I’m going to be completely honest – I have no idea how the Cleveland Cavaliers could arrive to this week’s media day with such an overwhelmingly positive attitude. Not after this summer, a span of months so dramatic some writers (insanely) suggested the NBA needed to intervene.
And yet, there they were. From LeBron James on down, players seemed refreshed, eager and, most notably, happy. For various reasons, each member of the team exuded a positive attitude.
Considering the days which proceeded media day, this legitimately amazed me. Against all odds, James and company went through a summer of turmoil and came out on the other side looking better than ever.
The carefree attitude has permeated throughout the team since Monday’s media sessions. James sounded lighthearted as he was asked about the dramatic exit of former teammate Kyrie Irving. He of course was also more than happy to talk about his upcoming reunion with new Cavalier Dwyane Wade. Some players cracked jokes, while others spoke with a level of motivation we haven’t seen in some time.
Such an introduction to the upcoming season would be welcomed under any circumstances. That it occurred after such a dramatic, sometimes misery-filled summer is astounding.
This was an offseason which started far earlier than planned, after the Cavs were thoroughly bounced from the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors. Within weeks, GM David Griffin was let go, taking with him some top execs. His potential replacement, Chauncey Billups, left owner Dan Gilbert hanging for two weeks before eventually turning down the job. Gilbert didn’t interview any other candidates, and was forced to promote assistant GM Koby Altman.
Had this been all that occurred, Cleveland would have more than enough reason to enter media day looking exasperated. Of course, this was just the beginning of the insanity.
Just as the dust appeared to settle, a late July trade request by Irving sent the NBA world into a frenzy. Reports of his no longer wanting to play alongside James sent shock-waves, with many wondering if Irving’s departure might be a crucial blow to the Cavs in general.
Somehow, Cleveland was able to buck the current trend of netting less than ideal returns for disgruntled star players, sending Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets‘ coveted 2018 unprotected first round pick. However, many still wondered if the trade set in motion a very awkward and, at times, uncomfortable 2017 season.
Based on what we’ve seen this week, this doesn’t appear to be the case. After all the negative headlines plaguing them this summer, it really makes you wonder how the Cavs have been able to welcome the upcoming season with such a refreshed, happy attitude.
For one, the positive aspects of Irving’s departure can’t be overstated. It’s tough to believe his unhappiness was a complete shock to anyone, especially based on the rumors of his distancing himself from teammates and craving the spotlight. You can truly sense some weight has been lifted from the locker room now that the Irving drama has come to pass.
A bigger reason for the excitement, though, is how much motivation has been added to this team.
Setting aside the fact Cleveland wants another Finals rematch with the Warriors, look at how many members of the team have massive chips on their shoulders. Thomas bent over backwards trying to recruit Gordon Hayward to Boston, only to be traded a couple months later. Crowder, too, was suddenly deemed expendable by the Celtics if it meant getting Irving. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose came into the offseason angling for a max contract. He ended up signing with the Cavs for $2.1 million, and now wants to prove he’s worth more.
This kind of fire does wonders for a team. It creates drive which may have been tough to come by had Cleveland simply tried to run it back with the same roster which got spanked by Golden State in June. Having numerous Cavaliers playing with something to prove to former teams or the league in general will likely be contagious. Toss in the fact James’ best friend in the NBA is now on board, and you have what seems like a perfect recipe for overcoming an extremely negative summer.
If you need proof of this, look no further than how the players have carried themselves through this opening week. There’s happiness. There’s motivation. There’s a newfound energy.
All things you never would’ve expected to see after a summer full of chaos.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook