Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rashard Lewis

OK, so I lied--I'm writing another post about the Cavaliers' offseason.

Brian Windhorst, who reported yesterday on his desire to see Shawn Marion in Cleveland, reports today this interesting tidbit from Peter Vescey:

"New York Post rumor man Peter Vecsey has been saying the Cavs may go after Rashard Lewis. It would take a sign-and-trade with the Seattle Sonics. I will not rule anything out, because as I said before, expect the Cavs to be aggressive in trying to get offensive talent this summer."

You can read Brian's full post here.

Count me as a qualified fan of this move. I'd definitely prefer to get Marion (and unless they ship him elsewhere, Phoenix, who is looking to cut payroll, would get a good package from the Cavs in Newble's and Wesley's expiring deals, in addition to Drew Gooden, whom they reportedly like). Marion is a outstanding scorer and can actually play the type of defense Brown would be excited about--plus, he's one of the few guys out there who would be able to share the court with LeBron. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop agrees, writing: "I think that if you can add Marion to the mix without losing anything major, you just do it. He's one of the only elite scorers and rebounders who can also play Mike Brown D. The position thing doesn't really matter. On O, he'll complement James fine. On D, he can guard just about anyone. The only way I wouldn't do it is if it somehow prevented you from getting a killer point."

Rashard Lewis is not as great of a defender, but he's a really good shooter. More importantly, he's an outside-in player--he's a shooter first, and a slasher second. He's also a pretty reliable low post scorer, though he can get banged around a bit down there. That's the type of player who's a perfect complement to LeBron, who's the opposite (this is also the reason why Larry Hughes has been so miserable in Cleveland--because he's a slasher first and a shooter second, like LeBron). He'd instantly make the Cavs offense more explosive. At 6'10" and 215 lbs, he's a matchup nightmare. Mike Brown could coach Lewis to play even better defense, which would be phenomenal.

Plus, this trade makes more sense for Seattle than the Marion trade makes for Phoenix. With the Sonics likely getting Kevin Durant in a few weeks, they don't need another long swingman with a sweet outside shot. What they need is cap room to find complementary players to Durant, and some rebounders. Newble's and Wesley's contracts give them the former, and Drew Gooden gives them the latter. He's a good athlete, a solid rebounder, and a decent enough post player on offense. Trot him out next to the promising Robert Swift with Durant and Allen and Seattle looks like a better team too.

With both of these players, LeBron would have to alter his game slightly. He'd have to emphasize his post game more (which I think would be a good idea) because there wouldn't be as much room on the perimeter. In theory, Lewis could also play the post, but LeBron's strength (in my opinion) gives him the advantage down there over Lewis' height. Still, Lewis could play the post on some possessions when LeBron wanted to occupy the wing. And when LeBron did get down low, he could use his passing skills to find open shooters. It'd be win-win for him.

The other thing is, we would still need a point guard. But we'd have a bit more money to do so, since we wouldn't be re-signing Sasha Pavlovic in this situation. Also, it looks like the Cavs may be looking for alternatives to Varejao already in the Wizards' Andray Blatche and others, so we won't have to spend big money on them either. I'd like to see us swing a trade either now or at the deadline (when we have Eric Snow's and Donyell Marshall's expiring contracts to offer) for Jose Calderon, who would be a great fit in Cleveland. In the meantime, maybe we sign Steve Blake to hold the reins or continue to work on Daniel Gibson.

Final thought: Imagine a Cavs starting lineup of Calderon/Blake, Gibson (though we'd probably have to start Larry Hughes until we can get rid of him for monetary reasons), Rashard Lewis, LeBron James, and Ilgauskas. It's still a slightly inconsistent team in the sense that you have one plodder and five athletes. But honestly, that team is damn exciting to watch: Z and LeBron working on the block with Lewis, Blake, and Gibson outside for three-point support; LeBron, Gibson, and Lewis running the most explosive fast break Cleveland has ever seen. Finally, we'd have an offense to write home about. And once Hughes and Ilgauskas come off the books (in the summer of 2010) we'd still have a 24-year-old Gibson, a 30-year-old Lewis, and a 26-year-old LeBron. That's still a great core--two young stars in James and Gibson and a slightly older, yet still effective small forward. Plus, we can swing those two huge expiring contracts for yet another solid player (or two) at the 2009 trading deadline to continue a (hopeful) streak of dominance in the East.

