CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The chill of the water seeped into his hair and then trickled down his neck.
Cleveland Cavaliers reserve swingman Cedi Osman had just celebrated a career night with teammate Donovan Mitchell, the man behind Sunday’s night’s on-court soaking -- a customary, frosty tradition that commemorates spectacular play. Then the two shared a hug that ended with a much-warranted handshake.
On a team of glittering stars -- Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley -- Sunday was Osman’s night.
“He was ready to go. I’ll say that,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff explained following the 113-87 triumph. “He’s one of those guys where there’s a spirit and an energy that we depend on, and we know the lift he gives us. I think Friday night he didn’t play as much, and I think he wanted to show he was gonna take advantage of his minutes.”
During Cleveland’s 132-122 double-overtime slump-busting win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, Osman played just seven minutes out of a possible 58. He didn’t see the court in the second half and two overtimes. It was essentially a DNP -- his second-lowest minute total this season, as Bickerstaff leaned heavily on defense-first players in hopes of helping the team rediscover a lost identity. It was also the third time Osman failed to score a single point.
But two nights later, with second-unit stabilizer Kevin Love sidelined because of a hairline fracture in his right thumb and Caris LeVert unable to play in the second half due to a minor ankle injury, the Cavs called on Osman. And he answered. Fiercely. Energetically.
“It’s electric. When he’s hot, he’s hot-hot,” Isaac Okoro said of Osman. “You’ve seen in the second half, he doesn’t hit one 3, he’s hitting three in a row and then it’s just contagious. He starts getting steals, making plays for others. When he brings the energy, it’s just contagious.”
“Cedi, he’s like the comedian of the locker room,” Darius Garland added. “Whenever he starts making shots or doing something good on the floor, that’s just contagious to all of us. When he’s out there smiling, everybody else is smiling and having a good time with him. Like Ice (Isaac Okoro) said, he is electric to us, and we really need him.”
Osman finished with a season-high 20 points and a career-best 12 rebounds in 37 impactful minutes, the most he’s logged since Jan. 31. With him on the court, the Cavs outscored the wounded Heat, who were playing without their two leading scorers -- Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro -- by an astonishing 39 points.
“It’s huge,” Mitchell said when asked to describe what Osman’s engagement means to the team. “I told him the biggest thing is to continue to be aggressive. I’ve never personally been in that position where I’ve come into some games and then don’t come in others. So, I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine having the fluctuating of that. But I told him, ‘At the end of the day, we all trust you. You’re going to do positive things. You’re going to do negative things. But continue to be aggressive on both sides of the floor.’
“Saw it on a night like tonight with him doing the little things. That’s the Cedi we saw to start the year. That’s what he does. It’s great to have nights like this to show what he does. He’s going to continue to bring that spark for us.”
Osman parlayed the best season of his career and a successful summer with the Turkish National Team at EuroBasket into a sparkling October. He opened with four consecutive double-figure scoring games while scorching from 3-point range. But then the shots stopped falling, the energy waned and his effectiveness on defense tailed off. A drop in minutes followed.
Fifteen against New York. Thirteen on the road in Boston. Just three in a late-game collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thirteen versus Milwaukee. Seven the next game.
Osman’s playing time has become as unpredictable as his jumper.
“It’s not easy,” Bickerstaff admitted when asked about Osman’s ever-changing role. “But we were talking pregame about how guys want to be here and be a part of it. When your time is called, you’ve just gotta give your best and Cedi is another example of that. He wants to be a part of this team. He wants to help. He wants to be on the floor. When his number is called, he’s gonna give us all he’s got and that’s a credit to him.
“He’s a spark plug. He’s got a strange energy to him that the guys love, the fans love. I’ve seen a difference in his approach this year in down moments. I think that’s growth for him. Accepting and understanding who you are, sacrificing yourself for something greater than yourself, but when your number is called, always being prepared. Tonight, he started out missing some shots, but that didn’t dictate how he played. That’s growth, because he’s important to us and he’s gonna be the entire year. It’s not just the shot, you know what I mean? It is that energy. It is those bursts. It’s the running, the deflections, those types of things. I think he’s embraced that.”
Based on that response, and the team’s current roster makeup, it’s clear Osman’s workload will be sporadic. While he capitalized on Cleveland having a thinned-out bench Sunday night, that performance seems more like an aberration than foreshadowing.
For the foreseeable future, apart from any other significant injuries, the Cavs will keep evaluating a specific five-man starting group -- Garland, Mitchell, Mobley, Allen and Lamar Stevens.
Four of those pieces are mainstays. The nucleus of this organization. The fifth could keep oscillating, with small forward continuing to be the imperfection in an otherwise pristine starting group. But Bickerstaff likes Stevens’ toughness, strength, mentality, switchability and defensive upside, especially alongside a non-traditional, undersized, offense-oriented backcourt.
So, with Stevens currently manning that spot and entering the rotation after nearly a month of DNPs, someone must be the odd man out.
It won’t be Love. When healthy, he is the most important piece of Cleveland’s bench -- the reigning Sixth Man of the Year runner-up. It won’t be LeVert either, as the Cavs are excited to see how he transitions into this reserve role after looking out of place alongside a pair of ball-dominant guards in the old starting lineup. Currently injured Dean Wade, who has missed five straight games with an infection in his right knee, will have a place somewhere -- either with the starters or reserves.
Those are, in no particular order, the current top eight. And Bickerstaff is most comfortable with a nine- or 10-man rotation. That leaves a push-pull between Osman and Okoro.
With the Cavaliers’ defense-heavy focus, and Okoro’s propensity to do the little things even with a volatile offensive package, Osman appears to be the most vulnerable -- unless the team is playing shorthanded like Sunday night or needs a jolt, the kind only Osman can provide.
“Whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready and try to bring the best to the team,” Osman said. “I’m just glad I was able to do that tonight and hopefully every other night. I know when I bring the energy, I can just help the team, so that’s why I gotta stay ready. Whatever happens, I gotta stay ready and do my best every time I step on the court.”
So, how does Osman keep that mindset?
“Just being positive,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can control. I gotta be positive with myself and work every day to get better.”
Depending on the status of Love and LeVert, Monday could be Osman’s next opportunity. Who knows how long it will last?
But for one night, the smiles, jokes and laughter were back. And Osman was at the center of it.
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