Dribbles: Inside Cavs Training Camp

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ first day of training camp on Tuesday.Tristan Thompson and Donovan Mitchell

1. Spirits are high and everyone seems loose, healthy, and happy. And yes, you could say that about all 30 teams on Day One. Here’s another disclaimer: I’ve never seen a first day of camp where people are in a bad mood.

2. Then again, I’ve never covered James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers.

3. But let’s stick to the Cavs. They already had a good culture last season. They feel it will be even better this year with the likes of newcomers Max Strus, Georges Niang, Ty Jerome and Damian Jones. Oh yeah, and Tristan Thompson (more on him in a minute).

4. That’s especially the case with Niang, who manages to play with a real edge and yet generally keeps things light and fun. Niang has been reunited with Donovan Mitchell, as the two were also teammates in Utah. Mitchell made it pretty clear he’s glad they’re back together again.

5. Same goes for Thompson, who possesses the type of personality this team could use. He played for a Cavs team that reached four straight Finals and won a championship. Along with being vocal and sometimes tough, he also can provide a fun environment. He understands that balance.

6. Thompson and Jones were shooting together at the same basket after practice, with Thompson telling stories of his time with other teams. While Thompson talked and Jones smiled , Thompson took a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Nothing but net. And no one flinched. Instead, Thompson just kept right on with the story-telling.

7. Jones is also a gentle and incredibly humble giant off the court. I interviewed him for the Cavs on the Break podcast and he told me he loves to go hiking. In fact, he said he has already taken his dog on a hike at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

8. When I said the Cavs needed a reserve with size and energy who could alter shots and run the floor, Jones just sort of smiled and nodded his head — as if to say, “Yep, I’m that guy.” 

9. Most of the talk on Tuesday surrounded Strus and what he will offer. He said he expects to start at small forward and the Cavs expect that, too. At least, that was the reason why they brought him here.

10. It’s not that they had an issue with Caris LeVert or Isaac Okoro. But the goal was to give the starting foursome of Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen a true blue perimeter shooter. 

11. Strus is theoretically that guy, and if you ask coach J.B. Bickerstaff, a whole lot more.

12. Bickerstaff on Strus: “If you say that Max is solely here just for his 3-point shooting, you’re doing him a disservice. Max is a really good basketball player.”

13. Bickerstaff wasn’t finished: “If you watch Max, and how teams play him, Max does a great job of beating closeouts because (defenses) are so worried about his ability to shoot. He puts pressure on your interior defense. He’ll drive, he finishes over the top of people. He’s able to make the next play when he does drive. Max is a very heady player. The 3-point shooting is obviously a bonus.”

14. Bickerstaff added that Strus will fit in well with the Cavs defensively. “He’s tough, he doesn’t back down from challenges,” he said. “He’s extremely intelligent and picks up things quickly. Max is here because he’s a really good basketball player, not because he’s a one-dimensional guy.”

15. For more on Strus, I urge you to check out Chris Fedor’s excellent piece on Cleveland.com. (Subscription required.)

16. Speaking of Fedor, he and Jason Lloyd of The Athletic are my kids’ two favorite Cavs writers. No, seriously. I somehow kept reminding myself of that as I sat behind them in the practice facility media room. Maybe because my kids remind me of it pretty regularly.

17. Anyway, I have a notebook full of stuff that I haven’t used, but I should probably stop here. We will be doing this until at least April, maybe even May or June. In short, I do think the Cavs will be every bit as good, probably better. Just from general observations, they already seem to be tougher mentally (and physically).

18. I will have some podcast interviews from media day coming up with Jones, Jerome, and rookie Emoni Bates, the Cavs’ lone draft pick. I enjoyed speaking with all of them, but loved the Bates selection and was left very impressed by how personable he was and what he had to say. I’ll post them all soon. In the meantime, thanks so much for following along. This is just the very beginning.

19. Oh, don’t forget that you can follow along on Facebook at Amico Hoops or Hoops Wire. I also always accept friend requests for my personal page at plain old Sam Amico.

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