- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Editor's note: For the second straight year, ESPN.com will visit all 29 NBA teams during training camp and the preseason. Senior NBA writer Marc Stein tips off the 2003 tour with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
CLEVELAND -- It was a practice better suited for a lecture hall than the main court at Gund Arena. It was the first real NBA practice of the LeBron James Era, but there was as much instructing as practicing, meaning James didn't have much chance to dazzle.
He really had only one chance, amid all the lecturing, to be a bit special. It came during a shooting game, which required James to make six of those long pro 3-pointers in 10 tries. He didn't get off to the greatest start, missing four of the first seven, necessitating a 3-for-3 finish.
Then he swished one. He knocked in the ninth ball, as well. There was just enough time, before the ball came back for No. 10, to shoot a quick glance over at Cavaliers coach Paul Silas.
You get one guess for what happened next.
"The only thing he's lacking right now is a really consistent outside shot, but you could just look at him and tell he was going to make that last one," Silas said. "He makes it and says, 'That's what real players do.' That's the way he thinks. He's just got that belief."
Silas also calls it a swagger. "That swagger that the great ones have," he said. "I'm not putting him in that great category yet, but he does have it."
It's just one element of the package that makes James the most eagerly awaited high schooler in NBA history. Day 1 wasn't the day to display all of it, with Silas intent on introducing the Cavs' many youngsters to the basic elements of his offense and defense, but you didn't need a highlight show Tuesday to know that James complements the confidence with tremendous skill and a developed physique.
What was clear, after just one practice session, is that James also has a coach who's determined not to be swayed by the swagger or anything else. Silas, if only Silas, keeps reminding himself that James is an 18-year-old rookie, albeit the most celebrated teen rookie of all-time. That's why Silas was quick to set some boundaries for No. 23's debut season, even though he is already calling James one of the smartest players he has ever coached.
Proclamation No. 1: After initially pegging James as the opening-night point guard, Silas sees another long-limbed youngster -- Darius Miles, not LeBron -- as his likely starting point to start the season. The coach believes Miles, at a rangy 6-foot-9, is even more capable of guarding opposing point guards. He will give James chances to initiate the offense, but hopes to start Miles there, with Ricky Davis at shooting guard and LeBron at small forward.
Proclamation No. 2: Silas sees Davis, not LeBron, as the Cavaliers' offensive cornerstone for the moment, even while admitting that he and Davis didn't mesh so well in Charlotte.
In short, Silas is trying to ignore the clamoring from fans and media types for James to play 40 minutes a game right away, all with the ball in his hands. He doesn't want to rush James into either role, and definitely doesn't want to saddle James with the defensive responsibilities attached to chasing around little point guards, even though he needs no convincing LeBron will eventually be able to handle all that and more.
"LeBron can flat-out play, let me tell you," Silas said. "He's very, very quick to understand what you're doing. When you say something, he's got it right now. He reminds me of Baron Davis in that way, where Baron, you say one thing to him one time, he had it and never forgot.
"But I take the philosophy that he's a rookie, and he's not going to set the world on fire early on. I'm not looking for overwhelming stats. I want him to learn the game. I want him to learn the basics. Then his natural talents will take him wherever he should go."
There figures to be a school feel to Cavs workouts all season, with no one on the roster carrying more than six years of NBA experience. Davis, All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and backup point guard Kevin Ollie -- the steady hand who will run things if Miles and James can't -- are the only key veterans who don't report to training camp until Thursday. Everyone else is here already, and Silas will need every extra minute after last season's 17-65 debacle. With so much to teach and change, Step 1 is calling for practices that last up to three hours, twice as long as he'd go with the veteran Hornets.
Plus it figures to take at least a season, and probably longer, for the Cavs to learn how to win. They're media darlings now because of James, but all the losing it took to get him with the No. 1 overall pick established a defeatist culture.
Reflecting on the way they played for John Lucas and Keith Smart, Miles said: "Everyone knew the big thing was coming next year."
The Cavs, of course, still had to win the lottery to land their savior from nearby Akron. The immediate reward -- besides all the outside interest in a heretofore moribund franchise and the sudden rush to buy tickets -- is that James seems to know that the challenges ahead are substantial. He clearly relishes the opportunity to be on the floor and away from the masses, judging how he spent his lunch hours at last week's Rookie Transition Program, sneaking into the gym for workouts with new teammate Jason Kapono.
It's hard to look spectacular listening to lectures, but James wasted no time inspiring confidence in his attitude. Asked about his preferred position, James said: "One, two or three. I can't play the five, though." James then called himself "a role player" with a smile that made you believe him.
"He's a rookie, and he understands that," Silas said. "Although all these expectations have been heaped on him, the hoopla and all that, he knows how to blend in with the guys.
"He's going to get his chances, but Ricky is going to be the focal point of this team. Ricky's more established. But cream always rises. If LeBron has it right away, it's going to come out."
Truth is, though, there are more questions about Davis being able to handle an emerging LeBron than LeBron starting his NBA life as a third option behind Davis and Ilgauskas. James' passing and unselfishness at the high school level, never playing with anyone even close to his talent stratosphere, adds weight to the belief that Davis will be a much bigger project.
Of course, if Silas is worried about any of it, you won't be able to tell. He made it through untold crises in Charlotte, and made it through calmly. He held the team together after the death of Bobby Phills, and after it was announced that the Hornets would be moving to New Orleans, and kept winning last season as a lame duck in the final year of his contract ... and in spite of Baron Davis' long-term injury absence.
All that explains why he's calling the frenzy that follows James and the scrutiny that will come with being his first lecturer-coach as "a fun ride."
"I don't think anything that I would go up against could really compare to all that," Silas said. "Those were the toughest things I've ever been through. I just don't see any way (how) anything could be (tougher)."
The time is not now for LeBron James, at least when it comes to carrying the Cavaliers.