Basketball Insiders was in attendance for the Cleveland Cavaliers introductory press conference for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic.
Here are the main elements in review.
NOT TALKING ABOUT HIPS
In his second straight public appearance as Cavaliers general manager, Koby Altman did not want to speak about the negatives. Instead of focusing on a “proud day for the organization” as he prefaced before things got started, everybody’s eyes were on the condition of Isaiah Thomas. The media contingent was persistent in asking for an update and a timetable for his return, but Altman refused to budge.
“I don’t want this to be the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” Altman said adamantly. “If we want to talk about Isaiah, let’s talk about Isaiah the All-Star. Let’s talk about Isaiah, the guy that averaged 29 points a game last year.
“Let’s talk about him as a leader and what he’s going to bring to this franchise in terms of his performance on the floor when we get him back.”
The Cavaliers are keeping mum on the situation at hand, which raises the question: Do they even know when that will be? Since Altman went with the “no comment” approach, it seems as if the reports about Thomas’ torn labrum potentially holding him out for an extended period of time aren’t an exaggeration.
So what course of action is Cleveland taking to ensure the 28-year-old returns to full strength to help compete for another championship run?
“Our responsibility is to get him back to a hundred percent,” Altman said. “Our performance team has mapped out a great plan, a multi-faceted plan, to really attack this thing. Isaiah is deeply committed to that, so day-by-day as he gets better, I think we’ll have a better grasp of it. We’ll let you guys know when those thresholds are crossed, but that’s sort of all I’ll comment on that for now.”
Altman did squeak out one detail about the recovery, though.
“Our plan is a non-surgical plan.”
Thomas followed up with a tongue-in-cheek comment after being further pressed.
“Y’all hear that,” he said to the group of reporters. “Everybody want to be doctors now, damn.”
As for what he’s able to do at this point right now, Thomas relayed that he’s been getting treatment and hitting the weights.
“Like Koby said, we have a plan and we’re just going to attack that plan and get me back to 100 percent as soon as possible.”
"This is an extremely exciting day for the Cavaliers." – GM Koby Altman
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) September 7, 2017
IN THE MEANTIME
Before the blockbuster trade went down, Cleveland announced the signing of multiple veteran players to help bolster the depth of their roster.
Luckily for Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, waiting on Thomas to rehab won’t hurt too much because one of those additions is former MVP Derrick Rose, who will be counted on to hold things down for the team at point guard for the time being.
“D. Rose, who averaged 10 points in the paint last year In New York and averaged 18, 5 and 4, getting to the basket, playing with our team and the way we space the floor and the shooters we have, he will be living in the paint and be able to do that.”
Thomas is confident in his new teammate’s abilities to do so as well.
“Derrick Rose is really good,” he said. “He’s still really good and I think his peers know that more than anything.”
Jose Calderon will assume second unit duties. The soon-to-be 36-year-old has been tirelessly working in the gym since his arrival. Whether or not he’ll be able to keep up with today’s fast-paced style remains to be seen, but Lue knows the experience he brings is valuable.
“Calderon is a steady guy who is a backup, who comes in and is not going to turn the basketball over,” he said. “Great shooter, great passer.”
Whenever Thomas does return, he’ll need to be integrated into the coach’s system rather quickly as the wine-and-gold prepares for the postseason. For somebody completely new to pick up the scheme in basically a month or two, it should be demanding on both parties. Lue accepts the challenge.
“I want him to be Isaiah,” Lue said. “Don’t come in and defer and look to try to fit in. And LeBron, Kevin and those guys, they don’t want that. Come in, play his game, be aggressive, be the scorer that he is that we know can score the basketball. We’re just very excited we can get a guy that averaged 29 points a game and gets to the free-throw line, makes big shots and is not afraid of the moment. It’s big for us.
“Just come in, play your game, be who you are, and that’s what our team is all about from a team level,” he continued. “They want guys to come in and be themselves – Kyle Korver and all the new additions we’ve had over the years – they all come in and fit in well. Just be who you are and we’ll be able to adjust.”
Lue knows losing Irving is going to change things for the team, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a step back.