OK, now I'm getting really excited. Hopefully Danny Ferry can make one of these trades happen. He reportedly has good rapport with Sam Presti and Steve Kerr, and both teams are looking to dump salary. Maybe we'll finally have a good second option in Cleveland . . .

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A last post (for now) on the Cavs offseason

Reader James directs me to Brian Windhorst's blog, where he points out that the Cavs do have some assets this offseason (reportedly, 11.1 million worth in contracts.)

I had forgotten that we gave David Wesley and Scot Pollard that much money--and Damon Jones is the most tradeable of our less talented players. So we do have something there. Brian suggests later in that post that we may be able to swing those three players plus Drew Gooden to Phoenix for Shawn Marion. I do love Marion's game--he plays great defense, he's extremely athletic, he has a deceivingly good three point shot.

The question is: what does our lineup look like then? Well, we still wouldn't have a PG, though maybe we could sign Steve Blake (I too am not a big Earl Boykins fan). Or maybe we could find a way to get Mo Williams (good call, James!) Plug in one of those, or maybe Daniel Gibson/Eric Snow (again, not ideal, but we may have to put up with it), Sasha/Larry/Shannon Brown at the 2, LeBron/Marion playing the 3/4, and then Varejao (if we re-sign him) and Z at the 5.

I'm still not a huge fan of this roster. Z has some skills but I don't think he's athletic enough to play with the other four players that would be on the floor. Plus, we become a really small team--aside from Z we would be pretty weak down low, especially if we lose Varejao. We could pull Z and try to run-n-gun a bit more on offense, but then we probably get beat by bigger teams on the other end (and we can only do this if we do sign Varejao or swing a big trade). The flip side is, this lineup allows us to see more of LBJ in the post (by necessity) and prepares the team for a future post-Z and Larry as an athletic, perhaps uptempo team (that still plays good defense).

My other concern is that we'd also have too many people who play the 1-3 with this roster--Snow, Pavlovic, Hughes, Brown, Gibson, Blake/Williams, LeBron, Marion. Clearly you could make the latter two into hybrid SF/PF's, but that's still a glut at the guard positions. Maybe the solution is not to resign Sasha? I like him a lot, but Brown reportedly has a lot more upside and costs less for the time being. I wish we could move Larry instead, but that will be impossible.

The other guys out there right now are Vince Carter (please), Jason Kidd (too old at 34), Rashard Lewis (would be nice, but creates similar problems to Marion in terms of having too many guys who play 1-3), Zach Randolph (interesting, but a head case--he would be a great fit down low in terms of athleticism but the Blazers don't need ANOTHER big man, which is probably all we could offer), Bibby, KG (would cripple us cap-wise), Jermaine O'Neal (interesting, but at 20 million a season? That would be roughly 50 million tied up in him, Z, and Hughes), and Gasol (haven't thought about him that much, admittedly).

So I'm worried about all the big trades the Cavs could make this year. I don't think signing a PG in the mold of Blake or even Williams is enough to significantly improve this team (though they would help significantly), but I am curious about what the team looks like in the future if we do make any of these big moves. You don't want to hamstring this team with yet another big contract, but it may be necessary to improve the team in some meaningful way. I like the Marion move most out of the potential ones I've heard thus far, but if that doesn't work out, I wonder if we sit tight to some degree and then use Snow's, Jones's, and Marshall's huge salaries and expiring contracts at the deadline next year to get a big gun who might be available? I'm a big Calderon fan--he should be available next year (he's a free agent in '08). And don't forget that Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Carlos Boozer, and Andre Miller are all free agents in '09 (though the latter two will be a bit older by then).

Basically, I'm struggling to figure out what the Cavs should do. Larry Hughes and Zydrunas make these discussions extremely difficult. One the one hand, the team needs to get much better. On the other, we can probably only afford to take on one more big contract in the next couple years (before Hughes and Z come off the books) and so we better make it count.

