by Joe Gabriele, Cavs.com beat writer
If you’re a Cavaliers fan, even if you couldn’t see the TV, you knew who was coaching the Cavaliers Summer League squad in Vegas. The sound of Damon Jones is unmistakable.
The former Cavaliers sharpshooter and current assistant earned the assignment of head coach for this year’s Summer League team – and until Thursday’s 94-83 loss to the Lakers at the Thomas & Mack Center – had an unblemished record heading into tournament play.
On Friday night, Jones and Co. wrap up their run when they take on Toronto at 10:30 EST.
This year’s unit featured a pair of reserves from Cleveland’s recent Finals run – Kay Felder and Edy Tavares – but Jones has gotten pretty solid production from up and down the roster.
Cavs.com took a minute to talk with the one-time “greatest shooter in the world” as he prepares his team for their final matchup in Vegas to talk about the two Cavaliers roster players’ performances, who stood out among the invitees and what he expects from the Wine & Gold in 2017-18 …
Damon Jones: It’s been great! I enjoy it.
I think, as a player – when you play the game or have played the game – you work on your skill-set and everything you needed to do to prepare to help the team. But when you’re the head coach, you have to help 12 or 15 guys be their best as a whole to be successful.
So, it’s been a challenge. I love challenges. And going forward, I just want to put all the guys in the best position possible to help us at the end of the game so that we win – and the other team doesn’t.
Given it’s just been a couple weeks, but do you have a certain style or philosophy that you want to develop?
Jones: I think communication is a big key these days. And I just want to be able to articulate to the players what I want.
I’m not an up-in-your-face guy or a guy who has a ton of rules. I just want the guys to play hard and give it their all defensively. And on the offensive end, do what you best.
That’s been my mantra this whole Summer League: You guys give me your best effort defensively and offensively, you do what you want to do. And it’s worked pretty well so far. Guys are confident out there offensively and we’ve really gotten after it defensively.
You have a pair of players from last year’s Playoff roster – Kay Felder and Edy Tavares – out in Vegas. Starting with Kay, what have you been looking for from him this summer?
Jones: Well, I’m just trying to make sure that he gets better on a daily basis. Understand how to use his speed as well as his athleticism to not only get scoring opportunities for himself but also how to set other guys up and get them involved and make guys around him better.
And so far he’s doing a great job with that and he’s also excelling on the defensive end.
As a former vocal point guard, does Kay need to be more vocal on the floor?
Jones: He needs to be Kay.
I think when you try to make someone into somebody that they’re not, then they spend more time being what you want them to be than flourishing in the way that they’re able to play.
And I think he’s just doing an overall good job playing the game of basketball this summer. He’s one of the big reasons we’re 3-1 and hopefully he can keep it up.
Can you see a tangible difference in his game from a year ago?
Jones: Of course.
When any rookie comes into the NBA, the game moves really fast for them. You have to go through your bumps and bruises to understand what you have to do moving forward.
And I think the game has slowed down for him. He’s seeing things a lot better now. And again, we just want him to continue to be Kay, and that’s going to help us be successful.
“I think we understand what it takes to be there at the end again and hopefully we do the necessary things it takes to get wins.”
We didn’t see much of Tavares after that six-block debut in the regular season finale. How’s he been this summer?
Jones: He’s been really good in Summer League so far.
He’s given us that defensive presence in the paint and he’s actually been great so far in terms of his pick-and-roll coverage.
Usually, when you have a guy that size, there are parts of the game where they struggle – and most of the time it’s the pick-and-roll. But he’s been great in the pick-and-roll, he’s been great keeping guys out of the paint. He’s been blocking shots.
Offensively, he’s a big target in there and if we get him the basketball, we want him to get either two points or two free throws. And he’s doing a good job with that.
So, again, he’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful so far. And I hope he keeps it up.
Has anyone surprised you?
Jones: I don’t think any surprises, but we’ve had some guys step up and play really well.
T.J. Williams, the point guard from Northeastern has come in and shown poise and ability to score the ball and play good defense. Casey Prather is a guy who’s been heading up our defense, we’ve put him on the best scoring guard and he’s done really well against some pretty high-level NBA players – like Patrick McCaw from Golden State.
So, those guys have been great for us. But the whole team has contributed and that’s why we’re 3-1.
Before we let you go … thoughts on the upcoming season?
Jones: I think the commitment has to be from Day One. I think last year we had a Championship hangover and it kind of spilled over into the year.
But I think we understand what it takes to be there at the end again and hopefully we do the necessary things it takes to get wins.
But we’re very excited about the guys we signed and we feel that we’re in a good place to build on what we did last year and come back and win it again like we did two years ago.