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Cavs fans should love new Anthony Bennett


It was a new NBA commissioner, but what he had to say Thursday was remarkably similar to what the old commissioner had said exactly one year ago: that the Cleveland Cavaliers had used the first overall pick in the draft to select a kid from Canada.

Cavaliers fans called it a do-over. A 94-by-50-foot mulligan.

Last year, the Canadian kid Cleveland took first was Anthony Bennett from UNLV; this year it was Andrew Wiggins from Kansas.

Taking Bennett first hasn’t worked out. Not yet, at least.

After becoming property of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as it says on those throwback gray T-shirts, Bennett took last summer off to recuperate from shoulder surgery. When he started shooting baskets again, he was terribly out of shape. He looked like the Exxon Valdez, leaking crude. He shot airballs; he missed his first 15 shots from the field as a pro.

Finally, when it appeared Bennett had almost played himself into shape, he sprained his knee. More recently, he had his tonsils removed. It is hoped that will cure his sleep apnea and improve his asthma so he won’t leak so much oil.

Bennett played 52 games, averaging 12.2 minutes. He made 36 percent of his field goals, 64 percent of his free throws, averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. These are not numbers normally associated with first overall draft picks, unless the first pick was LaRue Martin or Kwame Brown or, more recently, Greg Oden.

Cavaliers fans were not pleased, of course. They blamed Bennett for everything except Lake Erie catching fire back in the day. Fans are pretty merciless to begin with, and then there’s social media, which is like handing the merciless ones a blowtorch.

When Bennett finally had a good game, scoring 15 points, somebody photoshopped his head onto Wilt Chamberlain’s body in that iconic photo taken after Wilt had scored 100 points in one game for the Philadelphia Warriors. Only instead of 100, it said 15 on the piece of paper.

Then after Bennett had the tonsillectomy, somebody wrote that doctors found a meatloaf attached to his adenoids.

As I said, people are pretty merciless.

When Andrew Wiggins was introduced to the Cleveland media over the weekend, they called him Mitchell Wiggins. That was his old man. One of the networks put up a graphic calling him Anthony Wiggins. You can’t blame these mistakes on Bennett, but it’s clear people back there remain a bit flummoxed.

The NBA Summer League will return to Las Vegas July 11. When the Cavaliers rookies, free agents and other guys trying to catch on with the Canton Charge — or another D-League team, or one of those teams in Turkey — play at 5 p.m. at Cox Pavilion, Anthony Bennett will be on hand. In uniform. A Cavs spokesman confirmed this Sunday.

If Internet reports are accurate, a lot of people — especially the ones making the meatloaf jokes — probably won’t recognize him. Bennett supposedly has gotten his big butt into shape. There’s even one of those Instagram photos that shows him without a shirt.

I also found a Twitter post from Impact Basketball, a training center on Sunset Road, that said Bennett was down there late at night, getting his big butt into shape. The post was from 53 days ago. If Bennett hasn’t fallen off the healthy food wagon, perhaps his shot will start finding the bottom of the net again, like it did against New Mexcio in the 2013 Mountain West title game.

Bennett played only a year of college ball — Mountain West college ball. He only recently turned 21. I’ve been saying all along that’s it’s too early to give up on the big kid from the Toronto suburbs.

I have discovered that I am not alone. A lot of basketball people don’t seem nearly as flummoxed by Bennett’s lack of progress as those Cavaliers fans with their social media blowtorches.

“He still has an opportunity to be a player who can be in the league a long time,” Ryan Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting, told the Cleveland News-Herald last week. “We evaluate draft picks after three years. This is his summer to show what he can do.”

I found seven of those mock drafts where experts predict where guys will go after the lottery picks are assigned. None projected Bennett would go first in 2013. The highest he was projected to be taken by any of the court jesters was fourth.

And this was a lousy draft to begin with.

I only had a couple of chats with Anthony Bennett when he was here, mostly because I thought I would have at least another season to get to know him. I found him likeable. Quiet and understated. Except for when he showed emotion against New Mexico.

So I’m hoping he turns it around.

I’m hoping he turns it around for no other reason that when people were photoshopping his head onto Wilt’s, and were making their meatloaf jokes, Anthony Bennett was on Twitter posting pictures of the sick kids he had visited at the Cleveland Clinic and telling them to hang in there.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.