Monday, May 19, 2008

Boston moves on, Cavs go home

Alright, so I was out of town at a wedding this weekend, with no working computer and two giant Cavs games. Inconvenient, to say the least (though I had a blast) . So this is gonna count for both Game 6 & 7.


I think as Cavs fans, we can be disappointed and we can be bummed out, but I don't think we're allowed to be angry at this result. The Cavs weren't supposed to win this game or this series. You can expect them to play well and expect them to force a Game 7, but I don't think it's realistic to expect them to go into Boston and pull it out. They had good looks and they played with a strong effort, they went out playing fairly well. You can want more but you can only expect so much. And the way this game was played out, I thought the Cavs were actually gonna pull it off.

I could take them losing the final game if a couple things happened: I wanted to see Boston win a close game at home, in front of their fans, with LeBron James going nuts. That's all I wanted to see. I didn't trust Kevin Garnett down the stretch, Boston hasn't played tight games all year and LeBron can take a crowd completely out of a game when he's on. I didn't think that the Celtics had anyone who could match LeBron basket for basket in a tight game. I figured that Boston would fold under the pressure and the Cavs could win a close one simply because of James. I just didn't account for Paul Pierce having the game of his life. I didn't see that one coming and I don't think anyone else did either.

Pierce was spectacular with 41 points, 4 boards and 5 assists. He was really hot early and I still wasn't worried. I was hoping that Pierce would start shooting well, start taking some bad shots and then cool himself off down the stretch. I was fine with him scoring early, I didn't think he had it in him to continue it all game long. He matched James shot for shot (or James matched him, as the Cavs were playing catchup the entire afternoon). You know going in that the Celtics have the better supporting cast and if they can get someone to match LeBron's output, the supporting case would put them over the edge. And with KG, Eddie House and PJ Brown all doing the little things, the Cavs' role players couldn't match.

And the Cavs had their chances in Game 7, make no mistake about it. A couple of fouls go their way, a lose ball bounces the other direction or if West's game tying 3 doesn't rim out, the Cavs would be walking away the victors. I thought the refs did a poor job in Game 7, for both teams. LeBron ended up shooting 19 free throws (making 14, 73%) and he very easily could've had a dozen more. The Celtics were grabbing his arms when he drove, hit him in the face and generally roughed him up on the way to the rim. But the refs weren't exactly kind to the Celtics either, LeBron definitely hacked Pierce a few times with no recourse and Kevin Garnett got called for a weak pushoff on Joe Smith late in the game (however, KG was pushing off throughout the first 40 minutes, so I'll take that one, even if it was bunk). Though, I will say that I thought Boston was on the receiving end of the worst call of the afternoon, when Ben Wallace was whistled for a block after Pierce elbowed him in the chest while trying to create space while being trapped. How that was even debatable was beyond me (also, I was unaware that just because it's a close game, you're allowed to neck tackle people. Good to know).

Despite how awful the offense looked this series, I think you have to give the Cavaliers credit. They took the Celtics to seven games and they only really had three terrible quarters in Boston (quarters 2 & 3 in Game 2 and 3 in Game 5). Boston's the better team, plain and simple (not that the 66 wins didn't tell us this already). And things broke their way this last game. Look, if it takes Paul Pierce getting lucky bounces (once on a 3, once on a free throw and once when a tipped pass landed in his lap for an open trey) and PJ Brown hitting the game winning shot for the Celtics to put away the Cavaliers, then so be it. I'll tip my hat and go on my way.

But if the Cavs had put forth an effort like the second half of Game 5 or if LeBron put up another 2-18 game, I'd have been pissed. But they kept it close and LeBron was going off; that's what you shoot for in this situation. You can't really ask for much more from this group of guys. They won their three home games convincingly and had legit shots in both Games 1 and 7 on the road. The injury to Daniel Gibson hurt more than people realize. Gibson has played well in big playoff games and having him out there rather than Sasha Pavlovic (not the trainwreck I thought he'd be, but they need more from him), Wally Szczerbiak (who may be the slowest guard in the NBA) or Damon Jones (who hadn't played for the past month) could have been enough to tip the scales in the Cavaliers' favor.

