PORTLAND, Ore. – At the 2:56 mark in the third quarter, when the Cleveland Cavaliers fell between 90 and 71 and faced another blowout loss against a multi-year playoff contender, Andre Drummond was alone on the bench, away from his teammates and alone with his thoughts. Until assistant coach Greg Buckner got on an encouraging conversation that ended when Buckner patted Drummond a couple of times on the shoulder. Drummond finally got up and took the time out.
It’s not the first time this season. Sometimes Drummond rushes into the locker room to regroup and even yells at himself to play better. He’s an emotional gamer, whose mood often changes based on the overall impact, the touches, the post-processing options, and the shots scored.
Still, that moment late in the third quarter on Friday night, or the earlier instances of Drummond slowly moving back to the bench after being eliminated from the game – either because of bad problems or ineffectiveness – it may point to some degree of Cavs disengagement cannot afford one of their supposed team leaders.
“We need him to be the best version of ourselves” Head coach JB Bickerstaff said after losing 129-110 to the Portland Trail Blazers. “It’s up to us as coaches, it’s up to the team to help them be the best version of themselves. Much of our early success was due to the way he played on both ends of the floor. We have to help him get back to that level because we need him to play like that. “
In the first month when the Cavs were overcrowded, Drummond was a dominant force. He played a leading role in 10 wins and participation in playoff competitions. Drummond spoke with glee about being part of the organization and saw it as a fresh start, a chance to leave his Detroit days behind and show that he is still the same two-time all-star and defensive anchor. He was discussing the possibility of becoming Defensive Player of the Year – and he played at that level, spearheading an amazing turnaround in defense that went from worst (last season) to first in the standings.
Then everything changed.
“I think to myself based on how we play I don’t think that will change my perception of the team or my feelings,” said Drummond. “Obviously losing sucks, and as a person you will react as such. I mean, if you’ve lost something, I’m pretty sure you won’t jump for joy. I think you will probably feel the same way I do.
“I am only human and I don’t enjoy losing. Not having a smile on my face is obviously due to the losses we suffer. It takes a toll. That’s really all it is. And that doesn’t change my excitement and joy in playing the game and being on this team. It’s a frustrating time right now figuring out how to get some wins. “
Friday’s comments are eerily similar to those Kevin Love made it over a year ago after an over 40-point laugh against the Philadelphia 76ers. That was the night Love talked about not having fun and trying to stay a good teammate. It led members of the organization to point out Love’s lousy body language.
Though Drummond’s dejected demeanor raised his eyebrows from a distance, Bickerstaff said he wasn’t paying enough attention to answer whether Drummond had broken up.
“My focus is on the game and what was going on on the ground,” said Bickerstaff. “Of course we watch the movie and we watch it closely.”
So if Drummond’s struggles continue – and his somber demeanor doesn’t stop – will Bickerstaff consider a change?
“Everything is on the table all the time,” he said. “We always have to face difficult decisions. We’re not afraid of these decisions, but our first goal is to make him the best version of himself again. “
The Cavs have lost eight games in a row with Drummond in the line-up. Their only win on this miserable stretch came because he was out with a back injury – a two-point win over the horrific Minnesota. Drummond said his back “absolutely doesn’t bother him anymore”. He admitted that he is trying to regain his rhythm and find solace in the ever-changing lineups.
Perhaps Drummond is pondering Jarrett Allen’s arrival – a move that sent Drummond a clear message received at close of trading last February that he is no longer on Cleveland’s long-term plans. Maybe he didn’t feel respected and no longer welcome. Did he mentally recognize the inevitable check-out?
Allen trade became official on January 15th, hours before Drummond had his best performance of the season. He scored 33 points and achieved 23 rebounds in 40 monstrous minutes. Could that have been his last statement that this is what you are giving up?
In the 12 games since then, in which Allen participated in the rotation and Drummond’s playing time scored a hit, the starting center averages 16.1 points at 47.3% shooting, which equates to 11.8 rebounds. Drummond is a doubles doubles player earlier this season, opening the season with 12 consecutive games. In this 12-game stretch, he only has six. The Cavs are exceeded by an average of 7.4 points.
His career-worst numbers on the verge fell even lower on Friday, with a few early mistakes that caused him to audibly scream his disgust and not recover.
Drummond finished with eight points and five rebounds. It’s the third time in this losing streak that he hasn’t hit double digits. In his 17 minutes, the second lowest total of the season, the Cavs were beaten by 20 points. He barely touched the defenders while putting up screens, clogged the paint, offered little internal resistance on the defense, and was played out by Enes Kanter. The Cavs’ two most respectable runs came with Drummond on the bench.
Something is clearly wrong. Only Drummond knows what.
Then again, maybe this is exactly what he is: a talented player and a tough systematic fit that often makes teams want more.
“I’m just trying to do my job with the minutes I have out there,” said Drummond. “Try to make the most of what is going on. I don’t control how long I’ve been out there. I try to do my best and find out. Just take it with you and see how we can best win.
“The biggest thing I and I think, as a team, we’re trying to figure out now is how we don’t let these losses pile up and, if they do, stay on course. We play really good teams that were formed and were together. I think adversity hits us all right now. My job as the leader of this team is to help them find simple recordings and get them going again. “
That’s part of it. The other part stays focused and bought and sets a positive example no matter how much frustration there is.
“We know games aren’t easy,” said Collin Sexton. “We understand that winning is not easy. But we have to make sure that we remain optimistic. We all feel like we’re pretty tired of losing and now we have to do something about it. Coach said it best: ‘What do we do now? We will either stop or we will fight. ‘We don’t have any quitters on the team, I know we don’t. We have quite a number of fighters, so at the end of the day we’re going to fight and just keep scratching and get back to where we know Cleveland is basketball. “
The only way out of this funk is to get together. On Friday night when the Cavs tried to regroup, only one man was sitting alone. It was Drummond. As Bickerstaff said, the Cavs need better.
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