(USA TODAY Sports)
“Yeah, they used to f— each other up,” said Tristan Thompson, recalling the times he’d have to play peacemaker in Cavs training camp in the fall of 2013 when Irving, the franchise player and former No. 1 pick, was matched up with Dellavedova, the undrafted rookie free agent just trying to make the team. “They used to go after it every day. There would be times when they’d be ready to fight each other.”
The distaste between them started a few months before that, in the summer, when Irving sized up Dellavedova for the first time during a pick-up game.
“I played him in the summer time and he was going into summer league, I was going into my third year and I was like, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’ I was like, I’ve never heard of him,” Irving said. “I had heard of him, because of St. Mary’s, but I had never played against him. So, I’m coming in and he just basically, every fast break, he was just fouling the s— out of me. I was like, ‘OK, well, maybe I’ll see him in training camp.’ So, we went through training camp, every single day we went against each other and damn near almost fought every single day.”
“Early in the season when you scrimmage more at practice, it definitely almost came to that — having to be separated,” said Dellavedova. “But it was never [personal]. We were both just playing hard and wanting to win in practice. It’s been great for my development, having to try to guard Kyrie every day in practice.”
It wasn’t always great for Irving, at least he didn’t think so initially.
“Probably the first three months of the season he was irritated by Delly,” Thompson said, “but he realized Delly is not going to stop and it was going to make him a better player.”
Slowly, the rancor turned to respect.
“It was just the pride that he had and the pride that I had,” Irving said. “You know, I love a guy when he challenges me and I’m not going to back down and he’s not going to back down from me — which I didn’t expect. So, that’s what really drew us a lot closer.”
“I’ve been telling people, Delly is the man,” said Iman Shumpert. “He’s one of those guys who comes to the gym early and leaves the gym late.”
Oftentimes when Dellavedova does lag after practice, he’ll be at a hoop with James Jones working on speeding up the release on his catch-and-shoot jumper with Jones closing out with his 6-foot-8 frame to contest the shots put up by Dellavedova, generously listed at 6-foot-4. What led to Jones, born in 1980, finding a connection with Dellavedova, born in 1990?
“Listen, man, he’s a tireless worker,” said Jones. “He’s focused on this craft. Every day he comes in the gym to get better and he won’t leave until he feels like he had a day where he got better. And I’m drawn to him because he’s a young guy who has come up the hard way in this league but he’s proven to everyone that he’s a very good NBA player.”
And then Jones offered up the label that does the most to explain Dellavedova’s success story.
“Heart, man,” Jones said. “On this team, Delly embodies all heart, all hustle and all the work.”
When he was asked during the postgame press conference he if ever envisioned being selected by the Cavs’ public relations staff to get the star treatment at the podium for the televised event, Dellavedova shrugged it off: “This is all the extra fluff stuff. What matters is what happens in the game.”
Similarly, he was uninterested in the fashion show aspect to it. His black jeans and dark green jacket were fine by him. He wants to run an offense not walk the runway.
“Somebody sent me a text message about that, but I mean, to be honest, that’s like an American thing,” Dellavedova said. “I couldn’t care less about my outfit — which was, actually, it’s a nice jacket. It wasn’t just a hoodie. But I really couldn’t care less about all that other stuff. All I care about is just trying to help the team win basketball games.”