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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wish List?

Henry Abbott reports (via The Painted Area) that Theodoros Papaloukas is looking to join the NBA. Papaloukas is a 6'7" point guard/playmaker who's dominated European basketball (and the United States in the 2006 Worlds). Here's a scouting report on the guy (link courtesy of The Painted Area).

I am cautiously endorsing Cleveland signing this guy. As I mention below, we really need a point guard/playmaker in Cleveland--someone to bring the ball up, get us into our offense, and handle the ball at the top of the key so that LeBron can start working to become lethal in the elbow/low block area. Papaloukas certainly fits that bill--he's got great court vision, he's tall, and he can post up most smaller point guards. Papaloukas would also allow us to create matchup problems for many teams--we could have a real big backcourt that would be pretty tough to guard (imagine Papaloukas as a 6'7" PG, Hughes/Pavlovic as a 6'7" slasher, and LeBron as a 6'8" SF) with Gibson and the other of Hughes/Pavlovic coming off the bench, and Gooden and Varejao down low. Wow--that would be a fun team to watch. Plus, Papaloukas has a good mid-range game, which the Cavs sorely lack.

On the flip side, though, my first concern is that Papaloukas isn't the purest outside shooter. I wonder if there's such a thing as too many slashers (Hughes, Papaloukas, LeBron, Pavlovic) such that the offense would stay cluttered and directionless. Though, Papaloukas could play a bit of post on smaller PG's and open up the floor for the other guys--and LeBron in the post could have the same effect. Plus, maybe Gibson and Pavlovic might be enough from 3-pt land if the latter gets a bit more consistent.

My other worry is this: Papaloukas at PG is like having Larry Hughes at PG, if Larry Hughes could make passes and initiate the offense (OK, fine, the only similarity is their size). But if we plug in Papaloukas, do we really have space for Hughes any more? I mean, right now, the guy is perhaps the fourth- or fifth-best offensive option on the team . . . Papaloukas would push him even farther down. Now, I'm not sure if Larry Hughes has much promise in Cleveland, but I don't know if we could move him even if we wanted to (especially not at 14 million per) and I worry about the effect him sitting would have.

Ideally, we could move Hughes and trot out a starting lineup of Papaloukas, Pavlovic, LeBron, Gooden, and Varejao, with Gibson on the bench. That lineup would be tough to defend--a great penetrator/facilitator, a good shooter/slasher, LeBron, and two reasonably athletic big men who could focus on rebounding more than scoring.

That being unlikely, we still desperately need a point/guard playmaker on this team. I'm not sure if there's anyone out there who would be better than Papaloukas, so maybe it's worth taking a shot. Or maybe, just maybe, we could send Larry Hughes to New York, to help Isiah complete his quest to trot out a complete lineup of past-their-prime former slashers?

UPDATE: We could also sign Papaloukas as a bench guy--someone to come in and fill the Ginobli role of mixing things up and providing instant life for the offense. The problem is, we still wouldn't have a starting point guard then, unless the Gibson experiment works out (Larry Hughes is NOT the answer at the point). I still think it's worth getting him--though most of his success in Europe has come off the bench, I'm sure he could develop into a good starter and solve our PG problem. If not, maybe we bring him off the bench and take our chances with Gibson at the point (hoping that he improves a lot) and always have a ready offensive facilitator when he struggles. Papaloukas does have plenty of experience (though not in the NBA game) and could help offset Gibson's youth and relative inexperience.

There's Always Next Year

A familiar refrain for Cleveland fans, but one that I was singing last night. I suppose it's always possible for a team to come back from a 3-0 deficit, but I doubt that this team is going to do it. Last night, we got to see the Spurs at their absolute weakest, and they still found a way to get it going. That's the mark of a great team--the ability to grind out a win on a night when nothing is going right. The Cavs aren't close to being there yet. The Spurs are, and deserve to be champions.

Some thoughts for the Cavs going forward to the next game (and, more realistically, next season):

1.) LeBron absolutely got fouled on that last play, but I like that he's not complaining about it. It's a surprisingly mature move from a 22-year-old. I won't write more about this since Henry Abbott, as usual, has written a great post on the topic already.

2.) It is shocking how much better our offense looks when LeBron plays in the post/elbow area. He is a very good face-up player, no doubt, and on most nights that aspect of his game is enough. But last night, when he had the ball in the low block, he was that much better. He kept getting past Bowen, though he couldn't always finish (mostly due to not yet being comfortable down there), and Gibson and Pavlovic had more room to operate at the top of the key. He's too quick for big men to guard, and he's too big for little men to guard.

3.) On that note, I firmly believe that Mike Brown (or, if we're lucky, an offensive consultant of sorts) needs to redesign the offense around LeBron getting the ball in that area instead of bringing the ball up the court. As much as I like the idea of a 6'8" 240 lb. point-forward, I think the last few years have proven that LeBron is an even better player when he's not bringing the ball up. Let's consider the benefits:


LeBron brings the ball up (usually slowly) and, against good playoff teams, immediately gets trapped. He passes the ball out of the trap (usually cross-court) and then keeps moving up. Then, he moves to the top of the key to get the ball back. At this point, about 8-12 seconds have elapsed. Now the Cavs have 12 seconds left. We either pass it in to Z, who dribbles slowly three or four times, then passes it out or puts up a hook/jumper. Or, LeBron tries to dribble it in (which usually takes a few seconds) and then has to spend more time establishing position before he passes out. Occasionally, he gets to the rim and finishes. But otherwise, he has to give the ball up, and then Sasha or Gibson holds the ball for a while before attempting a drive. OR, teams don't trap LeBron, and he brings the ball up and then stands at the top of the key pounding the ball into the floor while the other (less talented) players get into some sort of position. LeBron has to pass the ball and then cut to get it back (which takes more time off the clock) or go 1-on-5 and hope for a shooter to do something right.


A point guard not named LeBron (not sure if Daniel Gibson is the answer as a starter, he really is more of a combo guard than a pure point, though maybe he can work on this in the offseason) brings the ball up quickly to take advantage of the Cavs' athleticism. LeBron runs up the floor and works to establish position in the elbow or low post area. Now, the Cavs have multiple options. Only six to eight seconds have come off the clock, and they have the ball in the frontcourt. The point guard can immediately pass it in to LeBron (who should be able to get the entry pass at pretty much any time) and let him work for a shot or find a shooter when the defense collapses. He can pass to Pavlovic or Gibson, who can try to create off the dribble, with more space to operate given LeBron's presence. Hell, even Larry Hughes would be free to play the game he is most comfortable with--slashing to the hoop from the outside instead of taking spot-up jumpers--because LeBron isn't the number one slasher anymore.

I really think this offense would be more productive and functional. We'd probably have to play smaller (maybe roll out a new PG, two of Gibson/Pavlovic/Hughes, LeBron, and Varejao or Gooden?) but I think the disadvantage we have in the low post is offset by the sheer athleticism of this team. Or, we could run with Gibson at the point (he'd have to improve) along with LeBron and Pavlovic/Hughes, Gooden, and Varejao if we wanted more size on the floor.

