As for the other big trade this week, kudos to Danny Ferry for somehow getting four of the best five players in an 11-player trade. That has to be some sort of record, right? I already made the case for Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West helping the Cavs in my Trade Machine piece Wednesday (scroll down to trade 4a), but the Chicago guys pushed the deal over the top for me. First, Drew Gooden needed to go -- he was too inconsistent and too much of a bonehead, and we neared the point where a fed-up LeBron might punch him in the face during a game about three months ago -- and Joe Smith gives the Cavs steadier minutes and reliable production with those minutes. (Maybe Smith's ceiling isn't as high as Gooden's from game to game, but when you have LeBron, you need consistency from the rest of the guys more than anything else.) Second, the fact Ferry was able to trade an overpaid guard who actually drove a frustrated Cavs fan to create a site called www.heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com and update it every day ... I mean, even if you got back a dead body for Larry Hughes, it would have been a moral victory.
Instead, the Cavs got back the Artist Formerly Known As Ben Wallace, someone who stopped being an elite rebounder and shot-blocker about three years ago, but someone with playoff experience and the ability to defend bigger guys like KG, Shaq, Duncan or whomever. He certainly makes more sense for the 2008 Cavs than Larry Hughes did. Anyway, I thought the Cavs could win the East before this trade, simply because none of the Eastern teams have someone who can match baskets with LeBron in a close game. Now? They're the favorites. Look, I love the Celtics, I watch them every game, it has been the most enjoyable season in 15 years ... but a playoff series almost always comes down to one question as long as both sides are relatively equal:
Which team has the best guy?
Well, LeBron is better than anyone else in the East. So if you were beating Cleveland this spring, it was happening because your supporting cast was significantly better than LeBron's supporting cast. That's why this trade was so dangerous for Boston and Detroit; it shortened the sizable gap between guys 2 through 12 on Cleveland and guys 2 through 12 on Boston and Detroit. Now LeBron has four shooters who have shot 40-plus from 3-point range at least once in their career (Wally, Delonte, Boobie Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic), three playoff-proven forwards who can defend and rebound (Wallace, Smith and Anderson Varejao), a scoring center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas), and best of all, no Larry Hughes screwing everything up. LeBron is in a much better place than he was last year, and what's even more frightening is that he has been playing out of his mind since last April. I know the Celtics are 41-11, and I know the Pistons have been there a million times ... but still, how could you bet against LeBron in the East when he's playing like this?
Charles Barkley called it a "great trade". (In case you forgot, both of those guys predicted that the Cavs wouldn't make the playoffs).
Wondrous Wally can shoot with anybody, has a limited handle, and an unlimited ego. He can establish and maintain proper defensive positioning, but he's too slow off the mark to be considered an adequate defender. Delonte West has guts and a nifty shot, but is too slow to play point guard at a playoff-caliber level.Wally is risky, but he's no worse defensively than Damon Jones. Plus, he's a trade chip next year. West is young and unproven, but we'll see how he looks when sharing the court with LeBron.
Together, Szczerbiak and West lack the speed and quickness of the departed Larry Hughes and Shannon Brown, but are much superior shooters. In any event, the Cavs have done nothing to resolve their point-guard dilemma.Shannon Brown? Really? Rosen should be fired for even bringing him up. Oh, and the Cavs addressed their point guard dilemma with the acquisition of a point guard. Thanks for keeping up.
Smith is a pro — curtail his minutes and he can score in the low post, grab unexpected rebounds, and always be in the right place at the right time. If he can stay healthy, he's a modest upgrade over Drew Gooden.For the most part, I agree. Gooden has more talent and physical skills... but he's also the guy who wore a square patch of hair on the back of his head on purpose. Joe Smith may not give the Cavs a whole lot of 20 and 15 nights, but he won't disappear for weeks on end either.
Ben Wallace is ready for the glue factory. Will he be content to back up Zydrunas Ilgauskas? And when Anderson Varejao returns, who sits: The younger, quicker, much more active Varejao? Or the rapidly shrinking Ben?Well, going by the fact that Brown played both Daniel Gibson and Varejao in crunch time (ahead of recently departed starters Gooden and Hughes), I would imagine that Brown would play whoever is more effective. You know, basketball reasons.
Overall, the Cavs got appreciably slower and their perimeter defense got worse. Except for an occasional foray by LBJ, forget about fast breaks and early offense. From now on, it's half-court basketball — and with Wallace on the floor, look for LBJ to be two-timed on his every touch.
Cleveland's grade: C+
I hate you.