Coach Mike Brown still had to wonder how his Cavs might look when all the pieces were in place. Brown, as with almost everybody else, knew he had been blessed with a good collection of splendid talent, but how to blend that talent had been his struggle.
It didn't help Brown, a defense-minded coach, that he was forced to play without Delonte West, his hustling, all-purpose guard who had to sit out the first three games of the season with psychological problems.
His mind right now, West returned to a standing ovation Saturday night, no small matter to Brown. He was as pleased to have West in the lineup as the fans were, because West can open Brown's offense in ways not possible without him.
No other Cavaliers player, including LeBron James, is as versatile as West.
"Delonte can play," Brown said. "He really affects the game in a lot of different ways. He's a guy who can score but also run the team and distribute the ball at the right time."
Doubt his words if you'd like. Surely, Brown wouldn't be the first coach to inflate the contribution of a player. In this case, he was speaking the unvarnished truth.
The evidence was in West's performance, and in the comparison to how the Cavs played in their first three games as opposed how they played in their last game, West proved the difference in this 90-79 dismantling of the Bobcats. He played a bigger part in the win than any of the 20-562 fans in The Q could have expected.
"It wasn't a surprise," LeBron said.
West scored 13 points and handed out a couple of assists, statistical totals that didn't match the nightly outputs of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade or Brandon Roy. Brown doesn't need those kinds of statistics from West, not when he can count on LeBron for them.
What Brown does need from West is what he got: a productive performance from the floor, strong defense and selfless play. His first game back wasn't markedly different from games he had in the past. If West had any first-game-back rust, he didn't show it. He looked good.
So did the Cavaliers.
"Missing piece," Mo Williams said of West. "It felt good to have the whole team back."
Williams called West's performance "terrific," perhaps an overstatement. Such hyperbole isn't uncommon when one teammate talks about another teammate. In this case, Williams meant it, because West's return gave him someone to share the point guard's.
Brown counted on that, too. He was, however, more circumspect in his analysis of West's return. He didn't necessarily expect West to be in midseason form. What player is four games into the season?
The fact that West is back will allow Brown to reconfigure his substitution patterns and build an offense and a defense that are cohesive. Compared to the first two games of the season, he did a better job of rotating players in and out in the victory Friday night in Minneapolis, and his rotation had few exposed seams against the Bobcats, no NBA powerhouse.
West was the glue that Brown's Cavs had been missing. With him back, they should get better and better the more they work together.
"I think we're taking steps in the right direction," Brown said. "We still have a long way to go. I think guys understand that, and in time, we will be a very good basketball team. We're pretty good right now, but we have the chance to be great."
(Photo of Cavs coach MIke Brown from NBA.com)