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NBA Sunday: Cleveland Back on Track?

Have the Cleveland Cavaliers been able to right the ship after the firing of Chris Grant? … Andre Miller hoping for a trade in Denver

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San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker holds court at 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Cleveland Back on Track?

When the Cleveland Cavaliers fired general manager Chris Grant last week, it seemed the team was about to completely implode. The Andrew Bynum experiment was a dismal failure, recent lottery picks Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett have failed to live up to their draft positions and head coach Mike Brown appeared to have lost the team. To make matters worse, trade rumors started swirling around Luol Deng, whom the team recently acquired from the Chicago Bulls. The team had lost eight of nine games and looked like it was preparing to implode.

But as soon as Grant got the axe, the Cavaliers turned things around in dramatic fashion, winning four games in a row heading into the All-Star break.

“We had a team meeting after our GM was fired, we had a great team meeting,” point guard Kyrie Irving said at All-Star media availability. “We just got a lot of things off our chest, a lot of things that needed to be said, and I think it started a little bit of a change in our locker room. … I feel like we are on the same page now. We just took a whole lot of stress off our shoulders. It was from just believing in one another. [We’re] just putting in the hard work, and believing in Coach Brown, and believing in each other. When you’re trusting one another and the ball is hopping, it makes everything that much easier. You’re in the right spot, whether you make a mistake or not, it’s on to the next play. You never dwell on a mistake and that’s what separates the good from the great teams.

“The first half of the season had its ups and downs, but to come into the All-Star break with the momentum that we have [is great], winning four games in a row. It’s the first time in my career that we’ve won four games in a row – it’s a true testament to all of us believing in one another. We’re just going back to having fun. Playing out there with those, trusting one another, playing for each other, that’s what makes the game fun. We’re back to that and it’s making the game easier.”

Prior to Grant’s firing there was talk that the Cavaliers might trade Deng again rather than risk losing him in free agency, and teams like the Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats were mentioned as potential suitors. Irving is still hopeful that his new teammate will be around long-term, and Deng’s playoff experience and veteran leadership would certainly be incredibly valuable if he can be persuaded to stay.

“You see during the games me and him are just joking around, just smiling, whether we’re up or down, or we’re talking about the game, talking about different things we can execute out there, and sticking to our game plan,” Irving said. “I feel like once my teammates saw me just kind of let everything go and just be free out there, then everybody can do that. I mean coming out, just trusting one another, believing in one another, like I said, it just makes the game that much easier. Tristan (Thompson), Andy (Varejao), especially Andy, he leads by example. Lu, having him in the locker room now, leading vocally, I mean it’s great, it’s been awesome. In these last four games, or last five and six games, we’ve seen a change and hopefully we can keep it up after All-Star break.”

For now, the ever-humble Irving is just looking to soak in his surroundings and enjoy being part of the festivities in New Orleans.

“It’s a prestigious honor,” Irving said. “I’m just happy to be a part of this, with all these great All-Stars. You look around, so many great people, so many great guys with elite talent and to be named one of those guys is awesome. … I’m just going out there and just having fun, I mean just playing the game the right way, the way I was taught and trying to put on a show for the fans. It’s going to be broadcast in so many different countries, I’m just looking forward to just putting on a show for all of the people.”

Irving and the Cavaliers have their work cut out for them when play resumes this week, especially with two games against the Toronto Raptors and one against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the immediate horizon. Still, the team seemed to turn a corner when Grant was let go, and there’s no question that acting GM David Griffin has been due a shot at the big chair for years. Perhaps the Cavaliers can turn things around, persuade Deng to stay, add a couple of nice pieces over the summer and be back on schedule going into 2014-15.

As long as Kyrie Irving is at the helm of the team, the Cavaliers will always have a chance to be special.

Andre Miller on the Move?

When the Denver Nuggets suspended point guard Andre Miller without pay recently, new head coach Brian Shaw tried to downplay the spat between the two of them that prompted the suspension.

“It’s a personal matter and what we wanted to happen was him basically be away from the team for a few days,” Shaw said at the time. “The crux of it is the incident that took place, everybody understands that can’t happen, and because of that, he’ll get time to attend to some personal matters.”

The team then rescinded the suspension and the expectation was that Miller would be back within the week. But he wasn’t. In fact, since the January 2nd suspension was announced, Miller has been away from the team for what is going on two months.

In a bizarre turn of events, on Saturday morning CBS Sports’ Ken Berger reported that the Nuggets were interested in bringing Miller back and were even going to work him out in New Orleans in preparation for his return. His absence has certainly left a gaping hole on the bench at a position that is incredibly important. By Saturday night, however, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports was reporting that Miller has zero interest of returning to Denver.

“The vibe is delusional,” an unnamed source told Spears. “It’s a burned bridge. No reconciliation. He’s waiting by the door with his bag already packed. The relationship is irreparable. Under no circumstances does he want to come back to Denver. Andre hasn’t spoken about the situation. He’s being quiet out of goodwill.”

According to Spears, Miller’s camp would welcome a trade, and hopes that something can be worked out before this Thursday’s trade deadline.

Considering that Miller is playing in the final guaranteed year of a contract that pays him a very reasonable $5 million, it’s not hard to envision the Nuggets finding plenty of interested parties should they put Miller on the market.

NBA Chat with Bill Ingram

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Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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