Take the Future

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

He stands about 6’8”, maybe 6’9” depending on the purpose of the statement, weighs 200 and who knows how many pounds. He is a tremendous athlete, has had various acrobatic highlights and can play a few positions. He may very determine the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Clearly, this is far too overt a description to be LeBron James. No, this is JJ Hickson.

Clearly, Hickson figures prominently in the Cavaliers’ future plans, whether he plays for them or not. He is a great athlete; it is said he can, when reach is accounted for, jump flat-footed higher than LeBron. Even without that bit of trivia, watch one game in which Hickson played (so not game 6 against Boston) and his athleticism is obvious. Sometimes it is a detriment to Hickson, who is so confident in his abilities he will attempt to jump over opponents to grab rebounds, a no-doubt foul.

He can embrace his destiny and potential as a watered-down Amare or, even better, a much milder version of Kemp. He has the raw power and desire to slam down every ball that comes his way, but he is so uninformed offensively that he is sometimes helpless unless he has an open lane to dunk from. His defense is a bit sketchy, but not from a lack of trying or care. He is sometimes matched against big forwards or centers, which his body mass simply cannot ward off.

He finished his rookie season not getting the minutes he might have needed, instead Mike Brown gave those precious few spare seconds to fellow rookie Darnell Jackson, who now plays for Milwaukee. He showed promise as a forward who can play the pick-and-roll with LeBron like Amare did/does with Steve Nash. Coming into this season he figured to get much more playing time and an opportunity to showcase himself with the Cavaliers letting Joe Smith go to Atlanta, opening up that fourth big man slot.

He started on the bench, but Mike Brown, for as much slack as he gets, realized Varejao belongs on the bench and inserted JJ into the lineup next to Shaq. He provided the aforementioned athleticism along with hustle and ability to cover some perimeter-oriented forwards. His offense slowly showed more versatility, but not much. He displayed a developing mid-range jumpshot, showing more confidence in the shot as the season progressed, only to put it back in storage when his starting role vanished.

He played so well that he became trade bait for established All-Stars that were penciled in heavily on Danny Ferry’s wish list (and LeBron’s, to be fair). Names like Amare and Jamison were said to be available, but Hickson would be required plus others. They obviously got Jamison, but they were happy to do so because they kept Hickson. Had they traded for Amare (which, who knows how the playoffs play out if that happened), Hickson would surely have been gone along with top draft picks and prospects.

But they got Jamison, which made Hickson’s minutes go on the endangered species list. Plus, Leon Powe was coming back and Z was rumored to be returning in a month’s time. Something had to give, but Shaq got his thumb hurt and Hickson was given another chance.

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Again, he didn’t disappoint. He was playing center, a bit of a stretch for the 6’8” forward. But the Cavaliers prospered with JJ in the lineup, as they had all season.

Then the playoffs came, and with them so did Shaq. And with that, Hickson’s minutes evaporated. In eleven playoff games, Hickson played more than 10 minutes in only four games. Of those four games, the Cavaliers were 3-1. The one loss was game two in Cleveland against Boston, which was a blowout and Mike Brown decided to rest his starters.

Whatever, the past is past and there really is no point to continue to whine about Brown’s selection of lineups and rotations. Still, Hickson remains a key piece to Cleveland’s future if not the key piece. 

He remains a bargaining tool for Cleveland if they feel it necessary to acquire pieces. Other teams aren’t interested much in the other players the Cavaliers have to offer besides maybe Danny Green or a sign and trade. He is still very young, very athletic, and very coachable from all accounts. They could try, as unrealistic as it may be, to work with Toronto on some sort of exchange for Chris Bosh who has all but given his farewell speech to Raptors fans.

That might well keep LeBron put, which seems to be the ultimate goal of Dan Gilbert’s existence at this point. Seriously, at this point it is lose LeBron, lose everything. Or maybe Phoenix and Amare split ways and he doesn’t see fit to go to Miami or New York or New Jersey or any number of places. This has really fallen out of favor, but it wasn’t that farfetched just a few months ago.

What if that doesn’t happen? What if he stays? He might still be the Cavaliers’ main pitch for LeBron. At this point, many of the Cavaliers have already peaked and a majority is on the down slope. Hickson is the lone main Cavalier player who is still rapidly expanding his game and becoming a better player. I don’t see stardom in JJ, but I do see a player who can redefine his game to something between role player and fringe star.

He has been greatly helped by LeBron as he has yet to play a meaningful game without him in his professional career. He feeds mostly off of the defense trying to swallow LeBron and LeBron finding a cutting/slashing/jumping JJ for the bucket. Still, its something no other power forward ever gave LeBron besides Varejao and maybe Boozer.

But, realistically, if LeBron’s decision relies on Hickson, Cleveland will probably not get to resign him. So if LeBron leaves, Hickson becomes the future, which is something that isn’t exactly exciting. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are locked up, which seems more like a curse than the blessing it was perceived as when they were acquired.

Shaq and Z figure to be on the way out. West is unpredictable due to legal implications and his rumored involvement with a certain mother. Moon is still there, as are Varejao and Powe. Danny Green (my favorite Cavalier at this point, followed by West and Hickson) probably doesn’t fit the mold of a starting guard and wont for a while if ever. Oh, and don’t forget Daniel Gibson who couldn’t find his way onto the court this season after becoming a dad while Mo and Delonte regained their minutes after injures.

So, he becomes the centerpiece of the future, one that looks bleak without LeBron. But maybe this Cleveland doomsday scenario doesn’t occur, like the imminent nuclear weapon crisis of the Cold War era that never was. Maybe LeBron sticks around. Then, still, Hickson is the future, either by staying or leaving.

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