Despite finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA last season, confidence was the overwhelming message during Cavs media day. With training camp set to begin, the Cavaliers demonstrated a collective belief and expectation for success in 2013-14 that's been noticeably lacking in recent years.
From newly rehired coach Mike Brown to newcomer Andrew Bynum, longtime Cavalier Anderson Varejao and everyone else in between, the winning tone set by Irving was impossible to ignore.
Kyrie Irving's goal is to become the "best player in the league"
Kyrie Irving says goal this year is to be "best player in the league." #Cavs— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) September 30, 2013
"This is the best I've ever felt coming into a season," Kyrie Irving declared at Cavs media day, putting no limit on what he and his teammates can accomplish. "My goal is to become the best player in the league."
After averaging 22.5 points and 5.9 assists as an All-Star in 2012-13, Irving will enter the year with the opportunity to compete for All-NBA honors. But his message on media day was more about setting an example of leadership and accountability for his team than it was about individual recognition.
Irving: it starts with me. BOOM— WayneEmbrysKids (@WayneEmbrysKids) September 30, 2013
"I feel like I've grown from a little guy, a 19-year-old, to a young man during my time here," Irving added. "Now I'm the leader of this team, and I'm ready to take full responsibility."
Andrew Bynum expects to "definitely" play in 2013-14
Andrew Bynum says he will "definitely" play this year for #Cavs— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) September 30, 2013
Cavs GM Chris Grant says Andrew Bynum is getting up and down the floor, going full-court. But no "hard timeline" on Bynum return yet. #nba— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) September 30, 2013
After sitting out all of the 2012-13 campaign with the Philadelphia 76ers, the newly acquired Andrew Bynum took the podium in Cleveland confident in his ability to contribute.
Bynum told the media that he expects to "definitely" play for the Cavaliers this year. That optimism was reinforced by multiple reports citing Bynum's progress in recent weeks.
Jason Lloyd from the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Cavs organization is "privately raving about how hard Bynum has worked."
"[Bynum]'s been working like crazy, he's progressed," general manager Chris Grant told Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio. "He is out on the court, getting up and down, full-court, full speed. He hasn't played any five-on-five. But it's still in the beginning of that process. There's been no setbacks and he takes steps every day. But there's no hard timeline on any type of drop-dead date for him."
Mike Brown is more series and confident this time around
Andy Varejao is only #Cavs player who played for Mike Brown in 1st go-round in CLE. "Coach seems like he's more serious now," he says.— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) September 30, 2013
Anderson Varejao is the only Cavalier who was on the roster during Mike Brown's last tenure in Cleveland. While noting that he expects to be healthy for the start of training camp after suffering complications from a blood clot last season, Varejao described Brown as being "more serious" this time.
Brown didn't necessarily disagree during his media session.
"The biggest thing, if there is one single thing, is probably confidence," Brown said. "I'm a lot more confident now. Not to say I was lacking it then, but you kinda don't know what you don't know. And the longer you're on the job, the more confident you can become, especially if you feel like you've had success."
Brown's first goal is to instill the defensive principles necessary to succeed collectively in a Cavaliers team that finished last in the NBA in terms of opponent field-goal percentage. Just as he did during his last stint, he will rely heavily on Varejao's presence up front to get that accomplished.
Tristan Thompson on the development of his right-handed shot
Tristan Thompson put in work for the Cavaliers communications department by bouncing around with a microphone and interviewing his teammates during media day. While on the receiving end of those questions, he spoke about the process of switching his shooting hand from left to right.
"At this stage right now, it's more physical than mental," Thompson said. "When making that switch, it was something I wanted to do and something that I was ready to take on. So the transition was pretty easy. I think now, just getting in the game, you have to do the footwork of a right-handed player, making moves like a right-handed player. It's going good so far."
Anthony Bennett enters under the radar with team-first approach
At a table away from the main stage, first overall pick Anthony Bennett answered questions in front of a collection of reporters.
As opposed to the media circus that typically surrounds a No. 1 pick, Bennett continued to enter his first season buried among the many storylines in Cleveland.
Skipping through http://t.co/Sx1o09i0Md media day video coverage. Don't see an Anthony Bennett interview. Last time that happened w/ a #1?— Michael Curry (@Mike_CavsHQ) September 30, 2013
While noting that he's healthy enough to participate in full basketball activities after having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in May, Bennett told reporters he's willing to contribute in any role his team requires.
Providing the veteran presence needed to believe
Jarrett Jack: "I'm not the type of guy who wants to just go to the playoffs. Why don't we make our… http://t.co/dl8cfVctXk— Brendan Bowers (@BowersCLE) September 30, 2013
Jarrett Jack will provide substantial support for the Cavaliers backcourt alongside Kyrie Irving and second-year guard Dion Waiters. But where he appears to have impacted this team the most already is by offering a veteran presence who isn't afraid to believe in success.
When Jack was asked about whether his goal for the Cavaliers was to make the playoffs this year, he quickly dismissed the notion of a ceiling for his new team.
"I'm not the type of guy who wants to just go to he playoffs," Jack said. "If that's the case, why don't we make our goal to just go to the championship?"
Oh, and DeSagana Diop's back too
DeSagana Diop, the NBA's $47 million man pic.twitter.com/PZlJ1lmS8m— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) September 30, 2013
DeSagana Diop was selected eighth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001. During a 12-year NBA career that includes four seasons in Cleveland from 2001-05, Diop has gone on to earn a total of $47 million dollars.
After appearing in 22 games for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012-13, it was announced during media day that Diop had been added to the 20-man training camp roster in Cleveland.
So there's that too.
Identifying roles during training camp
While the confidence oozing from media day was certainly encouraging for Cavaliers fans, Mike Brown and his team will have a number of questions to answer as training camp begins.
Among the most compelling questions is who will emerge as the starting small forward in Cleveland. Free agent Earl Clark will be competing with Alonzo Gee and potentially Bennett for minutes at that spot, but nothing has been determined.
Considering the injury situation surrounding Bynum, the starting center position is another area of uncertainty. Tyler Zeller arrived at media day having added 30 pounds to his seven-foot frame over the summer and could contend for significant minutes up front. The likeliest candidates to assume that role in Bynum's absence, however, are Thompson and Varejao.
But there is no question about who the definitive leader of this Cavaliers group will be in 2013-14. Kyrie Irving has already embraced that role and is willing to take responsibility for all that comes with it.