State of Independence

New Trio Meets the Media With Training Camp Around the Corner

With just over two weeks to go before Training Camp tips off, three members of the new-look Cavaliers – Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic – met the media on Thursday afternoon in Independence, their first appearance since the blockbuster deal that sent Kyrie Irving to Beantown.

Thomas unveiled his feelings about the trade the previous day in the Player’s Tribune, so the presser’s focus turned quickly to the hip injury that will sideline the two-time All-Star for the start of the season. New GM Koby Altman, however, was determined not to put his new guard on a timeline.

”To be fair to Isaiah, we’re not going to discuss any specifics of the hip injury; we’re also not going to put a timetable on his return,” explained Altman. “We’re not going to rush it at all. We’re very fortunate that we have some of the best doctors in the world at the Cleveland Clinic. And we’re also very fortunate that we have one of the best performance teams in the league that has a well thought-out plan and an established plan in place that I.T. has already started. We’re just not going to rush this thing.

”The goal is to bring him back at some point this year, get healthy, compete and get back to I.T. status. That’s our goal and our responsibility to him.”

For his part, Thomas talked about how the trade affected him and what he sees in his future with the Wine & Gold.

”It was surprising; It definitely caught me off guard,” said Thomas. “But it also woke me up. This is a business, and anybody other than LeBron and Kevin Durant can be traded. I prayed on it, I thought about it, I slept on it and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m blessed to be able to be traded to a situation where, realistically, we can win a Championship next year.”

Thomas, the Eastern Conference’s top scorer whose hip injury sidelined him for the final three games of the Eastern Conference Finals last year, is used to overcoming adversity – going from the 2011 Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant to a Second Team All-NBA performer last season.

“Just a little bit,” smiled Thomas, when asked about being underestimated his whole career. “That’s just been my story and I’ve been fine with it. It’s been what I’ve had to fight through my whole career. And I’m going to continue to fight until my career is over. That’s just what it is.”

Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic with their new jersies at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 7, 2016 in Independence, Ohio.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

In terms of adversity, it doesn’t get much tougher than the past couple weeks Jae Crowder has worked through. On the same day he was traded from Boston, he lost his mother to cancer.

On the floor, the Celtics had stacked up their wing positions substantially over the offseason – inking Gordon Hayward and drafting Jayson Tatum this past June. And Crowder knew that things were about to change in Boston.

”There was some concern because you have a lot of wing players stacked up,” said Crowder. “And I made it clear to the organization that I was concerned about it and wanted some direction. And I think they gave it to me with the trade. They showed me what they wanted to do – and I respected it.”

Ante Zizic, who doesn’t turn drinking age until January, is the unknown of the three. For fans who don’t know much about his game, the Adriatic League’s breakout big man explained.

”My style of game is toughness – a big man who runs the floor and good on defense, good rebounder, set good screens for my teammates to help them make easy shots and layups,” explained the seven-footer.

”It’s a scary thing if everything’s able to click – with the guys coming in and the guys we have on this team. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get going.”

Cavs Guard Isaiah Thomas

Tasked with making all these new pieces fit with the squad that’s reached the NBA Finals in three straight seasons is Coach Tyronn Lue, who’s eager to try out his new toys on the floor.

”It won’t take long for these guys to click,” smiled Lue. “It’s going to be my job to get these guys together, put them on the same page. But talking to Isaiah yesterday, I told him: ‘Come in and be Isaiah, don’t defer, looking to fit in. LeBron, Kevin and those guys – they don’t want that.’”

”We’re just very excited to get a guy who averaged 29 points a game, gets to the free throw line, makes big shots, isn’t afraid of the moment. It’s big for us. You add a guy like Jae Crowder who is a great defensive player, can guard four positions, is a 40 percent three-point shooter, a lot of toughness – an element that we need – to add to this team.”

It wasn’t easy for Thomas and Crowder to leave Boston, where they were, what Tyronn Lue called “the heart and soul of the team” and fan favorites in a tough sports town.

”It’s not about social media or anything like that connecting with (fans), it’s all about showing what you bring to the team and showing how much you respect the game of basketball,” said Crowder. “And that’s how you win over fans – giving it your all, playing the right way and competing at a high level.”

The 2017-18 season is drawing near and in little more than a fortnight, all the pieces that the Cavs new brass has assembled will hit the hardwood. And you can count the trio at the podium on Thursday among those champing at the bit to get started.

”I’m excited to play with the best player in the world,” beamed Thomas. “I’ve been in situations before where things have been a little tough and we haven’t had the best players, but we just kept fighting and worked for what we had. Being put in this situation on the court is everything. To play with the best player in the world, to play with a guy like Kevin Love and J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose and to be coached by a guy like Tyronn Lue who’s played in this league for a long time, it’s like I said in my Player’s Tribune piece, it’s like a match made in heaven.

”It’s a scary thing if everything’s able to click – with the guys coming in and the guys we have on this team. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get going.”

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