Now, it's time to force myself to write about something else. Tomorrow: a post on the Browns' QB controversy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some Good News for the Cavs' Offense?

A small, but juicy tidbit from the Plain Dealer article I linked to in my previous post:

" . . . last year, coach Mike Brown considered the addition of an "offensive coordinator" to spark the offense. Brown needs to make that move for next season."

I wasn't aware that Brown considered doing that last year. It's definitely necessary this year--hopefully he'll pull the trigger. Hey Mike, if you're reading, remember this post? I'd be happy to step into the role . . .

More on Bibby

During college, I'm not ashamed to say that my second-favorite team in the NBA was the Sacramento Kings. I didn't own any Kings gear, I didn't adopt them as "my team," I just wanted to have someone to root for in the playoffs, and the team I chose was the Kings. The reason was Mike Bibby. He was just so fun to watch--he could break down the defense with ease, hit perimeter jump shots, finish at the rim when necessary, but always looked to set up his teammates.

So when I heard that the Cavs were interested in him at the trade deadline, I was pretty fired up. Bibby is the first guy I trade for every time I play an NBA Live season with the Cavs. I was, conversely, extremely disappointed when we couldn't swing a trade.

At the time, the Kings reportedly wanted Drew Gooden, a point guard, and expiring contracts. Since we could only offer them one of those things, the deal fell through. Then, we went to the NBA Finals, and displayed to the world how much we need a guy like Bibby.

Which makes me even more concerned about this offseason. With everyone (including the Cleveland Plain Dealer) talking about how much the Cavs need Bibby, you have to figure that the Kings know they're now in a phenomenal bargaining position. And the Cavs still don't have enough to get Bibby. Our only expiring contract is Scot Pollard's. Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and Donyell Marshall are on the books for about 17 million/year over the next two years, and Hughes and Ilgauskas have big contracts for at least three years. (Click here for a good summary of the Cavs' cap situation for the next few years.)

Bottom line, the Cavs simply don't have enough to get Bibby unless we can involve a third team in the deal. Even if we get Bibby, we're going to be in luxury tax territory. So what can the Cavs do?

One option is to swing a big three-team deal for Bibby. There's a significant chance that Bibby would put us over the cap regardless, but it would only be for one season--though Bibby would be on the books for upwards of 12-million-per, we could move Snow, Marshall, and Jones as expiring contracts next July and get some cap relief that way (or, we could package them for another player, preferably someone in the frontcourt). The year after, Ilgauskas and Hughes are expiring contracts, which opens up lots of cap room and would let the Cavs have a second chance at adding a big superstar before LeBron is up for a new contract.) The downsides of this option is that the Cavs spend the next few years in and out of the luxury tax.

The second option is to stand largely pat this offseason. We already have to do what we can to re-sign Pavlovic and Varejao, which will definitely put us over the cap. To re-sign them and then take the hit of Bibby's contract would put us in huge luxury tax territory (though maybe Gilbert would go for it). And I think they're worth re-signing--with Ilgauskas, Hughes, Jones, Marshall, and Snow all expiring within three years, we need young players to replace them. You can't really put a price on Varejao's ability to bring energy and passion to the game (though you can put a price on his current offensive skills, which I'd estimate as less than the 50 cents I spent on a Coke a few minutes ago). And Pavlovic may be a season or two away from being an outstanding second option (or at worst, good complementary player). Maybe we can sneak in a Kapono-type player at the mid-level exception? He's the one player I really want in free agency this year.

As much as it pains me to say, I think we may have to go with the second option and look at next year as a necessary hurdle before the following season. We won't win a championship next year, but maybe the nucleus can improve enough to give James and his younger companions (Gibson, Varejao, Pavlovic, maybe Shannon Brown) some more playoff seasoning. Next July, we'll have 17 million dollars worth of next-year expiring contracts to move for a more established player (though, some of that will be taken up by re-signing Daniel Gibson), and the year after, we'll have upwards of 20 million to move around to target someone else to be LeBron's running mate.

