversation on the Suns’ practice court (right outside Cleveland’s locker room), and when Miles Plumlee, of the Suns, went to get some shots up, he walked by the two and immediately turned around because he knew something was going on. Still to this day, Windhorst, Simmons, and the rest of the media have no idea what was said in that conversation.
According to Windhorst, people in the Cavs organization were stunned when James did not want play against the Atlanta Hawks, which started his two week hiatus. Cleveland people were shocked because he has never just sat out before.
James loves playing with Mozgov, partially due to the fact that he has never played with a center like him (while the center is in his prime).
In the deal with the Knicks (to acquire Smith and Shumpert), the Cavs really wanted Shumpert but the Knicks said that if they wanted Shumpert, they also had to take Smith. James was complete opposite, he really liked Smith and thought that if they could add Shumpert in the deal with him that would be great.
Following the trades, James really loves the team’s top seven, which will most likely receive the majority of the playing time in the playoffs.
“Watching the Cavs on League Pass and stuff, you know I love the body language stuff, that was an unhappy team for awhile and it feels like it completely shifted, starting with the Mozgov trade and LeBron taking over at point guard”.
Both Simmons and Windhorst are disappointed with Kevin Love’s first season in Cleveland. Simmons believes that that they have almost transformed him into Channing Frye (outside shooting-only big man).
Windhorst went on to mention that he believes Love is hurt with a back injury and the reason why he disappears in fourth quarters is because his back stiffens up. Although Windhorst does believe there are chemistry issues, he still thinks that the biggest problem is his bad back. He believes Love needs a couple months rest to heal his back injury, which obviously will not happen until the off-season.
Simmons believes that stress has contributed to Love’s bad back.
“Minnesota to Cleveland, used out of position, playing with the most famous person on Earth, and playing under a huge spotlight in Cleveland.”
Windhorst stated, when talking about Love
“When he gives a radio interview or LeBron subtweets him, it’s on SportsCenter. That’s gotta be a new feeling for him.”
Talking about the relationship between James and Love, Simmons thought Love pushing for Russell Westbrook to win MVP was very strange. He said that teammates usually gravitate toward their own guys, but Love obviously did not do that.
Simmons does not see any scenario where Love returns to the wine and gold following this season (either if they win the championship or not). He believes Love will go to the Los Angeles Lakers because he would have the least amount of backlash solely based on the fact that he would be going home.
Windhorst, conversely, believes that Love could return to Cleveland next season but also considers the Lakers and New York Knicks as options. He explained that unlike the Lakers and Knicks, the Cavaliers have a team that can win now. Also, the wine and gold can offer Love a five-year contract, which other teams cannot do.
Coming down the home stretch of the regular season, Windhorst thinks Cleveland will be in the NBA Finals. He not only believes they are the best team in the East, but Windhorst also thinks that Love will go from zero to 100 on the excited scale when he plays in the finals, which is part of the reason why he believes Love could return to Cleveland following this season.
Simmons and Windhorst both agree that Irving and James are two of the best isolation players in the league, but that the iso-heavy offense that the Cavaliers sometime go to is their Achilles heel heading into the playoffs. From Simmons:
“One-on-one stuff is the biggest danger heading into the playoffs, outside of trying to figure out how to get Love involved.”
With the playoffs quickly approaching, the wine and gold and the city of Cleveland have a lot to look forward to. Windhorst closed:
“No matter what happens to this Cavs season, although I really do think that about six weeks ago LeBron came to a place where he thinks they can win (the title) now…the green light, the victory, is that it looks like Kyrie and Lebron are going to be a great marriage for the foreseeable future and they have Kyrie signed up to a five-year, $80 million deal starting next year and with where the cap is going, he obviously has to stay healthy, as a qualifier, but it will be one of the best contracts in the league.”