DALLAS -- During a third-quarter timeout Saturday, LeBron James leaned over from his seat on the bench, turned his head to peer down the row of seats to catch Jae Crowder's attention and barked instructions at his new teammate over the crowd noise at American Airlines Center.
"When you catch the ball," James implored, "have your feet already squared and be ready to shoot!"
After Crowder went 0-for-5 from the field in the first half and the Cavs trailed a Mavs team that came into the night eight games under .500 by three points, it was Kyle Korver who spoke up to the versatile swingman, who was acquired from the Boston Celtics back in August as part of the Kyrie Irving deal.
"Tried to talk through a couple things," Korver said. "It's one thing to just tell someone, 'You're going to make the next one.' I hate that. Don't you hate that? 'Keep on shooting, make the next one.' Yeah, whatever. When I do that, I think it's important to give something, too. Just a little technique, tinkering, not a big thing, just a little thing that you can kind of think about. Kind of gives you, 'OK, I'm going to focus on this and now if I do this it's going to go in.' That's what helps me thinking about my mechanics if I miss a couple. 'But if I do this, the next one's going to go in.' "
Sure enough, Crowder made his next two to start the third quarter -- first a running layup from a James assist and later a 26-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Cavs up by one. Crowder finished the game shooting 4-for-8 in the second half, racking up 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists total in what might have been his most complete game yet for Cleveland.
The disparity between James' direct approach and Korver's subtle tips mirror everything that has been thrown at Crowder in his short stint with the Cavs thus far. He has been the starting 4 when Kevin Love played the 5. He has been the starting 3 when James played the 1. He has come off the bench at the 3. He has come off the bench at the 4. And the Cavs are only 13 games through the season.
"He's such a huge X factor for us and can do so many things, it's just tough because we've been asking him to play the 4, play the 3, guard the other team's best player, score the basketball," Love told ESPN. "He just has to find a way to go out there and play and compete because tonight that's what he did and he was great for us."
Several players mentioned how impressed they've been by Crowder's demeanor, not once piping up with an individual complaint despite everyone seeing how he has been bounced around the lineup like a pinball. He's also only a few months removed from the death of his mother, Helen, who died of cancer the same day he was traded to Cleveland. Not only did her death take an emotional toll, it also disrupted Crowder's offseason training regimen, causing him to come into training camp not up to his normal tip-top standards after spending the final part of the summer making flights around the country to take care of his family's needs once his mother died.
"I'm not where I want to be, honestly," Crowder said. "But I feel like I'm getting there. Every day with every film session I get better and that's the key. But like I said, these guys always preach about, 'All we play for is a championship.' Once that time comes or once we continue to build throughout each game in the regular season, once the playoffs come, hopefully everybody will be where they need to be."
When the Cavs acquired Crowder, who faced them in the playoffs two of the past three years and showed his toughness on the grandest stage, it wasn't long before their braintrust was plugging him into imaginary scenarios in a potential Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals IV encore.
"His ability on the court and what he can bring -- switching and we go small and put him at the 4 -- it helps our team a lot," Tristan Thompson told ESPN. "Him, Bron, myself, you can go even Jeff Green, Swish (JR Smith) ... it will be a crazy [defensive] lineup."
It's just a matter of figuring out if Crowder's defense will fuel his offense, or it will be the other way around.
"He had some open shots he still needs to take," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "If he's open, we've got to shoot those shots and take them in rhythm. ... I know he's not shooting the ball especially well right now, but we know he can shoot the basketball. When we get everyone back, he'll get even easier shots because there's other guys you have to key on and try to take away. I like what he's giving us and just got to stay with it."
"I'm not where I want to be, honestly. But I feel like I'm getting there. Every day with every film session I get better and that's the key."Cavaliers forward Jae Crowder
Crowder is averaging 8.1 points on 37.5 percent shooting from the field and 29.5 percent from 3 with 3.8 boards per game, down from 13.9 points on 46.3/39.8 percent shooting and 5.8 rebounds in Boston last season.
The numbers don't concern James.
"I just want Jae to be aggressive," James said. "If Jae is aggressive, I don't care if he misses 100 straight shots, I want him to be aggressive and when the ball comes to him, look at the rim. ... I want to be the one to kind of stay in his ear and let him know, like, 'Listen, I want the Jae that I had to go against the last few years with him in Boston.' "
Crowder would like to see that guy, too.
"LeBron always tells me to shoot the ball," he said. "Don't worry about stats, don't worry about percentages. 'We know what you can do, just shoot the ball and be comfortable.' I just think I've got to be more aggressive at both ends of the floor. When I'm aggressive on the defensive end it really helps me on offense."
And it will help the Cavs become the team they envisioned this summer when they made the trade with Boston if Thompson and Isaiah Thomas can return to the lineup healthy and ready to do what they've always done.
"I know that it's going to happen at some point, but we don't want to fast track it," James said. "Just like we don't want to fast track I.T.'s injury. When he's ready, he's ready. And when Jae gets comfortable, we'll know. And I know it's there so there's no fret right now."
Perhaps the same thing can be said about the Cavs.