Arise: Young Bennett & the Cleveland Cavaliers


David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

There are some terrible places in this world. . . places no man should ever wish to go. Places like the shadowy, festering depths of an Alcatraz Penitentiary confinement cell, or the most financially and militarily depressed regions of North Korea. . .

But there is no place more horrific on this planet—more weathered, beaten and terror-stricken, than the mind of a man who perceives himself to be a loser. A man who wakes up every day depressed and weary, knowing without any doubt that he is about to serve another small portion of his miserable existence.

This man, whomever he may be—there are millions—is beaten, not by the world in most cases, but by himself. He has been defeated by his mind. First, the world or, more particularly, its inhabitants beat him—once, or a thousand times, before the world beat the man’s mind. Beat it so mercilessly that he could take it no longer, and the mind eventually turned on its owner, leaving him forever defeated.

This man lives everywhere, on every corner of the mighty earth; this man is a loser, because he has allowed himself to be beaten. At some point, he quit standing back up. Quit shaking off the jabs.

For much of this NBA season, Anthony Bennett has been faced with the threat of becoming one of these poor, beaten losers. Let me amend that, actually—he wasn’t poor in any literal sense. He was the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and as a result: he is a member of the financial one percent. But even so, the world nevertheless sought to make a loser of him.

It began with the first game of the NBA season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. . . Young Bennett bumbled, stumbled and slipped his way to just two points in his professional debut, both of those duckets coming from the foul line.

The next three games, things worsened: Young Bennett posted three straight goose eggs in the points area of the box scores, and he matched that with six personal fouls.

He looked like he had never played the game of basketball in his life. Like he was pulled out of the nearest barroom due to his gargantuan size and told, “Hey, you look like you might be able to play some basketball. Here’s a uniform, dork.”

The Cavaliers won that first game at home against the Brooklyn Nets, but as Bennett continued to slip, so too did the Cavaliers. The team as a whole entered a torrential maelstrom of ugliness and pitiful play, and less than two weeks ago, they were the foremost laughing stock of mainstream sports media. ESPN was having their way with the Young Cavaliers. . . that’s right, droves of middle-aged men whose greatest basketball feats have taken place behind the grips of video game controllers, were calling these guys a bunch of lerps, and saying they didn’t have “what it takes.”

And then just six days ago, on the morning of Feb. 6, 2014, the storm suddenly turned at the nudge of Cleveland Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert, the charismatic midget with the mind of a mad dog, and a business sense shrewder than the The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort.

Gilbert fired Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant. In Grant’s place: he shoved the team’s Vice President of Basketball Operations, David Griffin. It all seemed like a cruel joke. A lot like, “Well yes, Chris Grant did recently pull a trade that bagged all-star forward Luol Deng for a giant philanderer and a mythical bag of prospects that will likely amount to nothing, but we have nevertheless decided to fire him for Peter Griffin’s brother-in-law, David.”

In the inestimable words of Yoda: “David the Giant Slayer, he may be.”

And so he may be, Yoda. So he may be. . . .

The Cavs won their next two games, pulling themselves out of a losing skid worse than any you might find in your newborn’s soiled diaper, and they looked competent in the process. More importantly, they looked enthused—something Cavs fans and media talking heads everywhere had not seen out of them in some weeks. The rumblings of dissent began to quiet. . . there was immediately less talk of head coach Mike Brown’s offensive futility. At one point during that second win, Kyrie Irving was seen rubbing Dion Waiters’s head after a nearly fatal late game miscue.

Conspiracy theorists everywhere have been busting off insane claims in relation to this pair of players all season, even going so far as to say that Waiters punched Kyrie in the face after a loss to the Timberwolves, as evidenced by the protective mask and black eye Irving was sporting a game later. . .

Well I have something to tell you, Joe: Tonight at Quicken Loans Arena the Cavaliers faced off against the Sacramento Kings, a team that had blown them clear into the Pacific Ocean by more than 40 points not long ago. . . and I’ll tell you another thing: You know what the Cavs did to them, tonight?

They broke their balls, Boyo.

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters played off of each other in the way they have always been meant to—sharing the ball, taking shots in rhythm most of the time, aside from the given four or five moments when Waiters decided to haphazardly jack up a long ball against everyone’s wishes, much like Happy Gilmore launching his putter. Waiters is never afraid to shoot—some call that selfishness or idiocy, but anyone with a sense of the game can tell that it’s something quite different: toughness. And confidence.

Tristan Thompson compiled a tough game inside: scoring, defending and rebounding—easily containing Kings forward Derrick Williams in the process. Yes, the same Derrick Williams who was taken two picks ahead of him in the 2011 NBA Draft.

It wasn’t all bean bags and bong rips, though. . . DeMarcus Cousins played a fairly dominant game for the Men in Purple, posting a stat line of 21 points and 10 rebounds with relative ease. He was the biggest, strongest man on the floor, and the writer of this article should know, because the floor was exactly where he found himself in the second half, due to luck and a good friend. You don’t believe me? Well, I can’t say that I blame you, but here’s a picture to prove it:

There you go, wise guy. Not knowing what she was doing, a kindly arena attendant improved my view to a spot right behind the Cavaliers’ bench in the second half. She never could have known what an awful move this could have been on her part, had I been more inebriated. . .

Anyway, the Sacramento Kings are a pretty tough team—don’t let the press clippings fool you. They have talent, but like the Cavaliers, for much of this season they haven’t been able to piece their talent together in a way that offers them anything more than some fierce highlights, and their 17 current wins. But Cousins is an animal. Rudy Gay is said to be a useful scorer, or at least he was said to be a useful scorer early in his career, because tonight he offered little more than a fat bag of turnovers and whack shots when the ball found its way into his hands.

