MAKING MOVES

Joel Blank: There is one man in Cleveland who might get the Cavs back to the Finals

LeBron James got some much-needed help at the deadline. NBA.com

If the Cleveland Cavaliers do what I predicted they would do at the start of the year and win the Eastern Conference, there is one man and one man only to credit. Of course, most of you will say that man is LeBron James and you would not be wrong, to a certain extent. However, this year, there is someone that has been more important to the team and franchise than even the King himself.

In his first full year on the job, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman thought he had it made. He had the best player on the planet and a loaded roster of All-Stars and talented role players. Even after the departure of Kyrie Irving—in a trade that he was forced to facilitate at the request of owner Dan Gilbert—he had a talented team capable of being the best team in the conference and maybe the entire league. Regardless of how that trade would work out, he would have no pressure and no blame as it all happened and went down while he was still settling in to his new job and position. The owner pulled the trigger and all he had to do was orchestrate the pieces coming back. On paper it looked as if they got as good a deal as they possibly could have gotten and in doing so kept the team strong and capable of another trip to the NBA Finals.

Well, what a difference a few months can make? The Cavaliers were expected to struggle early in the season as they built chemistry and camaraderie getting used to their new pieces joining an already-established nucleus of playoff veterans. The struggle was real and in fact the reality check was, it never got better and in fact got considerably worse.With each passing day, it seemed as if LeBron was inching closer and closer to skipping out the door, while the rest of the team seemed to be bickering and in a power struggle of their own, trying to fight for enough playing time to get their individual numbers while completely disregarding any team goals or accomplishments.

On the day of the NBA trade deadline, with less than 24 hours on the clock, Altman was faced with the daunting and seemingly impossible task of transforming his entire roster. That, or face the very real possibility that his team would implode and his best player would exit stage left for greener pastures and the sunny skies of LA, Houston or another city. In professional sports, when teams and general managers know you are in desperation mode, their first thought is to try and rob you blind and steal your best players, while giving back nothing substantial in return. That was definitely the scenario for Altman in Cleveland and with that, it seemed even more impossible to believe he could pull off any substantial deals that would help turn the team around and give them a chance at another Finals appearance. Critics were waiting to pounce on the collapse of the Cavaliers, while the city of Cleveland and its entire fanbase braced for what looked to be the end of an era and the departure of their beloved native son.

It was make or break time for the young general manager, and to his credit he dug in and started swinging for the fences. By the time the dust had cleared and the deadline had passed, Altman was four for four with a couple of home runs and a few extra base hits. He was able to take six players who just did not fit the team and the culture and flip them for three young studs and one seasoned veteran point guard that has been through the wars of playoff basketball and knows how to facilitate for a team full of superstars. Gone were Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, who never really fit the Cavs culture or system, along with holdovers Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. Joining the Cavs were talented young players Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr from the Lakers, along with Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz. Three very talented young kids, two of which had never sniffed the playoffs, let alone a chance to play for a ring. George Hill, who made appearances in the postseason with the Spurs and Pacers, also arrived in "The Land" shooting 45 percent from behind the arc.

If their first game together was any indication, the Cavaliers are going to be a force in the Eastern Conference once again and look to be as strong as ever. Sunday, the Cavs absolutely demolished the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving and in doing so sent a message to not only the rest of the conference but to the entire NBA that before all is said and done Cleveland will be heard from again, as they are once again having fun. Three of the four newcomers were in double figures and Nance Jr played 21 minutes scoring 5 Points, grabbing 5 rebounds and adding 3 assists. They played with passion, the bench was supportive and excited and LeBron seemed as happy and animated as he has been all season long. If that trend continues, the Cavs will have pulled off one of the most improbable and impossible mid-season transformations and turn arounds in league history. Trading six players at the deadline and getting better? Obviously a lot is still to be determined, but if it all plays out in Cleveland's favor, Koby Altman should be the one to get all the credit and he might want to consider a run for mayor. As KG once said, "Anything is possible!!!"

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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