And though Mike Brown and Danny Ferry will draw a lot of the fans' ire (some deservedly, some not), I think you have to give them some credit as well. Sure, the offense had some terrible moments and the role players were inconsistent, but for all intents and purposes, if the Cavs had gotten just a mediocre performance out of LeBron in Game 1 (as opposed to a terrible one), the Cavs take that game and probably the series. Despite all of the other issues, that's basically this series came down to. 45 win teams aren't supposed to upset 66 win teams. It's hard to do. The Cavs had a good of chance of anyone and they didn't capitalize on their chances.

I think you have to say February's trade was a success, even with the Game 7 loss (and Szczerbiak's poor performance). The Cavs basically traded two rotation guys (Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden) for four (Ben Wallace, Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith). Once everyone got settled, I don't think it's a question that the post-trade Cavs were both the better and deeper team. Could you imagine if while LeBron was shooting 25% we had Larry Hughes turning in 5-17 nights? Do you think Drew Gooden would have been a factor in any of these seven games? Or if Joe Smith is a better fit off the bench than Donyell Marshall? Delonte West has had his moments (a little too turnover prone at times) but I think you have to be pleased at how he reacted to the playoff spotlight. And sure Ben Wallace is as overpaid as Hughes, but at least Wallace tries to do what he's supposed to be doing. I can live with that.

However, that's not to say that there aren't issues. The offense has be fixed and it's imperative that they hire an offensive coach for Brown's staff. Some will probably say that it should've happened this past offseason, and I tend to agree. However, if your coach, who just took the franchise to their first ever NBA Finals appearance, says that he's going to work on the offense in the offseason, I think you owe him enough respect to let him try to work things out on his own. But it didn't work, the offense still stagnated and things need to change. Now. Brown had his chance to fix it, but now it's time to get another coach in there for help, Brown's feelings be damned. But let's not neglect how good of a defensive team the Cavs have become; that fact they can be so bad on offense and yet compete with the best teams in the league is more than somewhat remarkable. I still don't think Brown's defense gets the credit it deserves (but that tends to be because his offense is so horrible).

But GM Danny Ferry will have more on his plate than simply hiring an offensive minded assistant. The Cavs are going to have roughly $30 million in expiring contracts to play with and he needs to add at least upper level talent, if not two. They'll also have a first round pick (#19) for the first time in a couple years and they'll be scouting for both their needs (young, athletic big man) and for potential trades (the "best player available"). The Cavs should be major players in almost every trade scenario that comes up over the next 8 months and we'll see what kind of talent Ferry can put around LeBron.

And LeBron. What can you say about this kid? I think he's clearly the best player in the NBA. The pounding he takes on a nightly basis is astounding, his defense is improving and he's a force of nature when he gets a head of steam. There are still some issues that have to be addressed; he needs to get his jumper more consistent, he needs to work on his free throw shooting and I'd like to see him put more effort in his offense without the basketball. Granted, some of this can be addressed by hiring a coach that can diagram something other than a pick and pop, but there are things that can be worked on. James has turned himself in to a dynamic off the ball defender and his jumper has improved remarkably. There's no reason to think that he won't continue to improve his game.

With the Cavs losing the way they did (LeBron scoring 45 and no one else doing squat) there will continue to be talk about LeBron bolting because he has no help (I already heard an ESPN radio guy talking up Mike D'Antoni and the Knicks- but I thought he was going to play for Jay-Z in Brooklyn? I'm so confused). And if his contract was up this July, I'd be terrified. But it's not, he's got at least two more years in a Cavalier uniform. With all the expiring deals, the team that walks off the court to end the 2010 season should look starkly different than the one we watched on Sunday afternoon. The Cavs have some time to make things over and I doubt LeBron will leave in 2010 because of anything that happened in 2008. However, if in 2010 the Cavs play a Game 7 and Sasha Pavlovic plays the entire second half.... be afraid.