4.) Two things have to happen for this new offense to work. One is that LeBron needs to commit in the offseason to improving his low post game as well as his midrange jumper. We know he can improve in the offseason (remember his markedly better shot in year 2 than year 1). If he adds those two facets to his game, he's pretty much unstoppable. Right now, he's not great from the midrange area, so when he can't get right to the hoop he has to fade away or pass the ball. If he could hit that midrange jumper, teams basically have to pick their poison against him. He'd have the scoring ability of Kobe (though with a slightly worse jump shot from outside) along with the passing ability of Magic.

5.) The other thing is that we'd need to move Ilgauskas. I like the guy--he's been a Cav for a long time and he's one of the first players I remember being a fan of. He's stuck around for a lot of bad times and has played through a lot of pain. But he just doesn't fit this team anymore. Sure, he makes a few great tip-ins every game, and at times he's still a capable defender/offensive presence. Yet he's not the athletic big man this team needs--he can't play at an uptempo pace, he can't run the floor very well, and he forces us to slow down a lot in the halfcourt set. I don't think the Cavs should become a run-n-gun team because, as we've seen, they aren't very good at that style. But if we go to a LeBron-in-the-post offense, I'm not sure what Z can really do anymore. While he may be a bit more refined than Gooden, Gooden's a decent enough rebounder (as is Varejao) and both can get up the floor and have more upside.

6.) I'll have to do more research on this, but my gut tells me that there's got to be a team out there that plays a lot in the halfcourt set and needs an established big man to snag rebounds and try to tip in shot (boy, I wish Mike Fratello were coaching somewhere right now). If we could move Z, it would give us a bit more cap flexibility (depending on what type of contract we got in return) and would allow this team to develop a new, more cohesive offensive identity. Right now, we're don't have an offensive identity at all.

7.) I think last night showed how good Pavlovic could be, and also why he's not that good yet. He's explosive and athletic, he can get to the rim and get a shot off against most defenders, he has a good outside shot and can stretch the defense (his three to answer Parker's three and bring the deficit back to seven points at 60-53 in the fourth was fantastic). But, he's not yet comfortable being around LeBron--I think he's not sure how to play his game given that he has a similar style of game to LeBron but isn't as powerful or dominant. He also isn't sure when to defer to LeBron and when to go for his own shot. Hence, he plays tentatively and passively at times. I'd like to see LeBron and Sasha spend some time together in the offseason to get more comfortable with each other--the two of them plus Gibson really seem to me to be the future of this team and a good core to build around. Also, if LeBron did play more out of the post, Sasha would have more room to operate and could better establish himself as a double threat to shoot from outside or take it to the hoop.

8.) I'm not ready to give up on the Daniel-Gibson-as-starter experiment. If we could get an established PG in the offseason, that would be great, but I'm not certain there's anyone that good out there. Gibson's got plenty of tools already, and if he can spend some time in the offseason working on his handle and watching video of where he gets into trouble with traps, I think he should start next year. In many ways, he's the perfect compliment to LeBron since he's a better "outside-in" player (his outside shooting sets up the rest of the game) whereas LeBron is an "inside-out" player (his jump shot always seems to be more consistent after he's hit a few buckets inside.)

9. At the end of the day, though, I think the largest part of what the Cavs need to do this offseason is do a MUCH better job of playing to the strengths of their players. Larry Hughes is a slasher, not a spot-up shooter, so stop making him the spot-up shooter and start letting him create off the dribble. Sasha Pavlovic is dynamic enough to be a deadly second option, so let him loose and encourage him to constantly look to score instead of only going for shots when LeBron can't seem to. The team as a whole has trouble when LeBron brings the ball up, so don't have him do it--instead, let him get the ball in the post where he opens up Larry's and Sasha's games and can do the most damage to opponents. Basically, my macro thought for the Cavs' coaching staff is, "Design an offense around what you have, not what you wish you had." We don't have great shooters, so the "stretch" offense, while perhaps our best offense of the bunch we have right now, is still inconsistent. What we have is two players who can slash really well, one of whom is also a good outside shooter; a good three-point shooting combo guard with a decent enough ability to penetrate; a couple athletic but offensively-challenged big men; a big plodding center; and some stiffs. Create an offense that works to THAT set of personnel and move the people who don't fit. If doing this means asking LeBron to change his game, do it--he's a "team first" guy by all accounts, and if you couch it as "this will make you more unstoppable and everyone else around you much better," I can't imagine that he'd do anything other than jump at that chance.

10.) Henry Abbott notes the following, when I asked him about whether LeBron should get a shooting coach:

"I wish he'd pencil in a week with someone like David Thorpe or Tim Grover. It could really do things."

I agree. Hopefully this can happen, though it seems like LeBron may be really busy this summer, what with playing deeper into the playoffs than ever before, Team USA commitments, and the birth of a new child. But even if it doesn't work out, what about having him make these adjustments during the regular season? LeBron coasted through much of the regular season this year, so why not challenge him during the next regular season by installing this new post-friendly offense? Sure, he may miss a lot of shots early on, but if Sasha, Larry, and Gibson can improve in the offseason, they can pick up the slack to a degree--plus, LeBron should be able to improve quickly enough to keep the Cavs in the running given how weak the East is. 82 games plus practice should be enough to teach him how to play down low (though obviously, offseason prep would be ideal). Hell, we learned our defense on the fly this year, and it was outstanding come playoff time. Assuming everyone else gets familiar with the offense during the offseason, LeBron has the basketball IQ to adjust on the fly (he started to do this in the Finals this year) and let's be honest: the offense couldn't be much worse, and keeping things as is is the surest way to ensure that we never win the title that would keep LeBron in town.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More on the Offseason

Before we get to discussing Game Three, I thought I'd fill you in on an interesting email discussion I had with Henry Abbott of TrueHoop. I emailed Henry some questions about the possibility of Gilbert in Cleveland, and here was his response:

"Teams are SO reluctant to get combo guards. Can't imagine Cleveland would go for two at once. And, if they have a way to bring in a big-dollar player, I'd have to think they'd want an athletic big man who can score.

But all that said, it would be pretty wouldn't it? The only question is, who gets the ball with seven seconds left? Not sure Arenas can share."

The euphoria haven worn off, I think Henry is right--Gilbert would be a fun addition to the Cavs but not necessarily a championship-winning addition. What this team really does need is an athletic big man to replace Z, but I worry that we won't be able to do that until after the guy retires.

Henry added later that he thinks every team could use Tayshaun Prince, and that Victor Kryhapa would be a good fit in Cleveland. I agree with him on both counts (Tayshaun did not show his true skills against the Cavs) but think that both are unrealistic targets. Especially with the Cavs winning the East, I can't imagine Chicago or Detroit would want to trade to and potentially strengthen the Cavs. Kryhapa is a free agent next year--maybe we can make a run at him then? Though he is restricted.

