Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in primetime. Cavs vs. Heat is on ESPN at 7:30 PM and we got a chance to ask one of ESPN's NBA analysts some questions about our team. Bruce Bowen played 14 years in the NBA and won 3 championships. Here's his perspective on the current Cavaliers' team and what they can do to improve down the road.
Fear the Sword: Lots of people expected some substantial improvement from the Cavs this year, but that hasn't happened yet. What do you think is the biggest thing that they're missing right now?
Bruce Bowen: I think the biggest thing is that they have a lot of young players, young players who have received a lot of notoriety from reporters and things of that nature. And they are really starting to see that it's about performance on the floor compared to what their potential can be. When we base things on potential, then everyone has an opportunity to be special. But when you're on the floor, it's bringing that potential together for everyone to work together as one. That's when the difficult piece comes into play. The fact that you are trying to incorporate an injury from Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark. Those guys coming together is great on paper, but this is the deal. People have to jell together and that means dialing back on their game in order for the total game to come together as far as the team is concerned. I think right now that is the biggest issue. Bennett, the number one pick, wasn't able to play a lot this year in the offseason because of a shoulder injury. Injuries play a big role. It's really now about these guys learning how to play with one another compared to what others are saying about them.
FTS: The Cavs are one of the youngest teams in the league and have had trouble staying focused and bringing a consistent effort every night. Is that something you saw throughout your career with younger teams? And what can the veterans like Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao do to teach the young guys how to compete every night?
Bowen: Yes and it's funny. With veterans, it's not necessarily somebody who has been in the game for quite some time. It's someone who truly understands the difficulties of respecting the opponent and how important it is to pay attention to detail. You get some guys that can't lead these young guys into things like that. Because they can't lead them, it makes it more difficult because they aren't paying attention to the things the coaches are trying to stress at different times. It's about receiving those tidbits of information from the coach and moving from there. When you are able to do that, then guys are paying attention when a coach is telling you what's important. When you have veteran guys that echo what the coaches say, it's a beautiful situation.
FTS: Anthony Bennett has struggled mightily in the early part of his career as the first overall draft pick. What advice would you give to him?
Bowen: It's almost like maybe talking with your old coaching staff in Vegas [from UNLV], if it gets to that point. It's a new game. It's a different game. He's been injured. He needs to understand how important it is to work on the basics, focus on the fundamentals. When he gets back to that and you can maybe take away some expectations, then you're able to get back there. But once the seed of doubt creeps in, that's not a good thing for him.
FTS: What part of Kyrie Irving's offensive game do you think he needs to improve to become one of the truly great point guards in this league?
Bowen: I think it is trusting his teammates. There was an overtime game they lost where he could have made the extra pass. Because he is good at scoring, sometimes it helps even more when you are able to be selfless. If he is more selfless, the next thing you know, he's trusting his teammates to open up the court for him. Teams are looking at him saying, he's passing the ball to another person. Look at Chris Paul. If he wanted to, he could shoot every shot he wants. But he sees the importance of, if I'm able to get that guy a shot, I can get mine at any time because now that team we're playing against, they are not just worried about what I'm going to do. They are worried about what's going on with other guys because I keep giving these other guys shots.
FTS: What do you think about the possibility of LeBron James returning to the Cavaliers in free agency this summer?
Bowen: I really feel like this is a needle in a haystack. At the end of the day, it's about championships. And players don't get championships and then feel like, okay I got my championship, I'm done. You truly feel like that trophy belongs to you. It's yours. When you see another team holding up that trophy, it's like your girlfriend has kissed another man instead of you. I don't think they have a great opportunity to [lure him back] because of what his legacy can be in Miami and those are the things Pat Riley talked about with him. What is it that your legacy is going to be?
FTS: The Cavs have some talented players, but they don't seem to really fit together as a team right now. How important is it for players to accept their roles in order to have success as a team?
Bowen: It's huge. This team is set up for that. You don't improve in the NBA season. You improve in the summer. It's not what it's all cracked up to be once the season starts. Man, I have to go work out at what time? That's something that people don't truly understand. You take that into account -- plus scouting, realizing how important calls are, defensively rotating the right direction - not rotating out of sync but rotating in sync. It's easy to do things out of sync if you haven't had a chance to practice it. Now, you have a chance to practice it and it's different.
Bowen appears regularly on SportsCenter, NBA Tonight, NBA Coast to Coast and across other ESPN platforms. He also hosts the NBA Lockdown podcast with Israel Gutierrez: http://espn.go.com/espnradio/podcast/archive?id=3634017
Dave Pasch, Doug Collins and reporter Chris Broussard will provide commentary for tonight's game on ESPN. It's also available on ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN. Kia NBA Countdown begins at 7 p.m. ET to preview the game and discuss top NBA storylines with Doris Burke, Avery Johnson and Jalen Rose.