Full Circle

The quest for a ring begins now. To steal a line from my new and former teammate … I’m coming home!

As you know, this will be my second time in Cleveland. My NBA career has taken me from Utah to Milwaukee to Cleveland to LA to Utah to Portland to Minnesota to Charlotte. Now I’m back. It was an obvious decision: it’s all about the city of Cleveland winning a championship. That’s what brought me back.

It’s great to compare that old Cavs team to this new one. I remember being traded to Cleveland in 2008 and I felt optimistic but I didn’t know what to expect. I was coming from a Bucks team that hadn’t had much success. It was exciting to join a young LeBron — even a young LeBron was a mature LeBron — because I had never played on a high-level team like that in the NBA. I was fortunate to take that ride with that group of guys — and even though we didn’t get a ring, it was very special. It opened up my eyes to what winning basketball looks like. Once I got a taste of championship caliber basketball, I’ve been scratching and clawing to get back in that position ever since.

It’s funny how life comes full circle. On that first team in Cleveland, we were the young guys. LeBron, me, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson — we were that team’s Kyrie, Tristan or Shump. Our veterans were guys like Big Z, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace. Ben was my mentor — always a guy who took me under his wing. Now today he’s a close friend and I still talk to him often. Those mentor players are so important to a winning team.

As the young guys back then, we had that youthful outlook — we thought success would last forever. The vets put it in perspective and let us know that the time is now. In the NBA, you never know when you’ll get a championship opportunity again. Now that I’m in that position now, I want to bring that same urgency and perspective to the young guys. It’s amazing how life comes right back around and you’re in the same position again but in a different seat.

One rule I have, which I tell younger guys, is to always make the most of the current situation. Never look back or let your attitude get you down.

I could’ve done that my rookie year. At the NBA Draft, I was a projected top-20 pick. Then I fell to the second round, to the 47th pick, to Utah. I was suddenly in a position where it wasn’t guaranteed I was going to make the team. It was the first time in my life that I faced some kind of failure, basketball-wise.

I’m not the type of person to look backwards. Then and there, I made a point of not being disappointed with situations out of my control. I told myself to keep progressing. That’s the definition of success. So I showed up in Utah excited and ready to play hard. Jerry Sloan really liked me and I played in like 56-57 games my rookie year. (Sloan is a great coach and an even better human being.) That year we ended up winning 41 games after we were picked to be the worst team in the league. I actually ended up returning to Utah in the last year of my deal about four years ago just because it was such a great experience my rookie year.

Obviously LeBron is the center of the team and not much can be said about LeBron that hasn’t been said. But I’m in a unique position of having seen Bron grow both as his teammate and not. LeBron is the best right now — and actually I think he was already the best player in the league when I was on the Cavs the last time. But he’s just more mature now. What is amazing about him is he’s the type of player who is already great but still trying to get better. That’s what makes a great leader.

After 13 years in the league, I’m doing some reflection on how much has changed in my own game, too. I definitely feel like a more mature and well-rounded basketball player. I know who I am. I have developed into the type of player who can come in and score when needed, distribute the basketball when needed, and just be a solid all-around player. It didn’t happen overnight — I’ve grown into that player.

I approach the mental game differently now as a veteran. A lot of people ask me about my 52-point game this year with the Wolves, and I tell them it was more mental than physical. The funny thing about it is, I didn’t feel like playing that game. It was one of those games — you’ve been on the road for a week, you’re tired, your body’s tired. All my preparation was off that day: I rarely take naps but I took a nap. I always take the first bus but I ended up taking the second bus that day. And then I didn’t even go out and warm up. I wasn’t engaged in the game, so I had to figure out a way to lock in mentally so I could go out and perform. So I just sat at my locker, stretched out, got loose with the trainer and got myself into the right place. I must have found a way because when the game started … it was just one of those games. I scored every kind of way. It got to the point where every one of my teammates was going out there ready to set a screen for me, pass the ball to me wherever I was on the court. If they saw any kind of daylight, they were giving me the ball. It was actually a close game, so they just kept feeding me. We didn’t take the lead until five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

To be honest, I still haven’t watched the game. It was surreal, the kind of zone I got myself in mentally. The thing I remember most from it was how my teammates were pulling for me, searching for me and wanting me to be successful. I thought that was the most important factor of the 52-point game. I don’t care who you are — you can’t score 52 if your teammates aren’t helping you.

Cleveland is home. My family’s excited to be going back, too. It’s rare to get such a good chance to go for a title with such a great organization.