The only move I could see us making this offseason might be to trade Drew Gooden. Some teams are showing serious interest in him, and with the amount of money I expect us to pay Varejao, we probably shouldn't keep Gooden as well. Perhaps we can use his salary to get some sort of Earl Boykins/Jason Kapono player? He's young and has shown some improvement over the past few years.

UPDATE: According to this site, the '08 Free Agent Class includes Al Jefferson (great, athletic frontcourt player in Boston), Beno Udrih (Ferry reportedly wants him this offseason), Brevin Knight (a traditional point, for what that's worth), Dwight Howard (will probably re-sign), Elton Brand (what might he have left), Emeka Okafor, Gilbert Arenas (probably a bad idea), Jason Kidd (for a year or two?), Jermaine O Neal, Jose Calderon, Luol Deng, Monta Ellis, Richard Hamilton, Robert Swift, Shaun Livingston, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan (will definitely resign), and Viktor Khryapa.

The 2009 Free Agent class (this is the year Snow, Jones, and Marshall come off the books, so we could conceivably make a run at one of these guys) includes Andre Miller, Andrew Bynum (maybe he'll have developed by then?), Carlos Boozer (seriously, can you imagine him back in Cleveland?), Chris Paul (though he'll probably re-sign), Deron Williams (same), Kevin Garnett (may be too old at that point), Kobe Bryant (let's be serious, that would be a horrible idea), and Lamar Odom.

The 2010 Free Agent class includes Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Brandon Roy, Manu Ginobili, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ray Allen (probably too old by that point), Steve Nash (same), Tracy McGrady (maybe the same?), Tyrus Thomas (maybe he'll develop by then?)

With $17 million in expiring contracts in '09, we may be able to sign-and-trade for one of the '08 free agents next summer, though we'll also have to pony up to re-sign Daniel Gibson. Or, we can re-sign Gibson next year, stand pat during the season, and then use our newfound cap room (plus our two huge expiring contracts in Ilgauskas and Hughes) to get someone in the 2009 offseason. I'd lean towards doing something big next summer because you don't want to let LeBron get into a Kobe situation (two years of the team not showing considerable improvement or roster turnover might piss hom off). But, that said, the Cavs probably have enough to still contend in the East this upcoming year, and if we can swing a big deal for one of the '08 or '09 players the next offseason, that might be enough to put us over the top (especially if we add them to a nucleus of LeBron, Gibson, Pavlovic, and Varejao).

Not a lot of happiness for the "win a title next year" crowd, but in terms of positioning Cleveland to make a run at a title over the next four years (which is a more realistic timetable, given that LeBron's contract runs out then), we are in better position than I thought.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Few Free Agency Targets

With the season now over, I thought I'd take a look at's list of free agents and see who caught my eye.

1.) Mike Bibby

We need a point. Badly. Bibby isn't great on defense, but we've played good defense this year even with some poor defenders on the floor (Damon Jones). Bibby's a smart, savvy point guard who got back in shape this year and played some good minutes. He's got a solid midrange game (something we sorely need) and would allow LeBron to play more from the elbow and low block. We'd have to do some sort of sign and trade (maybe a package of Sasha and Drew Gooden for Bibby? Or maybe Varejao, though I hate giving up his energy) but it really might be worth it.

2.) Jason Kapono

Yeah, I know we drafted this guy and he was largely a bust in Cleveland. But he's finally blossomed into the player we thought we were drafting--a lights-out three point shooter (51 percent for the season). Last night's game exposed how sorely we need a perimeter shooter. LeBron kept kicking the ball out after the defense collapsed and Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones collectively missed about five wide-open threes that would have kept the Cavs and the crowd in the game. Kapono can't do much besides shoot the three, but he wouldn't have to with LeBron around. And maybe Mike Brown could get him to play D--he got Sasha to, after all.

3.) Theo Papaloukas

See this post for more on this guy, but I think he could be a great Manu Ginobli-type vitalizer off the bench. He's not a great shooter, but we wouldn't have to give any players up to get him. Can't say that about any other good PG on the market. The combo of him and Kapono could be a very attractive one for the Cavs--solves their need for a playmaker and their need for a solid shooter--and might be a better use of their money than making a big run at Bibby.

