For the Cleveland Cavaliers history does not matter. For a franchise that owns one division title and one Eastern Conference title, there is not much to be said about the team’s history. Sure the Cavs have come close a couple of times, and even with past franchise studs like Austin Carr, Mark Price, and Brad Dougherty, the Cavs have never been within reach of the Championship the City of Cleveland desires.
For the fans of the Cavaliers this is it. LeBron’s seventh year in the Association might prove to be his most crucial. The LeBron/Michael Jordan comparisons will certainly continue, for Jordan did not win a championship until his seventh year. However, LeBron’s seventh year is a little more important considering James’ willingness to test the waters of free agency in the upcoming offseason, heralded as the most exciting offseason in the history of the NBA.
However, LeBron is not alone in his journey: his supporting cast rivals the best in the league.
Mo Williams – did anyone really expect Mo Williams to become an All-Star caliber point guard when he arrived in Cleveland? For all means and purposes, the acquisition of Mo Williams from the Bucks was a steal. Trading Damon Jones and Joe Smith (who would later return to the Cavaliers), Williams arrived to a team who had previously gone 45-37 despite losing a very close matchup with the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Williams, brought in to provide another scoring option to assist James. In the famous series against the Detroit Pistons in the 2006-2007 playoffs, the rookie point guard out of Texas seemed to be the answer: a young Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. Although not as impressive as LeBron’s Game Five in the series where he scored the team’s final 25 points in double overtime, Gibson scored a career high 31 points in the series clincher that sent the Cavaliers to their lone NBA Finals appearance. But in recent times Gibson has looked uncomfortable, in his ball handling skills and in his shooting abilities. Regardless, Gibson remains a backup who could be a potent threat off the bench if his abilities somehow return to him.
The two position on the Cavs’ depth chart is clearly its weakest. The leading candidate for the starting position, the man who started the majority of the games last year, Delonte West is a complete mess. I’m sure everyone knows of his habits of bipolarity and depression states, and his infamous recent exploits with the law when he was charged with possession of firearms after being pulled over on his motorcycle, his shotgun stored in a guitar case. Now, the Delonte West saga continues as his wife has filed a report of domestic violence all in the last few days. While Delonte West possesses great talent, things are getting worse. The Cavaliers must exercise immense caution, for they are at a too crucial point in team history to let West be a distraction. My hope is for “Brother Red” to fully recover, earn back his position into the starting lineup. However, Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry, in a smart offseason move acquired veteran guard Anthony Parker from the Toronto Raptors. Parker, a one time stud in Europe played well for the Raptors, who are welcoming newcomers Hedo Turkoglu amd USC stud DeMar DeRosen. Parker, not necessarily known for his defense, but rather for his shooting (in Toronto fans dubbed the area behind the 3 point line “Parkerville”) looks to bring a legitimate three-point threat, and will most definetly get looks resulting from double teams opposing defenses scheme to use on LeBron and Shaq. Rookie second round pick Danny Green, considered a steal in the second round, also will get some playing time and has plenty of experience on a higher level of competition, playing all four years at the defending national champion UNC. My hope is for Parker and West to work together to form a dual sided sword at the two position, Parker to contribute consistant offense and West to contribute All-Star caliber defense in clutch situations, because lets face it, neither of these guys are likely to take the last shot in a close game. (See 2009 Eastern Conference Finals Game 2.)
Behind LeBron James the Cavs have viable options at the forward positions. Veteran defensive presense Ben Wallace was traded almost immediately after the seasons end, due to his deterioration in ablilities, while Brazilian Anderson Varejao was given a hefty six year extension. I believe that Varejao’s style of play suits his role quite well. A player who brings immense energy into the game and is a superior defender. Last season, Varejao improved offensively, with a little help from a man with tremendous basketball IQ, LeBron James. This season, Varejao could be an important option sandwiched between LeBron and Shaq. The Cavaliers also signed another player in this offseason to be a versatile option, Jamario Moon. I have always admired Moon’s play from his days in Toronto and more recently Miami. I give huge credit to Danny Ferry for seizing the oppurtunity to claim Moon, knowing Miami wanted to keep him but were saving cap space to sign a player like Carlos Boozer or Lamar Odum. Moon’s role on the Cavs is very simple, to sit the bench and fill in when needed playing the 2, the 3, and even the stretch 4.
Filling other spots on the Cavs bench are two sophomores: JJ Hickson and Darnell Jackson. Hickson, the team’s first round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, looks the most promising. The Cavs drafted Hickson out of NC State knowing that he was a raw talent and needed to refine his skill base in order to be more effective. Hickson’s rookie year was suprisingly successful where he became a reliable bench option and had his fair share of monster dunks and blocks. Jackson, or “D-Block” as dubbed by fans, saw plenty of action, even getting a start with injuries to Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao. Hopefully the experience gained by seeing effective minutes last season will prepare these two for a bigger role in 2009-2010. Unquestionably though, JJ Hickson must improve, those who are close to the team say that Hickson is becoming a star in his own right and spent a lot of time in the offseason with LeBron James. If so, Hickson provides a very solid force off the bench.
Another offseason move by Ferry was to bring in the former Celtic Leon Powe, however injured Powe will return somewhere around February and looks to bring additional depth to the team.
In the 2009 playoffs Dwight Howard could not be stopped by the Cleveland defense. It was simply a matter of size and personel. Shortly after the NBA Finals, the Cavs made one the biggest (in terms of size) move of the offseason by bringing in an unstoppable force in Shaquille O’Neal. Now opposing defenses will have to chose how to cover the big man. Teams like the Toronto Raptors will almost certainly have to cover the big man, considering how badly he abused both Bargnani and Bosh when playing for the Suns last year. The pick-and-roll now becomes the weapon of choice for all teams trying this. However there are teams like Orlando who can match up one-on-one, Dwight Howard can hold his own, but not too many centers can, allowing decent looks for Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker, and of course, the most deadliest LeBron James. When Shaq needs a rest, lucky for the Cavs they have a two time All-Star and franchise legend patiently waiting on the bench, Zydrunas Ilgauskus. Z is capable of starting at the center position on 60 percent or more of the teams in the Association. His traditional center play will mesh well with Shaq’s trademark style of play which leaves the Cavs with not one, but two extremely capable centers.
Every team has its scrubs Coby Karl (son of Nuggets coach George Karl) and Jawad Williams make up the list for the Cavaliers.
The Cavs are certainly poised to make a run at the title, however, winning championships in this league are easier said than done. Perhaps a trade near the deadline or a key waiver signing will bring promise. But even with players like Shaquille O’Neal and Mo Williams, the Cavs hopes still rest on the shoulders of LeBron James.