Channing Frye blocking out the noise to focus on Cavs winning championship
Channing Frye stood at the center of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ locker room Sunday after playing his best game in more than a month — not that there was much to compare it to, since he’s barely played in the past six weeks — and made one final contribution for the greater good before calling it a night.
A reporter was trying to one-man-band it by propping a video camera on his left shoulder while holding out a microphone in his right arm. A few minutes into Frye’s postgame media session, the reporter’s arm started to wobble.
Mid-answer, without skipping a syllable, Frye grabbed the mic and continued to speak, helping out the reporter the same way he’s been trying to help the Cavs out of their midseason funk, whether he’s on the court or off of it.
Frye had 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 21 minutes in the Cavs’ 121-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons. Cleveland improved to 13-1 on the season when he plays 15 minutes or more (and 6-0 when he plays 20-plus minutes), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Frye saw the Cavs go 4-10 in their past 14 games prior to Sunday while playing an average of just 4.3 minutes per game during that slump.
“I went crazy a couple times, but, I mean, I just got to be ready,” Frye told ESPN. “Like, all I want to do is win. And that’s it. If we’re not winning and I’m not playing, that’s a double suck.”
The triple suck was his reward for being a good soldier during the downturn: seeing his name pop up in trade rumors.
One trade scenario that almost came to fruition, as reported by ESPN and other outlets, would have sent Frye and Iman Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings for guard George Hill. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was against including Frye in the Hill trade, league sources told ESPN, because he deems the stretch-5 too valuable to include in a move that does not result in a clear-cut improvement to Cleveland’s championship chances.
“I’ve been traded before,” he said. “What am I going to do? Listen, my checks transfer to Sacramento. I think at the end of the day, we have pretty good communication, and business is business. I want to be here to win. My main goal here, the only goal that everybody should have here, is to win a chip. So your personal feelings of what you think is best for you doesn’t matter. At all. If you’re not here to win a championship, you need to get the f— out of here.”
Frye is pragmatic. If the Cavs organization was to fill out a journal entry stating its goals for the 2017-18 season, it’d only need one line to complete it. If their $177 million payroll and the diverse collection of veterans don’t combine to achieve a championship parade down Ontario Street, the entire endeavor will have been an abject failure.
In order to walk the walk, Frye has to accept a trade that sends him out of town if it truly would get Cleveland closer to its title ambition.
Even if the Sacramento deal faded, until the Feb. 8 deadline comes and goes Frye knows his days in Cleveland could be numbered. The LA Clippers trading away Blake Griffin to the Pistons could be the domino that hastens them to move DeAndre Jordan — the type of rim protector the Cavs lack.
“I still might get traded,” he said. “So, while I’m here, what am I supposed to do? Help us win. Make sure we’re playing championship-level basketball and at the end of the day, if I’m not playing or in the rotation, I want to play and I want to help the team get to a chip and I want to play in a championship game.”
The championship game line he uttered is something he keeps with him. In the 2016 NBA Finals, he logged just 33 minutes total while collecting DNP-CDs in Games 5-7 as Cleveland mounted its epic comeback from down 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors. In the 2017 Finals he played even less — just 11 minutes total during the Cavs’ five-game loss to the Dubs.
But that disappointment of not playing never caused him to stray from putting the team first.
“Whatever they have to do to win, they got to do that,” Frye said. “There’s no personal feelings. And I think that’s something that people don’t understand when they’re here. They’re like, ‘We’ll, this is about me.’ No. It’s not about it. It’s not. Absolutely not. If they feel like George Hill or if they feel like Anthony Davis or whoever else is out there they’re trying to get is going to upgrade them? Do it. I understand. So there’s no personal or hurt feelings. I want to be here. I want to be able to help and just let me know what I need to be able to do to play in the championship or help us win.”
Potentially parting with Frye wouldn’t just be letting go of a player helping make the Cavs be plus-11 points per 100 possessions with him on the court this season, compared to minus-2.3 points per 100 possessions with him off of it. It would represent a continued erosion of the culture that led them through the championship chases the last three years.
Locker room leaders James Jones (retired) and Richard Jefferson (traded) are gone. Frye’s voice — and the way he goes about letting himself be heard — matters.
“I just think you can’t put a price, you can’t put a value on how much he means to our team,” Kevin Love told ESPN. “He’s cut from a similar cloth — I mean, different because of the way he goes about it because he’s so silly, kind of outspoken and loud, I mean, he won’t shut up, in a good way — but from the same cloth as a James Jones or even [Jefferson]. Just guys like that. He’s just a great pro and one of those guys who has seen it all, done it all, been through a lot and finds a way to keep our locker room intact.”
Frye’s philosophy when it comes to that responsibility is simple: just be himself (he wore a backwards baseball cap embroidered with characters from “Where the Wild Things Are” on Sunday), but make himself put the team first.
“I am who I am,” Frye said. “I’m pretty light-hearted for the most part. I think for me, I just enjoy this. S—, we’re on a really good team. It’s like: have fun. Be unselfish and sacrifice for each other. That’s really what this is about. It’s like, we have everything that we’d ever need. It’s just if you sacrifice a little bit, it makes us that much more dangerous.”
LeBron James calls Frye, “a true professional.” Lue credits him for, “Just policing the locker room, telling the truth even if guys don’t want to hear it.”
There was plenty that was said from a lot of guys in the Cavs’ explosive team meeting last Monday that was hard for people to hear. But Frye insists it’s just how the Cavs communicate sometimes.
And as long as he’s still in Cleveland, he plans to keep the conversation going.
“You look at all the personalities on our team, we’re going to yell and argue at each other,” he said. “It just happens that the personalities are a little bit bigger than they were before. So, it’s like, we’re never going to agree 100 percent. It’s like, we’re going to yell at each other. We’re going to scream at each other. But it’s all coming from a place of, like, ‘I demand this of you,’ or, ‘You demand this of me,’ and sometimes the communication is different. Like, I may yell because that’s how I talk and it may come from a place of goodness. But you take it as, ‘Oh, you’re yelling at me.’ But it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this guy! F—in’ this guy!’ It looks like that, but it wasn’t as level 10, blow-this-up [anger]. Different people talk different ways. And once we’re mad, we talk, we yell, we scream, like, ‘F— you.’ ‘F— you.’ OK, cool, let’s go hoop.”