Bottom line, I don't think we can make any big moves this offseason (and can't think of any really worth making). I wish we could get Larry Hughes' salary off the books (in addition to Donyell's and Z's.) My new thought is that we should see if we can trade one of those guys for another overpaid player in addition to a draft pick--something the Cavs sorely need. I'll analyze potential trade targets after the season ends.

Thanks to Henry for the discussion.


I just read an interesting excerpt of Tony Kornheiser's Talking Points for the Washington Post:

"Wouldn't he look good in a Cleveland uniform next to LeBron [James]? A lot of guys don't go in free agency because they can make more money with the Larry Bird rule staying where they are. He's the kind of guy I think would go."

Wow. Now, this is total pie-in-the-sky at this point, but imagine if we could find a way to clear Larry Hughes' salary off the books by then (he made close to 14 million this year--yikes) and make a run at Gilbert. A backcourt of Gilbert, Daniel Hughes, and LeBron? If LeBron could work on his post game and do more work from the elbow like he did on Sunday night, this team would be ridiculous. Gilbert would thrive with a pass-first player like LeBron, and with Gilbert and Gibson bringing the ball up, LeBron would be able to play in the post or catch the ball off screens/picks (which is when he's at the best). Plus, Gilbert can hit the three--something Cleveland sorely needs.

Yeah, this move makes a lot of sense. I really wonder if we can get it done . . . getting rid of Hughes looks even more attractive now. Signing Gilbert would no doubt keep LeBron in town, and would give this team the established second option it sorely needs.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quick Offseason Thoughts

Looking to the offseason, I'm curious as to how the Cavs can improve. LeBron and Gibson are the core of the team, and you'd want to build around them. Varejao is worth resigning as our PF/C of the future (I actually think the guy is in the throes of developing a decent offensive game) and Pavlovic is good at everything but finishing after a good drive (I'd really like to see him spend the offseason working on his jump shot and decision-making skills, he really is one of the more explosive offensive players in the league but has a mental block at the rim). Eric Snow's a good guy to have around for defense, and Gooden is getting better by the year (though he needs to get more consistent). The question is, what do we do with the rest of the players? Z's clearly not the right fit for this roster, though can we move the guy (or will we have the stones to)? Marshall, Damon Jones, Ira Newble, and Scot Pollard are dead weight. Who knows what Shannon Brown is capable of. And Larry Hughes is basically Eric Snow, but with poorer shot selection (he actually takes shots).

So the question is--which of these guys can we move? Who can we get in return? If we do have to part with one of the "core three," who is it (LeBron is obviously excluded)? I don't think we can move Varejao, because though he's our hottest commodity, he's also close to being our best interior player. Gibson is just too good to trade right now, plus LeBron would flip. So that leaves Pavlovic. But I worry about trading him--he has all the tools to be a star if we can get him going. And what would we trade him for? Could we spin him to the Kings (along with Z and maybe Gooden) for Bibby? It would give the Kings a team somewhat like the one they used to have--Euro shooter/scorer; big, not particularly mobile center on the downswing of his career; athletic power forward. But would the Kings do it? Should we? How else do we improve, given the lack of a draft pick? Can Shannon Brown be an answer for us on offense next year? Is there any way we can move Larry Hughes? And what the hell do we do about offensive coaching?

All questions I will be pondering over the next few weeks--stay tuned for my thoughts on the answers after the Finals are over. In the meantime, I'd love to know what thoughts you have.

Ten Thoughts on Games 1 and 2

Since Games 1 and 2 were so similar in outcome, and since I was busy moving this weekend, I thought I'd offer ten observations on the games in San Antonio.

1.) Why is Larry Hughes still playing? The guy had zero points in 20 minutes in Game 2. Two points in 23 minutes in Game 1. And he's no longer able to shut down the opposing team's point guard like he did in the Detroit series. I know that having an injured guy play gives some inspiration to a team, but I think we are well past the point at which the Cavs care about him "gutting it out."

2.) Why is Boobie Gibson not starting? The kid can get to the hole, he is quick enough to at least come close to staying with Parker, AND he can hit threes. I am more perplexed than ever with Mike Brown's coaching strategy on offense.

3.) And on that note, Mike Brown sitting LeBron James for 9 minutes in the first quarter was just absurd. I know, as Brian Windhorst noted, that we only dropped six points with LeBron out of the game. And that we lost a bunch more when he came back in. But LeBron was setting the tone for the team in the few minutes he played. He was aggressive, he was taking it to the rim, he was moving on offense. The second they took him out, it was like all the wind came out of the Cavs' sails--the Spurs instantly had to expend about 50% less energy on the defensive end and thus had more energy on offense. LeBron is a smart player--and he only had one foul for the REST OF THE GAME. This move was a complete bonehead blunder by Mike Brown. You don't sit your superstar in a game of this importance unless they get 4 fouls in the first half. No way.

4.) Our best lineup, believe it or not, is Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones, LeBron James, Drew Gooden, and Anderson Varejao. This lineup gets almost no playing time in the game. When they do get time, they play well. People say this isn't a great defensive lineup--but the Cavs play team defense, not individual defense. They have a scheme and these guys can execute it as well as anyone. With Larry Hughes getting beat more frequently than Mark Madsen in a game of one-on-one against Michael Jordan, and Raggedy Andy being enough of an offensive liability so as to not play him at the same time as snow, AND Z getting destroyed by Tim Duncan with great regularity, I don't see why Mike Brown does not play this lineup more. It would be one thing if the three aforementioned Cavs were playing at a high level. But they couldn't be playing worse (except for Snow, who was OK in the minutes he played).

5.) One thing I just don't get is the Cavs' attitude in this series. They have been written off by just about everyone, especially after Game 1. They're playing in the NBA Finals against a superior team. They're way ahead of schedule in getting to the finals. So why are they the more lackadasical team on the floor? Why are they treating these finals like the coast-at-all-costs regular season? Hell, even LeBron James admitted today in the Post that the team is not playing particularly hard for most of the game. I just don't get it. All throughout the playoffs I figured that the Cavs might rise to the occasion in the Finals and play like the Golden State Warriors--not really sure what the hell they're doing, but ready to give it all the energy they have and enjoy the experience. Instead, they seem moribund and depressed. What am I missing here?

6.) For any fans who went to the Q for Game 2, I'm curious to know what it was like to watch the slaughter in 3-D; I was nauseous enough watching it in 2-D.

7.) I would really like to see the Cavs get up the floor quicker. I hate to toot my own horn, but the "walk it up" effect is in full force here. When we are slow getting the ball in the frontcourt, we get slow and stagnant and are easy to defend. When we bring the ball up quick, we are a much better team. Yet another argument for starting the explosive Boobie Gibson -- and yet Mike Brown doesn't do it.

