Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cavs Preview: Young Team Looking to Improve

On opening day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is one thing we know for sure about the hometown squad: They are a young team. You can see that just by looking at them, or by glancing at a roster and noticing they have four players born in the 1990s and only four born before 1987. It’s something that will certainly dictate this year’s level of success, but also provides ample opportunity for both development and improvement over the course of a full 82-game schedule.

“We have a young team and it's going to take some time for these guys to continue to grow and gel together,” head coach Byron Scott said at the team’s Flashes of Hope event last week. “They're gonna make mistakes, because they are young, but I'm excited about the direction we're headed. This team is better than the team we had last year, so we're growing.”

One of the club’s elder statesman is Daniel Gibson, born way back in 1986. He understands that having such a fresh and untested group of players makes it impossible to predict how things will play out, but that it can also be a positive thing in terms of exceeding expectations.

“When you have young guys, you really don’t know what to expect,” said Gibson. “But I think with the time that we’ve been putting in and the work that we’ve been putting in, I definitely think that we have an opportunity in front of us and enough talent to get out there and make some big things happen.”

Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson

Anderson Varejao agrees, stating that he believes the team “can surprise a lot of people.” But for Coach Scott, entering his second season, he feels the most important thing is that the team remains focused and united, regardless of how that matches up with any outside projections.

“We're going to go through our ups and downs. That's what young teams do,” said Scott. “But I think as long as we stay together and understand that this is a process and we have to continue to stay on course, we'll be OK.”

The main guy setting that tone on the floor will no doubt be Kyrie Irving — the best and youngest player on the roster — slated by many around the league to join the upper echelon of NBA athletes in only his second season. He missed the team event due to having his wisdom teeth removed earlier in the week, but it certainly didn’t quell the expectations of his teammates that were in attendance.

“I can’t wait for people to see Kyrie. I’m just mad that people only get to see him 82 games when I get to see him every day in practice,” said Gibson, unable to contain the smile plastered across his face. “He’s improved, he works his tail off every day. I’m just looking forward to it. I mean I don’t want to give it away, but I just know he’s going to take the league by storm once again. I personally believe he’s a top five point guard already.”

The other young bucks sure to receive plenty of attention are the team’s two rookie first-round picks, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

“I went through the whole training camp, and it was tough, it was really tough,” said Waiters, who was drafted fourth overall after two years at Syracuse. “But I learned a lot, it's coming to me. You just have to take your time out there and let the game come to you. I'll be more than ready.”

Zeller has impressed early on as well, earning rave reviews from players and coaches,

“The guy that’s surprised me so far is Tyler. I knew he had talent, but in order to be successful in this league you gotta have toughness,” said Gibson. “We’ve been in practice a few times and he’s been ready to go to blows with a few guys. That kind of surprised me, but to see it is refreshing. You want young guys coming in to be hungry and to have that fire in them, and he’s definitely got it.”

“Tyler is a lot more aggressive and physical than people think he is,” added Scott. “He's one of those guys that just doesn't back down from anybody. The players are getting excited about him and the fiery passion that he has about the game.”

Cavaliers players and coaches

Scott was also thrilled by the evening’s event, hosted by the Cavs and Lake Erie Monsters, which is expected to have raised more than $500,000 for Flashes of Hope and the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The Willy Wonka-themed soiree featured a fashion show of the players and coaches paired alongside children affected by pediatric cancer, as well as plenty of food, cocktails and candy.

“I love it because of the fact that it involves kids,” said Coach Scott of the event. “Most of these kids have gone through so much at an early age, and for us to have the chance to put a smile on their face makes us happy.”

As for the kids on his own roster, the head coach is interested more in progression than fulfilling any outside expectations this season.

“Our goal is to get to the playoffs,” said Scott. “But we also understand that it is a steady progression of just getting better as a young team. I’m not going to put any expectations on our guys. I just want them to continue to work every single day and get better every single day, and the rest will take care of itself.”

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