LAS VEGAS — Darius Garland has spent his summer working.
In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, Garland was a member of the Team USA Select Team and, for a few exhibition games, played for the senior roster. In Las Vegas, he spent weeks being coached by Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra and competing with and against experienced stars like Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
According to Garland, the experience was a confidence builder for him coming out of his second season in the league.
“It was getting to play against some of the best players in the world,” Garland told Dime. “They gave me the confidence and they gave me the keys to have the ball in my hand a lot in practice and scrimmages.”
Back in Las Vegas for summer league, Garland is taking those lessons from a summer with the best in the world and using them to embrace a bigger leadership role with the Cavs. In-between games, Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and others have been working out together under the supervision summer league head coach and Cavs assistant J.J. Outlaw, who was hired in 2019, in large part, to work directly with Garland and aid in his development.
For Garland, he says the goal of the workouts is to build chemistry with teammates he hasn’t seen since the season ended. It’s getting to reconnect with Allen, who the Cavs’ signed to a five-year, $100 million deal this summer, and his backcourt partner, Sexton. It also means beginning to gel with Mobley, the No. 3 pick in July’s draft. It’s also a role several people in the Cavs organization, including Outlaw and general manger Koby Altman, have talked about wanting Garland to take on.
“I just need to communicate more and be around the guys and try to find out what their vibe is and just try to make them better as much as I can,” Garland said. “It’s fun [being here], building camaraderie and seeing faces I haven’t seen in a couple months. Just being around each other, getting the vibes from each other. It’s about building chemistry for this season and it’s a good sign, everybody being here and being locked in and really just sacrificing the time out just to come.”
It’s the surest sign that Garland himself has grown comfortable and confident in his place in the league that he can begin to shift more of his focus outward to teammates. In particular, Garland sees getting Mobley acclimated to the league and figuring out his role on the Cavs as part of his job, even if they won’t actually share the court until the fall. When that moment comes, Garland seems very excited about the possibilities of playing with someone who possesses his natural gifts.
“His size is crazy,” Garland said. “He’s only like 19 and he’s a seven-foot athlete. There’s a lot more to come.”
It’s also getting easier for Garland to build those off-court bonds with his teammates. Last year, Garland says, dinners and team hangouts weren’t really possible due to league health and safety protocols and a condensed schedule. Now, those are far more common, with the team talking to each other about non-basketball topics and learn more about each other on a deeper level. For a young team, that off-court bond lends itself to more trust on it, and for a point guard like Garland, it allows him to be more aware of how to push the right buttons to get the most out of his teammates.
As for himself, Garland believes his confidence is “way higher” than it’s ever been since being draft by the Cavs in 2019. Year 1, Garland says life was “hectic” and he was just trying to get games under his belt as he came off of surgery that ended his Vanderbilt career early. Year 2 was better — “a totally different thing,” he says — but also not good enough for what he and the Cavs want to accomplish.
Now, as Year 3 approaches, Garland feels he’s in a great space, ready to take that next step both as a player and a leader in Cleveland. It’s just a matter of putting in the work.
“I had my relaxation time already,” he says of his rest of summer plans. “It’s time to get to work. The season is about to start.”