8.) Does anyone know if LeBron has continued his pregame ritual from the Detroit series of shooting for several hours before the game? His jumper is looking balky again and I'm wondering if that's why. In Game 2 he showed an ability to get to the rim and finish most of the time (though he did have a few key misses on tough drives). If he could start hitting that jumper again, it would open up the offense a lot more.

9.) Back to the Finals. In this online chat on ESPN, someone mentions the thought of mugging Parker as he goes through the lane. I think this might be a good idea. I'm not talking about a McDyess hooligan foul, I'm talking about a good, hard playoff foul that maybe gets a flagrant but makes him think twice about being so fearless in the paint. I'm talking about the equivalent of a brushback pitch, not a heater to the forehead. Why the hell else is Pollard on the roster?

10. All of this said, I don't think the series is over. San Antonio is going to win, but we still can make the series competitive and at least avoid the sweep. If Mike Brown sees the writing on the wall and plays the lineup that works; if LeBron keeps driving to the rim instead of trying to get his jumper going early (he's an inside-out player, I think--his shot gets better as he keeps driving); if we can stop having fourteen defensive breakdowns on Ginobli every quarter; we can sneak a few wins away. Plus we'll have home court, and as I mentioned last night, that has been big in the past for the Cavs. But, it's definitely going to be an uphill road. Who knows, maybe I'll finally get to start writing about the Indians by the weekend (though I hope not!)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Quick Thought

First of all, sorry for not posting more over the last few days--I was moving into a new apartment. I'll have more comprehensive thoughts on Games 1 and 2 tomorrow, but for now, I, the eternal pessimist, will leave you Cleveland fans with some positive chi to help you sleep tonight:

Last year, the Cavs looked completely overmatched in the Conference Finals against Detroit. They lost Game 1 by a score of 113-86. They were losing at halftime of Game 2 by a score of 52-36. In the fourth quarter, they made a furious comeback to get the game much closer than it should have been in terms of final score. The Cavs then went on to win three in a row.

Now, San Antonio is damn good. They're simply much better than we are. But, all I'm saying is, there's not yet cause to say all is lost. The Cavs could still make this series competitive at home and get back in this thing (lose in 6 or 7 instead of 4). Plus, we all know what happened the next year against the Pistons . . .

At least, that's what I'm telling myself to allow me to sleep tonight. More to come tomorrow.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Keys to Victory

Maybe, as reader robino2001 pointed out in this comment, I have let the delay before Game 1 convince me that the Cavs have a chance to win when, in fact, they don't. My brain still tells me that we are going to lose (though in 6 games or even 7), but my gut says that we have a chance. Here are three things we can do to win the series, and three things that San Antonio can do to help us win.


1.) Attack the rim.

I've read recaps and watched footage from the few games that San Antonio has lost this postseason. For us to win, we have to get Tim Duncan in early foul trouble. I'd like to see LeBron drive to the rim hard his first few trips down the floor. He can get past Bowen pretty much whenever he wants to, and is one of the rare people out there who can finish at the rim over Duncan. If we can get two fouls on Duncan early, and put in Varejao, Duncan is probably going to play more tentatively since he knows Varejao is a good charge-taker. But it's not just LeBron who can do this--Daniel Gibson showed a nice teardrop jumper against Detroit that will probably work against Duncan in addition to a knack for drawing contact and hitting free throws. Sasha is deceptively athletic enough to get to the rim--the question is whether he can make good decisions once he's there. Either way, I think the Cavs have enough penetrating wing players to get Duncan in trouble--we just need to get them moving instead of standing around and letting LeBron pound the ball.

2.) Get into the offense earlier.

I expect San Antonio to run some trapping defense since the Pistons had great success with it against the Cavs. I'd like to see us move the ball up the floor much faster. The Cavs are a team that seems to mirror the way the ball is brought up in their offensive intensity. When LeBron brings the ball up slow, Cavs players get entrenched in the positions they happen to be in and we end up with a bad shot. When the ball gets into the frontcourt quickly, I always see more motion, more cuts. When the Cavs get moving on offense, they are a very good team--they all pass well (save the occasional time when Sasha or Drew thinks they are LeBron and makes a one-handed blind skip pass into the stands) and find each other for cuts and jump shots. But they have to get over that inertial hump that seems to arise every time we bring the ball up slowly.

3.) Trap Tony Parker.

I am nervous about doing this because the Spurs are, in theory, a better three-point shooting team than Detroit. During the regular season, they had Bowen and Finley shooting at 46 percent, Ginobli at 37 percent, and Robert Horry at 35 percent, whereas the Pistons had nobody over 40 percent. If Parker can fight through the traps, he in theory will have a chance to kick a pass out for an open three. But on the flip side, Parker, like Billups, is the engine that gets that team into its offense. By trapping Billups, we were able to disrupt the Pistons' offensive rhythm (on good possessions, they didn't get the ball down low to their more athletic big men until later in the clock). I think we can do the same against Parker. If you can keep Parker on the perimeter, you can negate the worst of the damage he can do--he's not a great long range shooter. At the very least, I can't think of any other way to stop the guy from getting into the middle of our defense, which is his wheelhouse and our weak spot. Especially with Larry Hughes injured, we don't have the personnel to bother Parker one-on-one (Gibson isn't that great of a defender yet).


1.) Let LeBron relax a bit on defense.

LeBron hasn't really been challenged on defense at all during the playoffs. He did well against Prince but Prince was in a huge slump, and the Nets really didn't make him expend too much energy either. Instead, he's been "roaming" a lot and then getting to the rim for loose rebounds. If the Spurs can get him to use some energy on the defensive end, they can take away from his explosiveness on the other end. With Bruce Bowen as his primary man, I'm not sure if LeBron will have to do much aside from force him away from the three-point line. Still, Bowen's a veteran and may find a way to get this job done.

2.) Let the Cavs get emotional.

The Cavs are a team that thrives on emotion, some players more than others (Drew Gooden in particular). The few times that they've taken hard playoff fouls (Sasha getting hacked by Mikki Moore, for example) or given them (Drew Gooden hacking Rasheed Wallace) they have come back with big runs. Also, when LeBron James throws down a sick dunk, the team seems to respond well (see the first half of Game 2 in Detroit). But when these plays don't happen (see the second half of Game 2 in Detroit) the team seems to flounder a bit. The Spurs would do well to avoid a cheap foul (a la Robert Horry's hip check) or a sick LeBron dunk (like the time he posterized Duncan) because I do believe that the Cavs, like the Warriors, thrive on those moments more than some other teams and take their game to a different level. The Spurs do play very controlled, methodical basketball, so I think they'll have a good chance at avoiding this pitfall.

3.) Let Daniel Gibson hit a couple threes.