4.) A Shooting Coach

While this wouldn't affect the cap, it is in some ways our most important offseason acquisition. Given that we can't move Marshall or Jones, we need to find a way to get them back on track. At one point they were good shooters--they've become really poor ones this year. Pavlovic could also use some refinement in his shot--not to mention LeBron. Honestly, one or two weeks with a good shooting coach would work wonders. Tony Parker put in some good time with one after his first NBA Finals appearance and became the Finals MVP this year. You'd hope that LeBron and Pavlovic, at the very least, would follow in his footsteps.

There's also the question about whether or not we re-sign Sasha and Varejao, given that we will have the opportunity to match whatever teams offer. It's a tough call. I still think Pavlovic can be a great offensive weapon, but he's too inconsistent right now. He faded big-time last night when we needed someone out there to make shots, and he's really struggled to finish the ball at the rim this postseason. If he can commit in the offseason to becoming a better three-point shooter and learning to finish the ball, I definitely think we should re-sign him. I'm pretty sure he'll do what it takes to improve--he became a much better defender this year when he realized that doing so would get him playing time, so maybe he can make similar improvements on offense.

Varejao is also tricky. He's a great energy guy and fan favorite. He's a solid defender and bothered Tim Duncan for some parts of the game last night. But his offensive game is not that great, and he doesn't yet have a very high basketball IQ. Still, he's young and talented, and I think worth matching offers for if the price is right. I'd like to see him spend the offseason working on some sort of a post game (he's got decent foot speed and wants to be an offensive option, but he'll need to work to get there.) That said, the guy just completed his third season in the NBA and has a long career in front of him.

My only worry about re-signing Pavlovic and Varejao is that it essentially keeps the same team together. That is great for the younger guys (Pavlovic, Varejao, Gibson, LeBron, even Shannon Brown maybe) who need to learn to play together. But we're still stuck with several overpriced veterans (Marshall, Jones, Ilgauskas, Hughes) with no real hope of moving them. In an ideal world, you could unload one or all of them and really build around that young core. But since they've got such bad contracts (and aren't really that good), the Cavs have to make some tough decisions about younger players with much more upside.

It's also worth throwing out a name familiar to Cavs fans: Andre Miller. Used to be my favorite player pre-LeBron. He was available at the all-star break and is an excellent point guard. Not sure what it would take to get him, but it's worth considering.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Out With a Whisper

And so it ends. What a season for the Cavs. 41 games of coasting, 41 games of getting back in the race, a too-close four game sweep, a nice six game series win, an unexpected six game thriller over Detroit . . . and then a truly awful showing against the Spurs.

We knew we weren't going to win, but I didn't think it would be this bad. Still, outstanding job by the Spurs. You can't give this team enough credit. They have an off-the-charts basketball IQ, they play well together, they hit open shots (you hear that, Donyell? Do you hear that?) And they're so good at taking your best shot in stride and then answering back with an uppercut. A deserving champion for this season.

Let's see how the Cavs respond. They have a big offseason in front of them. Need to dump Donyell--if we can get anyone to take him. Need to find an athletic big as LeBron's running mate, or if that's not possible, a great shooter (preferably a point guard). And LeBron needs to work on his midrange game (he had that shot all game and was just really inconsistent with it), his post game (see how good he was the few times he played down there?), and his ballhandling skills (what the hell were those two turnovers late in the game?)

And this team needs to watch this series again and again and again, and watch the Spurs to learn what Basketball IQ is. The Spurs have plenty of it, and that's what separated them from us in this series.

I'll have more tomorrow. I guess for those of you enjoy reading this blog, its good the title drought continues.

Congrats to the Spurs--you deserve it. Danny Ferry, Mike Brown, and LeBron James--the ball's in your court to take this team to the next level. Get moving.

And hell, congrats to the Cavs. I think the Spurs series overshadowed just how amazing this team's run was. People can talk about the easy ride we had all they want, they can talk about how we didn't deserve to be there, they can talk about how the system is broken--but for one great month, the Cavs ruled Cleveland. And I, for one, enjoyed being a Witness.

