How Matthew Dellavedova is inspiring the Cleveland Cavaliers

NEW YORK -- Matthew Dellavedova finds himself in a different situation in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers than when he left in the summer of 2016. Back then, the team was coming off its first NBA championship win, and would subsequently make the Finals for another two years after Dellavedova signed with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now, back at the Cavs after a mid-season trade, Dellavedova returned not to a championship -- or even a playoff caliber team -- but to a squad struggling to find its identity, not to mention wins.

Dellavedova says it was "different" coming from Milwaukee back to Cleveland.

"I guess coming from Milwaukee where they're top of the East, we've got some work to do here," Dellavedova tells ESPN. "You just got to look at it as a challenge and see the long term vision, and make sure we're working on getting better."

A new, but familiar, environment also means that Dellavedova has gotten a chance to play more after falling out of the Bucks rotation towards the end of his tenure there. In just 12 appearances for Milwaukee, Dellavedova averaged 8.1 minutes and 1.7 points per game - both career lows. Since being traded in early December, he's played 33 games for the Cavs -- mainly as a backup to Collin Sexton -- but Dellavedova has seen his own productivity increase. So far he's averaging 7.5 points, 4.4 assists in just over 20 minutes a night.

Dellavedova says he's enjoying the opportunities to help the young Cavalier players develop further.

"It's been great getting out there and playing, especially the last couple of months you can see the improvement," he said.

Wherever he's been, Dellavedova has been lauded for his leadership skills. In Milwaukee, coach Mike Budenholzer praised Dellavedova for being one on the locker room leaders, despite not playing many minutes. Back in Cleveland, it's no different. Head coach Larry Drew appreciates having a player with Dellavedova's pedigree to mentor the young players on his team.

"He's really teaching them, and showing them, how to be pros," Drew says. "Whether, in the course of a game, you're on a high or on a low, he understands, and has the feel [of the game]. With our young guys, those certainly have not been in those types of situations before, so with his leadership and his awareness out on the floor, hopefully some of that will rub off on the young guys."

As the Cavs season winds down, and with no hope of making the playoffs, Dellavedova says teaching the young kids is imperative if the Cavs are to rebuild quickly.

"Just try to build winning habits and some of that is [leading] by example, and some of it is vocal; some of it is watching film, or at practice or just talking about the game," he tells ESPN. "The more you talk the game - where it's on the court, or at practice or in a film session - just building that understanding between teammates of what needs to be done, I think that's where a lot of improvement can come from."

Cedi Osman, along with Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson are just some of the younger players that Delly has been helping to mentor. Osman, who joined the Cavs in 2017, tells ESPN that Cleveland is "really lucky" to have Dellavedova back.

"He's always talking to us, if we're doing something wrong, he'll right away tell you that is wrong. That's why we appreciate him. Players like him the have experience in this league to fix our wrong stuff."

As the NBA regular season winds down, and eyes turn to the NCAA's March Madness tournament, one can't help but look ahead to this June's draft and the biggest prize of them all: Zion Williamson.

The Cavs currently have the NBA's third worst record, and thus have the equal greatest chance to land the top overall pick -- along with Phoenix and New York -- if things remain the same at season's end. Despite that, Dellavedova, who played with one athletic freak in LeBron James, says that the team hasn't thought about adding another in Williamson just yet.

"It's that far in the future that it's not something we worry about," he says. "If the players are worrying about that stuff then we're worrying about the wrong thing. We've got to focus on getting better and helping each other out and getting better and trying to win games. Then whatever happens, happens. That's out of our control."

If anything, the NBA teaches you to live in the moment. Never get too high or too low, and don't look further than the next game on the schedule. Improvement is made daily, and as long as Dellavedova is on the Cavaliers, he'll continue to preach getting better every day.

"It sounds cliché but I think that's what we've been doing, and we've done a good job of" he says. "It's starting to pay off in terms of more wins, but I think we've been playing better basketball and the trend has been up. It's just a fun way to play when everyone's defending hard and moving the ball - as long as we do that, we're going to be more successful this last part of the season."