Like Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas is one of the best young point guards in the league. . . the big issue with this, is that he isn’t a big issue. He’s the size of an 8th grader. For this, he can blame his father, in much the same way that the entire country blamed Isiah Thomas, the Former, for the Knicks being the most disappointing team in professional basketball during his reign as their President. He may have given his son an extra “a” in his name, but no amount of finagling could offer him that extra inch he so desperately desires.

It appears I’ve lost myself in this raving. This is what happens when, as a fan, I try talking about the other team. But I have good news: that other team (The Sacramento Kings of Crunk) was waylaid by the Cleveland Cavaliers from the first quarter onward tonight. Mike Brown threw the kitchen sink at the Kings, and rather than ducking away in Kingly fashion, the Men in Purple took the porcelain to the face, and had half of their collective teeth knocked out.

Luol Deng, the British-African-American phenom of a forward who was given to the Cavs for that philanderer—Bynum—played with such swagger tonight that there were moments when some thought they noticed him hobbling around the court with a pimp’s cane securely in hand. He dominated the first half with 11 points and a buckshot of a fine jumpers, and he had an unlikely sidekick. . . it was the “loser.” The “bust.” The kid—that’s right, kid: he’s 20-years-old for God’s sake—whom everyone has been writing off as the biggest draft bust of all time. “Worse than Kwame Brown,” they’ve said. “Inept,” they’ve said. “Unconfident,” they’ve said. Well guess what?

None of those words mattered tonight. Anthony Bennett, who I assume has been working with an in-house sports psychologist to rid his mind of that sneaking loser that’s been trying to creep into it. . . Anthony Bennett played ball like a grown man tonight.

He hit threes—tore down boards—beat his chest like the King of Turkey, and put the ball in the hole on plays where he was fouled, something that was absolutely improbable not one month ago. Anthony Bennett played like a top-flight professional basketball player tonight, and though he still wandered around the floor a bit timidly at times—still fell on his rump and had balls bounce of his fingertips—he offered quiet dominance.

The score was 55-43 in favor of the Cavaliers after two quarters. These numbers had a kindly look to them, but what was far more impressive: Kyrie Irving had just seven of those points.

During Kyrie’s first two professional seasons, the Cavs having 53 at the half with that meager a scoring contribution out of Irving was mostly unheard of. An urban legend, much like the legend of the Great Cleveland Hero, Charles Ramsey I. Tonight this first half scoring myth was brought to life, though, because of a combined 22 points out of the Bennett-Deng duo, and strong play from Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and reserve rookies Matthew Dellavedova and Henry Sims. All three rookies performed like veterans in the early-going.

But with a score of 55-43 on the Quicken Loans Arena Jumbotron at half, and the arena less than half full, things got even stranger. . . the writer of this article somehow found himself in the personal viewing box of Dan Gilbert himself—eating more free sushi than anyone wanted him to, stuffing meatball subs into his pockets, and drinking all the free beer they would let him put his hands on. He had the look of an uneducated criminal, perhaps even a vagrant, but he was there, and before he knew it, he was sitting courtside for the second half. Oh, you don’t believe him, again. Well then, here’s a picture of the back of Austin Carr’s skull!

And yes, this picture is filed under the name, “Austin Carr’s Skull.jpg,” so don’t ask anymore questions about it. Yes, the writer of this article sat courtside in the second half for some unknown and highly irresponsible reason, and what did he see?

He saw minor greatness out of the Cavaliers for the first time this year. From up close, this Cavaliers offense didn’t look anything like all the speculators and fans have been making it out to be throughout the first half of the season. They’ve been calling it things like “trash,” and “a joke,” and “worse than Michael Sam’s chances of making his teammates feel comfortable within the confines of an NFL locker room.”

Tonight, the Cavaliers offense was none of these things. Tonight, the Cavaliers offense was fluid. Quick. Aggressive. Simple yet complex in its sweeping movements, and the gigantic buggers running it were scoring the ball!

As stated previously, Quicken Loans Arena appeared to be less than half full tonight, but during certain moments late in the game, you might never have known it. There was one, particular, shining moment with under five minutes left in the game when the place erupted like Mount Vesuvius with a vicious case of indigestion. This is what happened: Kyrie Irving brought the ball down the floor with comfortable speed. As he approached the three point arc, he looked to his right for a moment at Dion Waiters, before turning and confidently tossing the ball into the waiting hands of Anthony Bennett. Bennett, without the jerky hesitation that has defined much of his season, turned and hoisted that sucker into the air like he has actually been playing basketball for most of his life, the sphere dropped through the cylinder, and Bennett ran down the floor smiling and tossing his hands in the air like he just exposed Peyton Manning’s noodle arm in the Super Bowl.

The Kings immediately called a timeout, and the place went buck wild.

The game was, essentially, over then and there, sealed by the newly-rediscovered confidence of Young Anthony Bennett, coupled with the confidence that his similarly young point guard placed in him. Around the same time, Bennett put the finishing touches on the first double-double of his professional career. In short: the tide at the Q turned like Poseidon himself had swatted a blue whale into next week.

The Cavaliers won 109-99 in a revenge game that they appeared to want very badly, and in doing so: they displayed the vigor of a pride of bloodthirsty lions. The writer of this article drank free beer, sat courtside, and ended up shaking the hand of Fred McCleod and high-fiving Austin Carr as he left his seat.

On this same day, the Browns fired Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, and the pitchers and catchers of the Cleveland Indians reported for duty in Arizona. Today in Cleveland sports, the only loser was: Lombanner.

Finally in Cleveland, as the mighty Hunter S. Thompson used to say all too often, “the worm is beginning to turn.”