“We’re going to be different, but when you add an All-Star, a guy that was up for MVP, fifth in MVP votes, and you add LeBron James, who can play with anybody in the world, it’s not going to take long for those guys to click.
“Our main goal, our main focus is being healthy when the playoffs start,” he continued. “We talk about that every season, taking our time, not rushing situations, taking time off when we need time off and getting guys healthy and get the guys 100 percent because we know once we hit the playoffs, if we’re healthy, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
According to Thomas, the transition shouldn’t be so difficult. With the stars already there and the new talent joining them, it will make things easier on everybody involved.
“Like coach said, once we gel and figure things out that this is a team where I’ve watched from afar, no matter if there’s new guys on the team midway through the season, a guy like LeBron makes it that much easier for everybody else just because of how good he is and how good everybody else is.
“You can see as a team it’s really a team having fun and they’re excited about everybody’s success, you don’t get that a lot.”
— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) September 7, 2017
ABOUT THE OTHERS
Believe it or not, there were other pieces to this deal.
Surprisingly, not one question about the 2018 unprotected first-round pick via the Brooklyn Nets arose. Nobody was inclined enough to ask Altman to assess the impressive Euroleague play of Turkish forward Cedi Osman, either.
However, Jae Crowder did get plenty of encouraging words in about his new opportunity in Northeast Ohio, especially in regards to getting the chance to play together with one of his former rivals, “The King” himself.
“Well, trying to slow him down is very tough obviously,” Crowder said of limiting LeBron as an opponent. “I tried to study him. I studied play calls, as coach knows. It’s tough.
“You have to do your homework for sure and I learned that the hard way early in my career and from that point on I took it very serious, my match ups with him because he’s an incredible player and you learn to expect this by the way he approaches the game and for me to play alongside him will be pretty scary for opponents.”
As a guy who can play almost every position on the floor, Crowder will allow James to wreak havoc in those passing lanes to force turnovers, so needless to say Lue can’t wait to see the two side-by-side locking down their competition.
“Jae can always guard the tougher opponent which allows LeBron to roam, which he loves to do on defense, pick off steals and passes and anchor our defense by talking and communicating, so it’s going to be a great duo defensively and I’m excited for it.”
"Good thing I'm going with you." ?? pic.twitter.com/Y3cYns0MTy
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 7, 2017
Croatian big man Ante Zizic was the under-the-radar portion of the move. He only took the microphone once to talk about his success overseas and basically describe what he brings to the table.
“There’s a big difference between Euro style of basketball and NBA style of basketball,” he said. ‘I’d say I need just a little bit of time to acclimate this type of game. My style of game is a big guy who runs well, good defense, good rebounder. Set good screens for my teammates, making shots and layups. That’s my game.”
Altman raved over his potential.
“Ante Zizic we know pretty well through the draft process and then also scouting him this past year,” he said. “He’s a 20-year old that’s played at the highest level of the Euroleague. He’s also tough. He plays with motor and we’re excited about his growth as a young big for this franchise.”
1) Isaiah Thomas won’t be back for quite some time. It seems that it’s inevitable, but Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon will have to temporarily lead the team in their respective roles. That’s not what the fans want to hear, but it is what it is.
Call me crazy, but having Rose as the starting point guard isn’t exactly a bad thing. He can still play at a high level and contribute. Surrounding him with the talent that Cleveland has will only make him better.
2) Jae Crowder will immediately help the Cavaliers. On the floor, he’ll be a force that brings versatility and physicality to a team that has desperately needed it for years.
He’s gotten better as a shooter as his career has progressed and will only get better as he becomes a key piece to a championship-caliber squad. Crowder’s toughness should rub off on the others right away.
3) Iso ball will fade away in Cleveland. It was a staple of the Kyrie Irving skill set. The one-on-one dazzling handles and ability to finish were fun to watch, but now without him, Lue knows there will have to be more ball movement to succeed as an offense.
It will be interesting to see how he meshes in this new talent with what’s already there. Expect Kevin Love to have a monster season as the secondary scoring option while LeBron James will once again put the Cavaliers on his back as they try to figure things out with this turnover on the roster.
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