Gibson's explosion in Game 6 proves one of my fundamental observations about the Cavs--when they have a three-point threat on the floor, they are twice the offensive team they are otherwise (read: I wish we had Michael Redd.) This observation may seem obvious, but it's nonetheless salient. The Cavs have a lot of slashers on their team (Sasha, Larry, and LeBron come to mind) and one of those slashers is one of the best passers in the game (guess which.) When we have a legitimate three-point threat out there, other teams can't sag towards LeBron, and when they do, he can make them pay with a good pass. Gibson's the best shooter we have right now (sorry, Damon, you're no longer the "best shooter in the world." And earth to Donyell, wake up!) Gibson is pretty streaky, but when he's on, he's on. The Spurs can't let him hit a few because the second they do, the Cavs develop a new (and deadly) dimension on offense. You'll note how scared the Pistons were in Game 5 of the kickout because of Gibson's solid performance in Game 4 (so much so that they let LeBron go on an absolute tear). The Pistons distanced themselves from that approach in Game 6, and Boobie made them pay. If Gibson can get started early in the series (i.e. tonight) it may rattle the Spurs a bit more on defense and open up lanes for LeBron.

All in all, I still think the Spurs are the better team but am ready to be pleasantly surprised. Should be a good Game 1 tonight--I would note that the last time the Spurs starters had this long of a layoff before a playoff game, they lost to the Nuggets (Game 1 this year). Here's hoping tonight goes just as well for the Cavs, and that the following games go much, much better.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Great Wilbon Article

Here is a great article by Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post on the Cleveland Curse. He does a good job talking not only about Cleveland sports misery but how that misery, in some weird metaphysical way, a mirror for the troubles of the city itself.

I have to disagree with the guy Wilbon quotes on "The Fumble" and "The Drive" being the worst sports moments for Cleveland, though. I firmly believe that the Indians losing the '97 World Series was worse. Now, I'll admit that a large part of that sentiment comes from not being alive for The Fumble and The Drive, and for being a massive Indians fan in '97 (back then I was totally obsessed with the Indians--people who knew me in middle school can attest that I wore an Indians hat to school every day, memorized every big stat about the team, and could mimic every player's swing). But we were literally one out away--a couple pitches away--from winning the freaking World Series. It wasn't a semifinal game (which is essentially what the AFC Champion is). Jaret Wright had just thrown an incredible game in the best series of his career. Jose Mesa, Mr. Automatic during those years, was on the mound (I had forgotten just how good this guy was during that stretch--check out his stats from '95 to '97). And, still, we found a way to blow it.

Given the stage and how well things had been going for the Tribe up to that point, it's hard for me to say that anything was worse. This from a guy whose first sports memory is Jordan hitting "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo.

That's why tomorrow night is so exciting for me. Nobody expects the Cavs to beat the Spurs, whereas everyone expected the Indians to beat the Marlins. Hell, even I don't expect us to beat the Spurs. For some reason, I feel strangely zen about the fact that the Cavs are in the NBA Finals--maybe beating Detroit was too satisfying, but I think it comes from the fact that the Cavs are essentially playing with house money. And from the fact that I'd forgotten how exciting it is to have a team in the title hunt. For once, it feels good to be a Cleveland sports fan.

Welcome TrueHoop Readers!

If it's your first time visiting this blog, hopefully you'll stick around. Thanks to Henry for the link in yesterday's Tuesday Bullets!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"The Second Worst Team in Finals History"

As regular readers of this blog (all three of them) know, I am a big fan of Henry Abbott's Truehoop blog on Today, however, I was not a fan of this article titled "Cleveland isn’t the worst NBA finalist in decades–but it’s close" which received a link in Henry's "Tuesday Bullets" column.

Before writing anything else, it's worth mentioning that while I'm a big Cavs fan, I'm also a realist (and often, during Cleveland games, a severe pessimist). I think the Spurs will win this series, probably in 6 games. I think they're the better team. And this year, the Cavs were pretty inconsistent during the regular season, and had a fairly easy road to the Eastern Conference Finals. That being said, the Cavs have evolved into one of the best defensive teams in the league. They beat the Pistons when nobody in the world gave them a chance, and they have one of the two best players in the Finals. I think they have at worst a puncher's shot to take down the Spurs. So to convince me that the Cavs are the second-worst NBA finalist of all time, you're going to have to put together a pretty compelling case. Let's see what Tim Kawakami puts together to argue that the Cavs truly suck:

"Data: Finished 50-32, second seed in weak East. Before getting to the finals, Cleveland swept an injury-obliterated Washington in the first round, took six games to up-end a bad Nets team in the second, then cleaned out the No. 1 seed Pistons in six."

OK, you've got us, Tim. We played an easy playoff schedule. But, that said, we beat who we had to beat. On the other side of the aisle, though, you have the Spurs--who played a tough series against the Suns, in addition to two series against overmatched teams (Utah and Denver). They didn't have to face the Mavs--arguably the second best team in their conference--because the Mavs lost in the first round. Now, obviously Denver and Utah are more difficult opponents than New Jersey and Washington, but it seems inconsistent to criticize the Cavs for facing a weak schedule while ignoring that the Spurs also played a weaker schedule than they could have. But, fine, the West is harder, etc. so let's give Tim the benefit of the doubt here.

"-Best regular players: LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson.

-Worst regular players: Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall."

OK, I agree here too. Not sure if Drew Gooden is one of our top-three best regular players, but I won't quibble. And yes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall have sucked it up in the playoffs (the latter more than the former).

"-What clinched second-worst: Had easiest road to the conference finals in recent NBA history, went 20-21 on the road."

I think we're now beating the "easy road" point to death here. What else does he want the Cavs to do? They won 50 games during the regular season, they drew a favorable bracket, and they took care of business. Plus, it's not like they played Orlando in the conference finals--they played Detroit, the prohibitive favorite to win the East. Detroit imploded, but that was as much a result of the way the Cavs played than anything else--yet Tim classifies them as an "easy" team to beat. Tim seems to be arguing that the Pistons were an easy team to beat because the Cavs beat them. A bit circular, no?

With regards to the road record, the Cavs went 16-12 from January on forward. Not a great stretch, but better than 20-21. During that same stretch the Spurs went 16-11. I thought I'd compare the opponents the two teams faced during those almost-identical road stretches. I found:

10 Common Wins (Boston, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Golden State, Philadelphia, LA Lakers, Detroit, Memphis, Minnesota, Washington)
4 Common Losses (Phoenix, Miami, Utah, Dallas)
3 Cavs Wins/Spurs Losses to Common Opponent (Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago)
3 Spurs Wins/Cavs Losses to Common Opponent (Seattle, Portland, Denver)
3 Cavs Wins over non-common opponents (Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee)
5 Cavs Losses to non-common opponents (Miami, Charlotte, New York, Boston, Detroit)
3 Spurs Wins over non-common opponents (New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston)
4 Spurs Losses to non-common opponents (Minnesota, Orlando, Memphis, Cleveland)

Remarkably similar--they shared 14 identical results, had 6 "splits" with opponents, and then had roughly the same number of wins and losses to the remaining teams, none of which were particularly good, excepting the Cavs-Spurs matchup).

