MILWAUKEE — During NBA free agency, Matthew Dellavedova was in Australia, waiting by his phone. He didn’t want to get his hopes up too high because Dellavedova wanted a long-term deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the summer of 2015.
It never came, forcing him to settle for the one-year qualifying offer.
This time around, that life-changing contract offer arrived. Just not from Cavaliers. They opted not match the Milwaukee Bucks’ surprising four-year offer sheet worth $38 million, ending Dellavedova’s three-year run from undrafted free agent to Cleveland folk hero.
“It was tough to decide to leave because you’re coming off the highest of highs and I loved my time in Cleveland,” Dellavedova said Tuesday morning following the Bucks’ shootaround at the team’s isolated practice facility. “Fun team, great group of guys, great organization and fans obviously. But I had an opportunity here that I couldn’t pass up to see how good I could be as a starting point guard and really challenge myself. You never know if or when that opportunity will come along again.”
In his first year with the Bucks, Dellavedova is averaging career-bests in points (7.9) and assists (6.3).
“It’s been good. It’s been a challenge and that’s what I was looking for,” Dellavedova said. “Just getting to know a new group and a new system, new coaching staff, new city. There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s been good so far. I feel like I’ve learned a lot already and I’ve got a lot more to learn as well.”
That hasn’t been the only adjustment for Dellavedova during a whirlwind five-month stretch. He’s also engaged, set to wed next summer.
“What is it? The most stressful things are a city change, a job change and an engagement,” Dellavedova said with a smile. “No, I’m only joking. It’s been really good.”
Dellavedova says Milwaukee fans have welcomed him with open arms and he speaks highly of the new city with a small-town feel, something he likes. He’s still exploring the area and hoping to find some good restaurants, another thing he misses about Cleveland, the city where he wanted to be.
“From trying to make the team on a training camp deal and getting the option picked up, I was just renting an apartment downtown so I wanted to try to — not settle down — but really try to put some roots down,” Dellavedova said about Cleveland. “It didn’t work out, but things always seem to work out in the end.”
While he has been busy getting acclimated to his new team, concentrating on what he needs to do to help Milwaukee return to the playoffs and rebound after an uneven start, Dellavedova has been staying in touch with his old teammates from time to time via text.
“I have talked to him more than once,” LeBron James said. “Anything I want to say to him tonight, I mean, I will see him during the game.”
Dellavedova has also been keeping tabs from afar.
“I watched the ring ceremony and that was pretty cool,” he said. “Saw a few highlights from the White House. … I’ve been watching a little bit. Saw Kev go off the other day. Looks like he’s playing really well, but I’m focused on what I have to do here.”
On Tuesday night, Dellavedova will face his old team for the first time. He will also renew his practice battles with former teammate Kyrie Irving. The two had to be separated early on because of Dellavedova’s feistiness, a trait that led to becoming a very rich man this off-season, a fan favorite and a well-liked teammate.
“He’s a professional,” James said of Dellavedova. “At the end of the day, obviously he wasn’t given anything coming out of St. Mary’s and he just worked his tail off every day to become a real respectable basketball player on a championship-level team.
“He just plays the game the right way and he always plays as hard as he can. When you do that at this level, you’re always going to give yourself an opportunity to be successful.”
The Cavs have said they see some of those same traits in backup point guard Kay Felder, but the rookie has struggled to crack head coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation.
In the early going, Lue has used a committee approach to fill the void left behind by Dellavedova. The Cavs wanted to re-sign him, but when his price tag increased, they needed a new plan. And the Cavs are still searching.
“It was going to be tough because he was a big part of what we’ve done over the last three years,” Lue said. “And with Mo (Williams) coming in last year and having a year under his belt, we felt like we could probably go with Mo and he could give us some great backup minutes and then when he retired, and came back, retired, came back, retired, it kind of put us in a bind and we wasn’t able to make a quick enough decision to try to get a veteran point guard.
“But I like our young guys with Kay and Liggs (DeAndre Liggins), but with what we’re trying to do, it’s not really enough time to try to grow and develop someone and try to win a championship.”
Lue won’t talk to Dellavedova until after the game. But the two will be seeing plenty of each other in the near future.
Dellavedova plays for a division rival. There are three more meetings on the schedule, including a back-to-back starting on Dec. 20 in Milwaukee before playing in Cleveland the next day. That’s when Dellavedova is expected to receive his championship ring.
“It will be a good Christmas present,” he said.
From a small country town in Australia, Dellavedova has never been flashy — even if a film company is making a movie about his life — so he isn’t planning to wear the pricey diamond-encrusted championship band. Instead, he will have to find something else to do with it.
“I think I might have to buy a safe by the sounds of it because it’s pretty valuable,” Dellavedova said jokingly.
Truth is, he doesn’t need a ring to commemorate his three years with the Cavaliers. He has plenty of fond memories, including one that stands out above the rest.
“You’re never going to forget when the final buzzer sounds,” he said of Game 7. “Just that feeling of everything that went into that, the whole year, the year before falling short and just being able to have my family there down on the court, that’s pretty special.”