Charge experiencing the hard part of developing talent
CANTON, Ohio -- Life as Steve Hetzel can't be easy.
Almost as soon as Hetzel coached the Canton Charge to first place in the NBA D-League's East Division -- poof. Half the roster was gone.
Actually, it's more than that, as just three players remain from Hetzel's opening-day roster. And one of them, forward Shane Edwards, is on a 10-day contract with the Cavaliers, the Charge's NBA parent club.
So make it two.
Welcome to the minors, where guys remain in the same city about as long as Frank Sinatra's many wives stayed by his side.
And it was the Charge who sang the blues Saturday night at the sold-out Canton Memorial Civic Center, where they suffered a 130-98 hammer job of a loss to the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Along with Edwards, the Charge were without one-time starters Kevin Jones (left for the Philippines), Jorge Gutierrez (called up by Brooklyn Nets), Arinze Onuaku (fractured cheekbone) and Gilbert Brown (concussion).
By D-League standards, that's a heck of a starting five. By anyone's standards, losing five of your best players can create one heck of a conundrum.
Not that the Charge's current roster lacks talent. Former Utah Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko is here. So are guard Ben Uzoh and forward Olek Czyz, both considered NBA prospects. (Uzoh even had a stint with the Cavs once upon a time.)
And let's not forget rookie swingman Sergey Karasev, the Cavs' first-round draft pick who's in Canton on assignment.
Still, possessing capable players is one thing. Getting all that newness to suddenly become cohesive during the season is quite another.
But again, welcome to the minors. Fortunately for the Charge, their coach understands all this.
"It's hard," Hetzel admitted, before quickly refusing to make excuses. "I can say woe is me, but ... we have to look at everything through a positive scope right now. If we start feeling sorry for ourselves, it's a snowball effect. We just gotta keep fighting. We have to believe that we can execute and get wins."
Hetzel, 33, is in his first season as a head coach at any level. But he's pretty familiar with the Cavs and coach Mike Brown, as Hetzel was the team's video coordinator from 2006-09. He held the same position with the Detroit Pistons for four years before coming to Canton.
Not surprisingly, he shares Brown's philosophy. And it's a philosophy Hetzel stressed can help a team overcome the regular craziness of D-League basketball -- craziness such as injuries, call-ups and guys bolting for Europe.
"We still want to be a defensive team," Hetzel said. "I'm not going to change that by any means. It's definitely harder for everybody to be on the same page right away, but that's my job, and the players' job to buy in at practice."
Nor are the Charge alone in experiencing these type of develop-talent-for-someone-else situations.
"Things like this happen across the board in sports. It's just more prevalent in this league," Hetzel said. "I've said all along we want this to happen, where our guys move on to better things. We just have to be prepared to move forward ourselves."
Picking up the pieces
On a night when few things (OK, almost nothing) went right, the Charge did receive some decent individual shiowings. Perhaps the most notable was delivered by former Ohio Mr. Basketball and Ohio State product William Buford, a recent acquisition who came off the bench to score 15 points in 31 minutes.
As for Karasev, there's still a ways to go. He grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, but none in the second. He also shot just 3-of-10 for seven points. While he displayed some deft ball-handling and passing skills, he remains, clearly, a work in progress.
"If I want to be a great player, I need to work on everything," he said afterward.
But the 6-foot-7 Russian added, hey, that is why he's here.
"(The Cavs) just say, 'Play as hard as you can, be the leader, try to improve your defense. Just play your game and try to win,'" Karasev said.
On the other side of things, the D-Fenders were experiencing something similar, although not nearly as obvious. They lost former Cavs forward Jamario Moon in January, when he took off for the Greek league (he's since been released). Also, former Cavs guard Manny Harris, the D-Fenders' leading scorer, left to play pro ball in Turkey earlier this week.
But LA still possesses more than half its roster since opening night, and when you're talking about the D-League, that's pure magic.
As for the Charge (25-18), they're right there in the thick of the playoff race. In the D-League, each of the three division winners qualifies, along with the five non-division winners with the best records. The Charge currently sit in second in the East.
"We just have to pick up the pieces and we have to get better," Hetzel said. "There's no time, room or reason why we should be feeling sorry for ourselves. We've had a great season up to this point. Can't let a bad weekend affect that."