Plus, the Cavs won three crucial games on the road in the playoffs, when road games matter (games 4 and 6 against New Jersey, and game 5 against Detroit) and should have won games 1 and 2 against Detroit as well. So while the Cavs aren't a great road team, they did improve over the second half of the season, and performed about as well as the Spurs (at least in terms of record).

"-Why not the worst: That LeBron Guy. And that’s the only reason."

Yes, LeBron rules. Thanks for pointing that out.

"-Most illusory stat: They went 2-0 against the Spurs, drawing possible talk that the Cavs create match-up problems for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Co.

But the first loss was the second game of the season, on a San Antonio back-to-back, the night after the Spurs went into Dallas and knocked off the team that knocked them out of the conference finals the previous year.

And the second loss was in Cleveland on Jan. 2–not an official San Antonio back-to-back, but the Spurs had to travel on New Year’s Day."

It's a fair point that regular season games don't mean that much. But let's not forget that the Cavs played the Spurs in their third game of the season, two days after they played the Wizards to start the season (a "must win to prove ourselves" win.) Now, that's not as emotionally intense as playing the Mavs, but it's something. What's more striking is Tim's excuse for the Spurs losing the second game: they had to TRAVEL on NEW YEAR'S DAY. That's it? Come on--the Spurs had one day off between every game in the Jazz series, and they didn't lay down and die because of it.

To recap: so far, Tim has offered, as proof for his grand theory of Cav suckitude, three arguments:

1.) The Cavs had an easy run to the Finals (which is outside their control and assumes the flawed premise that the Pistons are bad).
2.) The Cavs' had a poor road record (which is almost identical to the Spurs' from January on, and ignores recent successes in the playoffs).
3.) The Cavs had one more day to rest before their games against the Spurs than the Spurs did.

What else does Tim offer? Nothing. NOTHING.

Like I said before, I think San Antonio is the better team. I'm willing to buy that the Cavs may lose to them because San Antonio has gelled over the past few months, is playing better basketball, has figured out a better rotation, etc. All of these observations are true. But Tim doesn't make any of these arguments. Instead, he makes some wild, less-supportable claims and, in doing so, gets himself noticed in a national, reputable sports blog.

Which is why I say to Henry--come on. If you're going to link to that, can't you link here once in a while? :)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cavs-Spurs Starter Matchups

Now that the euphoria has sort-of worn off (believe me, I'm still grinning like an idiot on the inside, just not on the outside . . . all the time) it's time to get to business and see how the Cavs stack up against the mighty San Antonio Spurs. Part one of my analysis leading up to Game 1 will focus on the matchups between the two teams. Without further ado:


Larry Hughes v. Tony Parker

EDGE: Parker. I do think that Larry Hughes, when healthy, could give Parker a bit of trouble. Hughes is pretty long and fairly quick on his feet. The problem is, Parker is one of the most explosive point guards in the game, and Hughes is injured. Parker is quick, has a good enough jump shot, and can penetrate very well. In his two games against the Cavs this series, Parker scored 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting and 26 points on 11 of 18 shooting. He's the one guy the Cavs haven't been able to account for this year when playing the Spurs. That said, it's worth noting that Eric Snow was our starting point guard in both of those games. I'm curious to see whether Hughes will keep playing come the Finals or whether Gibson will get the nod. If it's Gibson, I think Parker still has the edge, but it's slightly closer in that Gibson is much better offensively than Hughes and Snow (though I didn't mind seeing Larry toss in two threes in the first quarters of both Games 5 and 6!) I'm also intrigued by the idea of running the same aggressive trapping defense we ran against Chauncey Billups to try to throw Parker out of his game. Either way, Parker has the edge, but if we can control the damage he does, we should be in better position to win.


Sasha Pavlovic v. Michael Finley

EDGE: Even. Finley definitely has more experience than Pavlovic, but I think he's lost a step in recent years. He's still a pretty good shooter and can occasionally take the ball to the hole, but if Sasha was able to take on Vince Carter in the Nets series and then acquit himself reasonably well against Rip Hamilton (as well as one can) in the Pistons series, I think he can handle Finley on the defensive end. I think Sasha is the better player at this point, but I worry about his decision-making. For example, he often starts his drives from the top of the key, which means that when he actually gets to the hoop there's already a defender set up to draw the offensive foul. I'd like to see him use more pull-up jumpers (he's got a good shot) and quick passes off drives to set up other shooters on the floor. I'd also like to see him use his frame to his advantage, by drawing contact before putting up a wild shot at the rim. He's strong enough to do that--LeBron does this all the time--and it would get him more credibility with the refs than flailing to the hole wildly every time. Basically, he needs to play with more self-control. I still think he can be a devastating offensive weapon when he's on, much more so than Finley still can, but because he's inconsistent, it's a push.


LeBron James v. Bruce Bowen

EDGE: LeBron, and by a mile. Bruce Bowen has proven himself capable of defending many a prolific wing player, but LeBron is just too big and strong for him. Bowen definitely has an arsenal of "vet moves" (I would say "cheap tricks" but the Cavs are a "no-excuses" team.) But LeBron can post him up whenever he wants, and though LeBron doesn't have a refined post game by any means, you can bet someone will come to help Bowen in those situations, leaving another Cav open for a good shot. And when LeBron wants to take Bowen off the dribble, he'll be more than able to. LeBron has had several big games against the Spurs in the past, and that's without his jump shot falling the way it did in Games 4 and 5.


Drew Gooden v. Tim Duncan

EDGE: Duncan, and by a mile. I imagine Z will defend Duncan as much as Gooden does, but either way, Gooden is a good rebounder but not a great defender farther way from the basket. In the Pistons series, Rasheed Wallace had a pretty easy go of hitting turnaround jumpers from the low post, and Duncan is even more consistent with that shot. Plus, when Duncan decides to go to the rim, Gooden will probably only be able to stop him with a foul. In general, I think this matchup is similar to the LeBron-Bowen matchup: Duncan will be able to get what he wants against Gooden. I do think that if Gooden can get his jumper going, this matchup gets a tiny bit closer. The key for the Cavs will be making sure that LeBron, Sasha, and Boobie are aggressive in getting to the rim, because if we can get Duncan in foul trouble, we'll have a much better chance of staying in this. LeBron, for one, has a great chance of doing this since he has shown no hesitation in going to the rim on Duncan in the past (check out this clip--apparently a still of it is pasted over LeBron's locker) and has become slightly more consistent from the line.


Zydrunas Ilgauskas v. Fabricio Oberto

EDGE: Ilgauskas. I'll be honest--the matchup I really want to see is Oberto v. Varejao. They'll compete for style points on flops more than they'll compete for actual points. The refs won't know what to do with them! In all seriousness, Z has an advantage here. He's got a good jump shot from up to 20 feet, and in the low post, relies mostly on his hook shot, both of which don't really allow Oberto any chances to flop. I do think the Cavs are more cohesive when Ilgauskas isn't on the floor, in that they are a more athletic and explosive team. Still, Z is a great offensive rebounder and has a bunch of tip-ins every game. Oberto hasn't really done all that much during the playoffs and doesn't match up very well with Z.


