2008 Record: 45-37
Division Finish: 2nd – Central
2008 Playoffs: Lost, 4-3, to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
Head Coach: Mike Brown
Season: Going into fourth season
Record At Cleveland: 245-101
Signed Ronald Dupree, F, 1.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, from Seattle
Signed Tarence Kinsey, G, 3.6 ppg., 1.1 rpg from Memphis
Signed center Lorenzen Wright, F-C, 1.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg. from Sacramento
Traded Damon Jones to Milwaukee & Joe Smith to Oklahoma City Thunder. Got guard Maurice Williams, G, 10.2 ppg, 6.1 apg. from Milwaukee
Resigned guard Daniel Gibson
Resigned guard Delonte West
Damon Jones, G, 6.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg., Free agent
Devin Brown, G, 7.5 ppg., 3.4 rpg., Signed with New Orleans Hornets
Dwayne Jones, C, 1.0 ppg., 2.0 ppg., Signed with Orlando Magic
Detemtris Nichols, F, 1.1 ppg, 0.4 rpg., Claimed off waivers by Chicago Bulls
JJ Hickson, F, 6-9, NC State, 14.8 ppg., 8.5 rpg.
Darnell Jackson, F, 6-8, Kansas, 11.2 ppg., 6.7 rpg.
Sasha Kaun, C, 6-11, Kansas, 7.1 ppg., 3.9 rpg.
Signed Jawad Williams, F
If the Cleveland Cavaliers want to make that next step from a good team in the East to a great team in the NBA that has a chance to win a championship, they need look no farther than one of their Central Conference foes. The Chicago Bulls wrote the playbook on how to win with a superstar and Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry needs to not only read it, but take the necessary steps.
For my money, the Cavs have the best player in the league in LeBron James. He might not go out and score 50 points in a night like Kobe Bryant and may not play as much defense as Bryant, but he’s more consistent than Bryant. He can beat you in so many ways that I think he’s more versatile than Bryant. He also rebounds a lot better than Bryant and being around the basket creates scoring opportunities with second chance points.
Another reason that makes James a better player in my opinion is that he’s trying to get everyone involved and make them a better team. James’ idol was Jordan and he knows if he wants to be in the same company some day that he has to start winning championships. Jordan was a great player but his status was elevated even higher once he started winning titles. Karl Malone may be one of the 50 greatest players in the league’s history but he’ll start to fade into the background because he was never on a championship team.
James can score just about any time he wants. It’s not a matter of if he could; it’s a matter of does he want to. I’m sure a lot of team would like for him to just to try to score at will. Detroit will let James get 45 points, but hold the rest of the team to 30 and the Pistons will come out on top almost every time.
But LeBron is smarter than that. He knows he has to get them involved because there are going to be nights when he can’t score at will and has to rely on his teammates. He also knows that he needs them because he already gets all of the attention off the court and if that spreads to the floor they won’t be as likely to play as hard. Look at the Lakers for the last few years up until this year. It was the Kobe Show and he wasn’t doing anything to make friends so no one wanted to play hard or play with him and they lost. He became more of a leader, wasn’t a ball hog, shut his mouth some and they went to the Finals.
So the Cavaliers knew they needed help last year when the acquired the services of Ben Wallace in a big midseason trade. Along with Wallace, Cleveland picked up guard Delonte West from Seattle and guard Wally Szcerbiak from Chicago. In the process they got rid of a lot of dead weight as the traded sent six players packing, topped by Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Shannon Brown.
Hughes and Marshall made sense. Both are getting long in the tooth and Marshall isn’t a great team player. Brown isn’t living up to the hype at Michigan State and he’s not doing it in the pros either. The one that surprised me is Gooden. He’s only been in the league six years and was averaging 11.3 ppg. and 8.3 ppg., but you have to give up something in those trades and they felt like Gooden was ready to go.
For his size, 6-foot-9, Wallace has been one of the best rebounders in the league over the last half a decade. However, he is getting a bit old. With a dozen NBA seasons under his belt he is getting close to hanging it up. Szcerbiak is a solid role player who can help a ball team win if he can stay healthy.
I like the edition of West. He’s a younger version of Hughes who averaged 10.3 ppg., 4.5 assists per game and 3.7 rpg. They also picked up Maurice Williams in trade during the offseason. He averaged 10.2 ppg and 6.1 apg for the Milwaukee Bucks so it will be interesting to see what happens in the battle between he and Hughes.
Most of the Cavs offseason moves besides getting Williams weren’t that spectacular. They drafted a pair of pretty solid forwards in JJ Hickson from NC State and Kansas’ Darnell Jackson. With Wallace as a mentor they don’t have to jump right into the fold and be expected to contribute, though they may.
I still think the Cavaliers are a year or two from putting together a championships team though when you’ve got a player the caliber of James anything is possible. If this team sticks together for 2-to-3 more years and they can keep some key guys in place then they may be a contender in 2009-10 or the following year. They have to resign James, but that’s a whole other blog.
They’ve got a great center in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who averaged 14.1 ppg and led the squad at 9.4 rpg., and he’s locked up until the 2010-11 season. As I stated before I’m also a fan of West and Williams. One of them may have to play the point and the other the off guard because that’s where they’ve got a hole.
The Cavs have a pair of holes in their off guard and power forward. I don’t know if Wallace can hold up through the whole season, though being on the floor with Ilgauskas and James may take some of the focus away from him and let him be productive like Dennis Rodman was with the Lakers. Hickson and Jackson could be good down the road but it’s hard to tell.
Since I predicted Detroit to win the Central and the NBA title the best I can give Cleveland is a second-place showing in the Central. I’ll give them the upset of Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but they’ll lose to Detroit in six.