Pro basketball:

Former Rebel Bennett surprised, excited about LeBron’s return to Cleveland

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Sam Morris

Cleveland forward Anthony Bennett listens to a coach during the Cavaliers’ NBA Summer League game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, July 11, 2014, at Cox Pavilion.

NBA Summer League: Cleveland vs. Milwaukee

Cleveland center Alex Kirk, left, and forward Anthony Bennett take part in the Cavaliers NBA Summer League game against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday, July 11, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion. Launch slideshow »

The news broke Friday morning while the Cleveland Cavaliers were at a shoot-around preparing for their NBA Summer League debut against the Milwaukee Bucks in Cox Pavilion.

The game was already going to be a spectacle, with No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins going against the Bucks’ No. 2 pick Jabari Parker, and 2013 top pick Anthony Bennett returning to UNLV’s campus to make his Summer League debut after an injury held him out last year. Then another former No. 1 pick made a decision that changes the NBA’s entire power structure.

“I didn’t really believe it at first, but then I checked my phone and it was blowing up,” Bennett said. “Everybody was saying you’re going to be playing with the King now.”

Well, maybe.

It’s true that LeBron James, who four years ago left his home state to chase titles in Miami, will once again play for the Cavaliers. He announced that on SI.com about 9:15 Friday morning, a day after leaving Las Vegas. But just who on this Cleveland Summer League roster will be there alongside him remains a mystery.

Bennett, the Findlay Prep product who led the Rebels in points and rebounds during his lone season at UNLV, and Wiggins have been rumored in possible trades that could bring Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Cleveland.

All of the excitement about James’ return home vaulted the Bucks-Cavaliers game from anticipated matchup to madhouse. The game was one of four airing live on NBATV out of Cox Pavilion, which seats about 13,000 fewer than the Thomas & Mack Center a short walk across the concourse away.

Fans lining up outside hours before the game were told it was sold out, and even some with tickets had to line up at least 50 deep outside the gym doors hoping to pounce on an available general admission seat.

The game even did its best to live up to the hype, with Wiggins and Parker leading their teams with 18 and 17 points, respectively, in Cleveland’s 70-68 victory. Bennett finished right behind Wiggins with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting and seven rebounds with eight fouls.

Conditioning was a big issue in Bennett’s disastrous rookie season. That’s been a focus for him this offseason, and he appears slimmed down from his last game as a Rebel.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Bennett said of his first pro season. “I learned I’ve got to put in a lot more hard work, take care of my body and come prepared.”

Bennett gave the local fans something to cheer early on with a two-handed power dunk through the middle of the lane.

“It was fun,” he said of playing in Las Vegas again. “I think after the first dunk everybody was yelling 'Rebels.'”

First-year Cavaliers coach David Blatt was on the bench — something you only see with new coaches — with team owner Dan Gilbert sitting directly across the court. Now that they have James, several more roster moves will likely take place before Summer League ends July 21, so it’s important for the higher-ups to be hands-on.

There were many whispers going around the stands about whom the Cavs might bring in. The names included former James teammate Mike Miller, a free agent whose brother Ryan is the newest member of UNLV’s coaching staff.

The Cavaliers have four No. 1 overall picks on their roster: Wiggins (2014), Bennett (2013), Kyrie Irving (2011) and James (2003). They would be the first team since the 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers to have four No. 1 picks, though it certainly doesn’t sound like all four will remain.

Bennett said he’s not thinking about those trade talks. He can only focus on trying to prove himself to the new coaching staff and taking care of his own business.

But, yeah, it would be pretty cool to stick around and play with the King.

“Everybody was excited,” Bennett said. “We could learn a lot from him on and off the court.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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