Daniel Gibson v. Manu Ginobli

EDGE: Ginobli, but not by a lot. Ginobli is a fantastic player--he gets to the rim, plays with grit, and defends well enough. But he hasn't been able to get things going against the Cavs this season. Still, he has found an extra gear in the playoffs and will be a lot to handle. Gibson, though, is full of confidence, seems impervious to pressure, and has a great overall game. His three-point shooting makes LeBron that much more dangerous, plus Gibson is great at getting to the rim and either finishing or drawing contact and making free throws. LeBron loves having him on the floor and I expect him to get lots of playing time. Ginobli's a better defender, so he gets the nod here, but Gibson is playing great basketball right now.


EDGE: Spurs. The Cavs have Varejao, who's a great energy guy and solid rebounder with, let's face it, not much of an offensive game (how much did you cringe when he took that three in Game 6? YIKES!) They have Donyell Marshall, who at this point appears good for six fouls and three missed three-pointers a game. And they have Damon Jones and Eric Snow, who together would be a great player for the Cavs, but who separately have good effects on one end of the floor and pretty bad ones on the other. The Spurs have Big Shot Bob, Brent Barry (who is still a good three-point shooter), Francisco Elson (a good defender with nice intensity) and Jacque Vaughn (a playoff veteran). Their bench is the bench you want--a bunch of veteran role-players who deliver on their roles (this means you, Donyell) in addition to a few young energy guys.

Overall, I think the series is pretty even. I think Mike Brown has enough knowledge of the Spurs to make this series close. The Spurs haven't yet figured out how to stop LeBron, and even if they do, if Gibson and Pavlovic can get going, we should be able to keep them honest. The Spurs are a much better matchup than the Suns or the Mavericks--they play a similar game to the Cavs, just slightly better. I think the Spurs will win in six or seven, but the Cavs could end up surprising everyone.


1.) I love how EVERY interview LeBron does contains the phrase "I was just trying to be aggressive." My girlfriend and I get an odd kick out of this every time he says it, mostly because the interviewers always act like this is a novel and unexpected answer, despite the fact that he's given it after EVERY playoff game the Cavs have won.

2.) I'm getting a bit tired of watching the Cavs toss the ball in to Z on the first possession of every half. I'd rather we get his mid- to long-range jumper going since I think that's one area of his game where he has a comparative advantage over any other center out there.

3.) It frustrates me so much to watch Chris Webber mostly because he's on the same team as Antonio McDyess. Both were explosive, premier power forwards who suffered catastrophic knee injuries. But only one accepted his diminished skills and instead focused on other aspects of his game where he could still contribute, in addition to becoming a great teammate and a genuinely nice guy. The other, despite having an ugly overall game, still seems to think he's the best player on the court, whines about not getting enough touches, and complains to the refs constantly. Gee, I wonder which is which.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Almost There . . .

What a huge win for the Cavs--and for the city of Cleveland. That trophy presentation, while a bit ostentatious, was a sight to see. The Cavs really grew up in this series--I think the New Jersey series lit a fire under them, and everything finally clicked defensively throughout the last four games of the Detroit series.

The Finals this year are gravy--I expect we'll take a game or two off the Spurs. But it will be a fabulous learning experience. I think the Pistons will be back, but not nearly as strong (no longer the team to beat in the East), and that the Cavs may be able to put together a string of Finals appearances. Who knows, maybe we can win one.

A few thoughts before I go to bed and dream of a title in Cleveland (while also telling myself not to get my hopes up, after watching the Tribe in '95 and '97.)

1.) Tonight showed just how deadly the Cavs can be on a night when we have another legitimate perimeter scorer. Boobie Gibson made me forget about Michael Redd over the past few days. I think he and LeBron can be a great tandem for years to come. LeBron didn't have the jumper tonight, but his presence on the floor opened up lanes and shots for everyone else.

2.) Sasha Pavlovic needs to learn how to pass at the end of a drive--he keeps taking great drives from the top of the key, but when you're starting from that far out someone is going to plant on you and draw the charge. I think this kid is going to be a really good Cavalier--he's got a pretty good outside shot that's getting better, he's stepping it up on defense, and he's deceptively athletic. But he's got to learn to harness that athleticism and make the pass when necessary.

3.) Larry Hughes is a warrior. He played his heart out tonight--some beautiful jump shots and some nice penetration into the lane.

4.) During the second quarter, I believe I got so frustrated that I said out loud: "If Damon Jones takes one more three pointer early in the shot clock, I will scream." We were babysitting a 2-year old, so I'm glad Damon wised up. He actually did a decent job in the third and fourth quarter stretching the floor but not taking too many wild three's. He also had one great pump fake-then-drive in the fourth quarter.

5.) Rasheed Wallace needs to grow up. The two fouls he was complaining about were legit (the latter more than the former). To get yourself ejected with almost 7 minutes left in the game, to put your own temper above your teammates, and to say some of the things it looked like he was saying to the ref . . . come on. You're a grown man.

6.) How sweet was it to see LeBron hug Z after the game? What a huge win for Z--so many years of frustration and injury early in his career, but he never hung it up. Instead, he kept battling to get back on the court and good things eventually came into place.

That's all for now. Stay tuned in the coming days for my Cavs-Spurs series preview.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Other Coverage

For (other!) great coverage of LeBron's monumental effort, check out this great ESPN column by Brian Windhorst, Henry Abbott's thoughts on the game at TrueHoop and this article in the Detroit News detailing the turmoil in the Pistons' locker room. The last link is also notable for its stunning lead photo of LeBron dunking a ball from under the backboard. Just sick.

Surpassing MJ


That was the single greatest individual performance I have ever witnessed. It showed why LeBron really can be the best player in the game--perhaps ever--if he can maintain a high level of intensity for 48 minutes (or, in this case, 58) over the course of every game.

Michael Jordan--the benchmark by which great players will always be measured--took years to become a champion. Years of playing me-first basketball, scoring at every opportunity, getting down on his teammates, failing to trust them. Finally, he realized that he needed them to succeed, but retained that innate ability to take over games whenever possible.

LeBron, on the other hand, came into the league ready to trust his teammates. Granted, they did not do a great job for him on the offensive end tonight--Drew Gooden was pretty much a non-factor, and Damon Jones and Eric Snow were non-existent. But even though the beautiful passes he makes often end up spoiled, LeBron has always had that trust in his teammates. Or maybe it's just that he enjoys a great pass. Either way, it's there.

The question has always been whether he could develop the flip side of that talent--that ability to dominate a game. Since coming into the league, he's been criticized for having a balky jump shot, for not taking the shot when it counts (which is bull--did any of these people watch the Wizards series last year?) and for coasting through some quarters and games instead of having total focus all the time.

Tonight, he answered all his critics. No jump shot? Try a silky-smooth fadeaway stroke in the fourth quarter, with only one notable miss. Afraid to take the big shot? He hit potential game-winner after potential game-winner. Lack of focus? How about total hustle on both ends of the floor: shutdown defense, and, oh, 29 of his team's last 30 points.

