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Mark Price still keeps a close eye on the Cavaliers and he still sees some hope.
“They still have some good players on that roster and they added some nice pieces,” Price told Amico Hoops in a phone interview. “People might be underestimating them.”
Price is a Cavs legend, his No. 25 retired and hanging in the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. He took a job as an assistant coach on Mike Malone’s staff with the Denver Nuggets earlier this month.
He understands today’s Cavs aren’t expected to do much minus LeBron James, who departed for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. The Cavs received zilch in return.
Then again, Price also knows the Cavs are coming off four straight appearances in the Finals, winning the championship in 2016. All-Star forward Kevin Love, center Tristan Thompson and shooting guard J.R. Smith all have experience at winning time. All return.
The same is true of Tyronn Lue, an assistant during the Cavs’ trip to the Finals in 2015, and the head coach during each of the previous three returns.
Price said this year’s Cavs should be able to carry over some of that success — even without James.
“On one hand, it’s a totally new ballgame after losing such a dominant player and the main focus of everything they’ve done for the last several years. It resulted in a lot of success,” Price said. “Now, it’s going to be a little bit of finding their identity and finding out who they really are.”
That doesn’t have to mean the Cavs are headed for doom and gloom. Along with veteran holdovers such as Love, Thompson, Smith, guard George Hill, swingman Rodney Hood and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the Cavs have some intriguing young players. That list includes second-year wing Cedi Osman and rookie point guard Collin Sexton, among others.
“In some ways it will be a real challenge, but in other ways it will take some of the pressure off,” Price said. “The expectation level without LeBron has dropped tremendously. But that could actually be to their advantage.”
SHOOTING FOR THE STARS
Price knows all about challenges. He was considered a bit too small (6-foot-0, 170 pounds) and maybe a little too slow when the Cavs traded for him on draft night in 1986, shortly after the Dallas Mavericks selected him with a second-round pick.
But he went on to become a four-time All-Star and two-time 3-point shootout champion — playing a huge role in a contending Cavs era that also included Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, John “Hot Rod” Williams and coach Lenny Wilkens.
At the time, Price was a lethal long-range marksman who opened things up for his teammates. That led to some NBA assistant jobs as a “shooting specialist” in his post-playing days.
He has been an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets, and was the head coach at UNC Charlotte from 2015-17. This is actually his second stint with the Nuggets.
“The Nuggets reached out about a month ago and asked if I’d be interested in joining the staff,” Price said. “It felt like a good fit. Part of my role will be as a shooting coach. It just seemed like a good opportunity with a young-and-upcoming team.”
Price and wife Laura have four children. The youngest, Josh, will be playing basketball this season as a freshman at Liberty University.
“It’s our first year as as empty-nesters,” Price said. “So we just thought moving to Denver sounds like lot of fun. It’s a beautiful city and I’m really looking forward to my role there.”
Price excelled by using guts, skill and smarts to overcome any perceived shortcomings. He suspects today’s Cavs just might be able to do the same.
“For sure,” he said. “All the guys on that team are pro athletes. They’re likely to play with a chip on their shoulders. So this is a good opportunity for them to get out from under that shadow, to further their own careers and prove people wrong.”