Even though it's a new year, thankfully it's the same old Cleveland Cavaliers. This week Cleveland took on the Indiana Pacers, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers, going 2-1 in that span. The marquee matchup from this week was between the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies, which is a good indicator of the future of the league, fueled by organizations in non-glamor markets. Sure, it resulted in a loss but all in all, it was a great game overall. The only way those two teams will meet in a playoff series right now would be in the NBA Finals. Which, again, wouldn't be a bad thing either.
But, overall, it was still a pretty big week for Cleveland in the grand scheme of their season. Rajon Rondo, who the Cavaliers acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers after Ricky Rubio was lost for the season, made his debut. The contracts of three important depth and cultural pieces had their salaries guaranteed. Finally, the Cleveland Charge, the G League affiliate of the Cavaliers, finally returned to the court and made their regular-season debut. On this week's takeaways of Cavaliers basketball, we break all that down and plenty more.
Other than Tuesday's tilt between the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies, the most anticipated game of the week was the opening of Cleveland's west coast road trip in Portland where they took on the Trail Blazers. Mind you, it wasn't because of who they were facing since Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. were all sidelined due to injury. It was because thirteen-year NBA veteran Rajon Rondo was making his Cleveland debut. The Cavaliers are Rondo's ninth overall team in his career and it felt a little surreal to see him don wine and gold Friday night.
"It was fun, the first couple plays were kinda like, 'Dang, that’s Rondo on the floor.'" said Darius Garland. “New face, but it was cool. Rondo’s a really good guy. He’s a great vet. He’s a leader on the floor. So, it was fun playing with him.”
Rondo finished the night with 11 points on 2-9 shooting, going 2-8 from three-point range and 5-6 from the free-throw line in nearly 17 minutes played. He also chipped in 5 rebounds and 3 assists all while only turning the ball over once. Sure, it's nothing staggering but, it's to be expected when Rondo has only had two days of practice, is 35 years old and is, you know, in the midst of his thirteenth season.
“We just want all of our guys, we want them to be the best versions of themselves. So we won’t put any restraints on him. We’ll let him play to his strengths,” said Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “Some of this is feeling it out for us, figuring out combinations and things like that.”
“When Coach calls my name, I’m always trying to be ready,” said Rondo. “Regardless of if I start, come off the bench, play 28 minutes or two minutes, it’s a great opportunity to be here and play for this team.”
Bickerstaff letting Rondo play to his strengths to help build comfort and rapport with his new teammates is a good thing. Rondo also being open to whatever the team needs of him, going as far as to call this, "a dream come true" is also encouraging. But, it's still going to be a work in progress for Bickerstaff, Rondo and everyone else on Cleveland's roster.
There is already a fairly clear difference between how Rondo coordinates the offense versus how Rubio, the man Rondo is replacing, operates. Rondo plays at a much slower, methodical pace and allowing him to read the defense and figure out how the offense should flow for the Cavaliers. There will be growing pains, especially when Cleveland heads to San Francisco to take on the league-best Warriors on Sunday. But, overall this is going to take a lot of this is going to take time for both Rondo and the Cavaliers. But, for what it's worth, Rondo looked like he's going to fit in just fine with his new Cleveland teammates.
In a surprise to nearly none, according to sources the Cavaliers chose to keep Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens and Ed Davis on their roster for the remainder of the season. They had until Friday at 5 p.m. EST to decide whether or not they wanted to guarantee the remaining salaries for all three of Wade, Stevens and Davis. In the grand scheme of the NBA, this seems like a fairly inconsequential roster transaction for Cleveland. If anything, it just indicates the Cavaliers now have a completely full roster. But, instead, it's quite the contrary.
Wade, an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2019, has become a high-quality player in Cleveland's rotation. After signing with the Cavaliers on a two-way contract, Wade split his time up in Cleveland with the main club and the then-Canton Charge, the team's G League affiliate. This season, Wade has started in 16 of his 28 appearances for the Cavaliers and overall has averaged 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and shot 32.9% from three-point range.
"I think with Dean Wade he's been one of our best players in recent years," said Charge head coach Dan Geriot. "I think his conditioning and ability to contribute to winning is so good, you can plug him anywhere and you're good to go. Dean had known a lot of the specifics of what was wanted from him with the Cavs so that when he went down to the Charge. While he was down there, he embraced that Swiss army knife mentality in order to help the Cavs at the next level."
Stevens, meanwhile, had a similar path to Wade. Originally undrafted out of Penn State in 2020, Stevens was signed by Cleveland to a two-way contract and ended up playing 40 games for the Cavaliers that season. Charge Vice President of Communications and Team Services shared with Right Down Euclid that the team had jerseys made for Stevens but, he never ended up joining the team to further expand his game at the NBA level.
Stevens found his niche almost immediately with main club and hasn't looked back. He's more or less become the heart and soul of Cleveland's locker room as well - starting the now infamous barking the players participate in on the sidelines. Stevens has become a primary component culturally for the Cavaliers, and has endeared himself to both the organization and its fanbase. There's a good chance, like Wade, that the former Nittany Lion is here for the long haul because of how he fits within the rotation and the overall value he brings to the table.
Speaking of culture, that's why it made sense for Cleveland to retain Davis as well. Davis was brought in to act as a veteran leader for this young and impressionable Cavaliers locker room and also act as a mentor for both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. It also helps that with Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love are oft-injured, along with the league battling the newest variant of COVID, Davis can plug in as a reliable depth option as well. In two starts this season Davis averaged 6.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in losses to the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors.
As it stands right now, Cleveland's roster is full with 15 active players under contrat as well as Tacko Fall and R.J. Nembhard on two-way deals. If the Cavaliers want to make a move to improve their roster at the deadline, it's going to cost them pieces currently on their roster. That's the added bonus of retaining Wade, Stevens and Davis as well. They can be used as extra salary filler in order to make a trade happen. But, for now, all three thankfully are in Cleveland long-term and have proven why they belong with the Cavaliers.
To begin their portion of the NBA G League regular season schedule the Cleveland Charge were defeated by the Capital City Go-Go, 106-95. Fresh off a call-up from the New Orleans Pelicans, Justin James led all scorers with 27 points in 32 minutes while also tallying five rebounds and two steals. Former Cavaliers 10-day signee Malik Newman followed with 22 points, five boards and two assists. Tre Scott, another former Cavaliers 10-day signee, held down the paint with a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with eight points in 33 minutes of action.
The following night they were defeated by the Grand Rapids Gold 99-92. Cleveland was again led by Justin James’s double-double of 31 points and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes. Malik Newman, meanwhile, added 18 points, five rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes. Tre Scott scored 17 points and grabbed six boards while Cavaliers two-way big man Tacko Fall swatted five blocks and grabbed 10 rebounds. Sheldon Mac came off the bench to add 12 points.
The Charge are now 0-2 to start the season and will be home this Tuesday, January 11 to host the Windy City Bulls. Hopefully, things will balance out but when key players in Kyle Guy and Norvel Pelle are no longer with the team, it gets tricky. If not, head coach Dan Geriot could be facing a long, difficult season ahead of him.