Tonight, LeBron was a hero. But don't crown him just yet. He's not Jordan yet--and he's not better by far. Michael was able to maintain the intensity we saw tonight game in and game out for the better part of eight years. Can LeBron? He definitely has the tools, and he'll have a great opportunity in only two days to end this series and get past Detroit. It took MJ four years, if memory serves. Here's hoping LeBron can do it in half the time.


1.) Am I the only one who thinks that the David Blaine "Magician" commercials really suck? The ideas are clever, but Blaine has less charisma than Tim Duncan out there. No wonder this guy's schtick is to remain in secluded places for protracted periods of time--if he actually had to interact with people, he'd have absolutely no fans at all.

2.) How good were the Cavs on defense tonight? They actually made adjustments. In the first half, and for parts of the third, they were falling asleep down low and letting the Pistons' big men get easy layup after easy dunk. So in the third and fourth, they played more man coverage outside and only doubled close to the hoop (except on Billups, which has proven to be successful). Doing so enabled them to really control both the perimeter and the paint. Eric Snow stepped up with two huge steals at the end of regulation, Daniel Gibson gritted it out despite being in foul trouble, and Varejao really shut down Wallace during the stretch. Mike Brown has done a great job with this team on that end of the floor.

3.) Wow. Mike Brown actually changed his third quarter approach! And it worked! Wonder of wonders. Seriously, what the Cavs did was pretty clever--according to Craig Sager, they had an eight minute team-only meeting while the coaches put together video of what to work on for the next half, they met up for a few minutes to figure out a "pregame" plan, and then they went out and did a "pregame" warmup. Nice psychological shift that turned out to work really well (the Cavs actually won the quarter). My question: why did it take 97 games to come up with this?

4.) Tip of the cap to Larry Hughes. That guy played his heart out tonight. Two huge threes early in the game and some tough, gritty defense on one foot. What a warrior. I'd been down on him for taking too many jumpers and not going to the hoop enough, but the work he's apparently put in on his shot showed.

5.) Well, Damon Jones playing wasn't a complete disaster. I maintain that this guy gets beat off the dribble more frequently than Mark Madsen in a one-on-one game with Kobe Bryant. But, he stretched the floor a bit on offense and had a few decent efforts down the stretch on the other end. He also did an AWESOME job as a cheerleader.

6.) I can't believe nobody else is with me on the "Webber face." It really is quite striking--he had it on for pretty much the whole game.

7.) I really think the Pistons got jobbed on the McDyess ejection. It was a hard foul, and definitely a flagrant, but I'm not sure if it was really a flagrant 2. Coming from Maxiell or Wallace, I would have had no qualms about the call, but on McDyess, it seemed a bit much. Still, it was great to see LeBron bound in there to his teammate's defense. He's really doing a great job of asserting himself as the leader of this team and showing his teammates that he's got their back.

8.) How is Daniel Gibson a rookie? Sure, his inexperience got exposed a few times down the stretch--especially on the defensive side. But he fought off the halfcourt traps pretty well, drove to the hole without fear, stayed perfect at the free throw line, and hit a clutch three when the Cavs needed it most. This kid is the real deal. I'm really excited about his emergence, which makes it less pressing for the Cavs to swing a huge deal in the offseason (aside from dumping Donyell).

9.) Can someone explain to me why the Pistons, who had had great success with the halfcourt trap, decided to abandon it? I mean, they got like five turnovers out of the seven times they ran this play, but inexplicably decided to stop using it and instead ran with a porous man defense on LeBron (not that anything else would have stopped him.)

10.) I hope everyone enjoyed tonight's Scot Pollard sighting as much as I did. 1 minute played, 1 foul, 1 ridiculous haircut.

More to come tomorrow. For now, it's time to savor an MJ-esque performance for the Cavs, as opposed to against them; and hope the Cavs come to play on Saturday and close this thing out.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is hilarious

On a lighthearted note, this is just too good not to pass on. If we hadn't lucked out and drafted LeBron James a few years ago, I would definitely be putting together a "Kill Paxson" montage, hopefully of similar quality. Rest assured that Ricky Davis, Chris Gatling, Kevin Ollie, and DeSagana Diop would be prominently featured. I wonder who would play them . . .

Bill Simmons on the Cavs

Bill Simmons just posted this article on the Cavs-Pistons series. I wonder if he's been reading my blog (especially since I sent him several links to it through the ESPN "Contact Bill" site) since he said, well, a lot of what I've said thus far in this space. Though, he was much funnier, and more concise.

Bill, are you out there? Are you reading? I sure hope so.


Brian Windhorst reports that Larry Hughes is getting shots in his foot so that he can play in tonight's game.

Count me as one who's pretty worried about the impact Hughes could have on the game. No doubt his playing through an injury would provide an emotional lift to the team. But, due to the injury, Hughes played pretty miserably in Game 4. Offensively, he hit his first shot off pure adrenaline and then lacked explosiveness and a shooting touch for the rest of the game. He didn't make the Pistons account for his presence at all on offense. Defensively, he did an OK job, but nothing notably better than the job Gibson did. In total, he had an Eric Snow-esque impact on the game: he was good enough on defense, but pretty much torpedoed the Cavs on offense by allowing the Pistons to play 5 on 4 and really take LeBron out of his game.

I really hope that if Larry plays, it's for a very short period of time, and only for that emotional lift. On balance, Gibson is doing well enough defensively and is a huge improvement offensively. Count me as one who'll be really, really frustrated if Hughes comes onto the floor to start the third quarter (see pretty much every Cavs post below.)

Mike Brown on the Third Quarter

From the Plain Dealer:

"Although Detroit outscored Cleveland in the third quarter of all four regular-season matchups - three of which were won by the Pistons - the problem was not nearly as pronounced as it has been in the postseason. In the regular season, the Cavs were outscored in the third period 37 times in 82 games, and the third quarter was their low-scoring quarter 27 times.

Cavs coach Mike Brown, however, isn't panicking.

'I don't think it's a norm for us,' he said. 'You know, New Jersey is a good team, Detroit is a good team. The games have all been close, and each one of those clubs have veterans on their team that have an inner will that they're not going to give in. A lot of times you want to jump on a team at the beginning of the second half to set a tone. That team [Detroit] is really good at it - not doing anything tricky, not running any new plays, just stepping up their aggression on both ends of the floor, and we're not responding well to it.

'The only thing we can do is keep going through the experience of it, and hope that we don't get hammered bad enough to lose a ballgame in that third quarter. On the offensive end of the floor, we can't settle for jump shots. We have to move the ball, force the issue by attacking the rim.'"

Wow. In my earlier post on Mike Brown not sending the right message to his players, I certainly did not foresee that his message would be "it's OK, hopefully we'll still be in the game in the fourth quarter."

I sincerely hope he's joking.