The Tortoise and the King

Henry Abbott reports that we shouldn't expect many big changes in the Cavs' offense tonight. Apparently the sole decoration in Mike Brown's office is this quote:

"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."

Henry closes the article with an amusing and salient observation: "[W]hat happens if you only get four chances to split that rock in two? I'm thinking you might need some dynamite."

I'd like to expand on his post in thinking about Game 4 tonight. Mike Brown is definitely a system coach--no doubt about it. He's taken the San Antonio defense and implemented it here, and you can't deny that it's been successful. He's taken a bunch of guys who in all honesty aren't phenomenal on-the-ball defenders (with a few notable exceptions) and turned them into a unified group on the court that cover for each other, rely on each other, and generally do a great job. The Cavs seem to take pride in their defense, which is a good thing.

Here's my question. What's the offensive system? We know what the defensive system is, but I have yet to discern what the Cavs' actual plan is on offense. Occasionally, we run a pick/screen and roll for LeBron, which has become laughably predictable and easy to defend, given that we have no consistent shooting big man to actually do anything after setting the pick or screen. Otherwise, aside from the five times a game we pass the ball in to Z and watch him take four dribbles before putting up a jump hook, there is no system. Mike Brown himself admits this--see, for example, the last item in this post where Brown extols the virtues of "random offense." According to Brown, he's fine with random offense as long as players move a lot.

So, as far as I can determine right now, Brown's system on offense consists of 1.) easy to defend pick-and-rolls, 2.) Z jump hooks, and 3.) random offense, which is OK as long as guys move.

Forgive me for being blunt, but the very idea of "random offense with movement" sounds a lot like "five guys playing pickup together for the first time." And often, that's what the Cavs look like. Pavlovic isn't sure how to play with LeBron or when he can assert himself. Z is the classic larger slower guy who gets stuck on a team with a bunch of athletes and infuriates everyone by slowing the game down (though he means well). Larry Hughes is the good athlete who treats pickup games as a showcase for skills he doesn't have (three point shooting and ball handling) instead of doing what he can do best (slash to the hoop). Gibson and LeBron are the only ones who seem to have a clue about how to play together, but both are still relative neophytes. For all the talk about this team being built around LeBron, we haven't given him the types of players he should have as running mates, nor does he have a system that plays to his considerable strengths.

In a nutshell, that's what bothers me about Mike Brown's refusal to mix things up on offense. I know he's a system guy. But I don't see the system. The only thing I see is a consistent rotation, but that rotation is effectively meaningless if the guys in it don't know how to play together.

It goes back to what I was saying yesterday. Mike Brown knows what this team's identity is on defense, and so do the players. But neither seems to have a clue about what it is on offense (hence the squabbling earlier this year between Hughes/LeBron on the one hand and Mike Brown on the other). Part of that identity confusion comes from having mismatched players (older slow veterans on one hand, and young athletes on the other) that have to occupy the court at the same time. But part of it definitely comes from the coaching staff not trying to address that disparity in any way. Time will tell if the front office steps in with some big moves to address the talent disparity over the summer. But even if they do, the Cavs need to change the system. I like Mike Brown--I think he's a great defensive coach and a good guy. But he needs to show growth on offense and less hesitancy to change because right now, he's running perilously close to Romeo Crennel's career path (great defensive mind who won titles as a coordinator may not be a great head coach).

It comes back to the stonecutter quote. Henry responds one way--"if you only have four blows, you may need something stronger than a hammer." I offer a slightly different response that (I think) takes the metaphor on its own terms. The stonecutter that Mike Brown is so fond of makes 102 identical blows, each of which gets him closer to his breakthrough. He doesn't make 102 random blows in 102 different ways. And he doesn't trust 102 random stonecutters to come by and each take a crack. Instead he devises a method, a system, and sticks to it.

In short, I don't think the problem is that Mike Brown's offensive method is flawed. I think the problem is that he doesn't really have one. And make no mistake--the Cavs need a real, not random, offense, if they want to get back to the Finals in the near future. Random may work against a team missing its two best players, a team with no real frontcourt, and a aging team that may well be in its twilight--but it hasn't, and won't, work against these Spurs.