Before I get into this I want everyone to take a long hard look at the numbers below. Memorize them, marinate in them, solder them to your eyeballs.
There isn't a Cavaliers fan alive that doesn't understand just how bad #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett has been this season; yet it still doesn't feel like the Cavaliers organization fully appreciates just how terrible his play has been. A team with playoff aspirations cannot afford to have someone provide that little production over a ten minute span. It's counterproductive and inexcusable. It's time for the reclamation project to begin.
There's an obvious step that is long overdue... Anthony Bennett needs to be sent to play for the Canton Charge. This should have been done at the start of the D-League season or at least when Mike Brown realized that he wasn't going to be giving Bennett more NBA playing time. More and more players get sent down to the D-League on rehabilitation stints these days. Trailblazers rookie CJ McCollum was sent to the D-League once he was feeling good enough to come back from his injury. Jeremy Lin struggled to find a place in the league until he was able to carve out a role for himself in the D-League. Anthony Bennett came into this season following shoulder surgery and was not in basketball shape. There's in shape, and there's "game shape". But the Cavs still refused to send him down and dipped him into the fire. Bennett has huffed and puffed his way through abbreviated shifts for the Cavaliers so far this season, and as has been written, has fared terribly in those stints.
There's a stigma that still exists in the NBA for the D-League. The NHL and MLB have minor league systems and it is very common practice for first round picks, even first overall picks, to be sent down to work on their games and prepare themselves to play against grown men. While the NBA is a very different league and we see players often make a positive impact in their rookie season, players still develop at different rates. Putting a player in a situation for which he is not prepared can stunt their growth as a player. At this point Bennett is simply not ready to play basketball at the NBA level.
He is not getting the minutes required to be in game shape and his confidence is running on empty. There is no denying Bennett has talent, and it's hard to fathom that he will be this bad forever. But the Cavaliers need to swallow their pride and accept that he is best served by spending time in the D-League. I don't know if they fear what would happen if they send him down and his struggles continue. But at this point it's like getting a girls number and refusing to call her up. You might be scared of the result, but by actually calling you're going to find out exactly where you stand and make decisions accordingly. By doing nothing, you not only are gaining nothing, but it's likely your odds of success continue to diminish.
When asked about playing in the D-League, Bennett actually seemed pretty open to it, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"It's something I'd think about, for sure," Bennett said before Tuesday's game. "It's not a bad thing, especially going down there, hopefully playing a lot, going out there, building my confidence."
I emailed Kevin Fay, who is a Cavs beat writer and covers the Canton Charge for Fan Attitude for his thoughts and insight on what a D-League assignment would mean for Anthony Bennett.
FTS: Do you know if the Canton Charge utilize and offensive and defensive system similar to the Cavaliers?
Kevin Fay: Not sure to what extent percentage-wise the two playbooks are alike, but last year's coach Jenson described his obligation as to essentially run the same bare-bones system with the same passing/defensive schemes etc and terminology. As to individual plays though, he had high degree of flexibility to tailor to his personnel. If applying to a Cavs assignee, he'd know basic rotations etc, but little of individual plays.
FTS: Other than the obvious talent gap, what differences exist in the style of play in the D-League compared to the NBA?
KF: The biggest differences I've noted are the use of expanded instant replay. Gets used sparingly and I honestly have no clue to the exact rules mandating what justifies review. But it hasn't affected game flow much, so I'm currently in favor of seeing more of it to get a better sampling. Another big difference: Charge are only allowed 10 active players. Can go up to 12 with Cavs assignees, but for every assignee over 2 (like when Karasev, Sims & Felix all went for a night), the Charge must de-activate one of their players to compensate. I think there are a few less noticeable rule changes, but none you really notice in game. I heard talk of them considering implementing FIBA rules regarding no rim inference and goal-tending to gauge how it would transition to pros. Love that suggestion!
FTS: We've seen Sergey Karasev sent down to Canton so far this season to play games with the Charge and practice with the Cavaliers. If you can, explain exactly how this has worked to this point in the season. Does he only practice with the Cavaliers if they are at home? Does he travel with the Cavs on road trips or does he stay with the Charge?
KF: Most times, it was exactly how you described. Same with Kevin Jones last year. They basically drive down after morning Cavs practice for Charge shoot-around that afternoon and play in the game that evening. But when Sergey stayed for the weekend the one time, he strictly practiced with the Charge for those three-ish days as Cavs were in Boston or somewhere else on the road.
FTS: Do you think playing in the D-League creates a disconnect from the NBA affiliate to a certain extent for players?
KF: As to a disconnect, when they are ping ponging them on short day trips, weekends etc, I see no reason it would. Their teammates know they aren't getting off the bench in Cleveland and need playing time to develop. Now long road trips etc. will obviously leave a bit of a gap, as team's often write up new plays daily and they are not around for those (as Felix now is). If anything, use of local ping ponging turned Kevin Jones from unplayable the first 75% of last year to a +/- machine the last month when inserted into the lineup.
FTS: What potential impact (positive and/or negative) impact do you think being sent to the D-League would have on Anthony Bennett?
KF: Ego aside, this should be nothing but opportunity for Bennett. A chance to run. A chance to make mistakes without national criticism. A chance to go have fun and maybe even run some guys over. Get back to being a star like at UNLV. Now counting ego, the big fear is of course that he goes down, struggles, and quits again. He goes to Canton and quits, its career over if you ask me.
I really appreciate Kevin taking the time to lend some insight towards the D-League. In my opinion, the next step seems obvious and there is little downside to making this move. The stigma of the D-League needs to be removed, and while talking heads would no doubt take full advantage of this opportunity to bash Cleveland and Anthony Bennett, it's still the right move. Chris Grant knew when he drafted Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett that there was going to be public backlash. He didn't let public perception determine his decision making then, and shouldn't now. Anthony Bennett belongs in the D-League.