All in all, I think you have to say that the Cavs had a successful year. They had key players miss a lot of time due to injuries, hold outs and other various issues. They revamped the roster mid-season and then couldn't get everyone on same page (and healthy) until the playoffs.

The Cavs got as far as their previous roster could take them and though they ended their season two rounds earlier, I don't think it's fair to say that they took a step back. If you actually think that last year's team is making that same run this time around, well... you need help. The Cavs had a good run and gave a great Boston team a legit scare. With all the games missed and other factors, I think they're a better team than their 45 win season says and I think there's enough pieces here that one or two key addition could turn them into a legit title contender (and one major piece *cough* Carmelo Anthony *cough* that could propel them to dominance).

Like a certain basketball playing presidential candidate, Cavs fans will be chugging the hope and change kool-aid quite a bit over the coming months. The offense has to change and with all of their expiring contracts, there's good reason to expect that the roster will change quite a bit as well (and ideally for the better). There are some reasons to be optimistic and hopeful; I think that Ferry tends to make good moves, even if he can be a bit gun shy (and for what it's worth, neither Mike Bibby nor Jason Kidd turned in that good of postseasons). While in some ways this turned out to be a lost season, with injuries playing a large factor for the entire year, I'd still says it's a successful one, if only for trade (and the roster turnover) alone. The trade was the first step in building a dominant team around James, where everyone knows their roles has the skills to compliments LeBron's skill set. All I wanted if for Ferry not to make a panic move and keep his options open for the coming summer. He did that and more.

The coming months should be really, really interesting.


Erik said...

This is how I rank the Cavs' tradeable assets:

1. Andy
2. Wally
3. Smith
4. DJ
5. Sasha
Wild card: Snow (Will the Cavs trade his rights or buy him out?)

Andy and Wally would almost certainly have to be in any trade for a Redd/Brand/T-Mac caliber player. Wally is their biggest expiring deal and Andy is the young player most attractive to other teams. Trouble is, he can't be traded without his consent until almost the end of the calendar year.

I can't see the Cavs dealing both Smith and Andy without an infusion of frontcourt talent via the draft.

Jones will likely be gone, but he's probably only a bargaining chip to throw in and make a deal work.

Whatever Ferry does, he'd better do it before training camp starts. No more blowing up the roster at the trade deadline. The 2008-09 Cavs have to be ready to rumble on opening night. No more of this 45-50 win crap. Next year's Cavs had better flirt with, or reach, 60 wins.

Ben said...

I think they have to keep Snow on. if they buy him out they aren't saving a lot of usable money (it gets them under the luxury tax but it doesn't get them under the salary cap). snow is more useful as a trade asset.

I really want to see them do something before training camp.

but the offense is the key. they have a point guard, they have LeBron and they'll have whoever they trade for. If they're running these same offensive sets, how much will change?

it's been reported that Brown has extremely complicated names and gestures for his plays... that needs to be fixed. if the offense is bad AND confusing...

The Other Ben said...

Trades aside, we absolutely need to find value in the draft. With Hansborough staying for a 4th year, this class lost out on a premier big man regardless of what scouts say. Mark my word, next year Tyler will be the Boozer of the 2009 draft class sans the swindling of a blind man. No idea how scouts have this kid going 19th and lower.

Roy Hibbart is a strong possibility for the cavs: Hes big, mobile, can knock down an outside jumper and has a full college pedigree so he will be NBA ready this year. Despite the pundits, I think Hibbart has more potential than Lopez out of Stanford (who is only a sophmore). Hibbart also played in the hands down most competitive conference in college baskeball.

Ben, quick Q: Who would you rather get in a trade, Melo or Redd? There is so much upside to either guy its hard to pick. I love Redd, but Melo's game is so complete. I know you did some gorilla math and figured we have 30 mil+ in deals so would it be feasible to get these 2 guys and just take the ginormous hit on the luxury tax. Redd is under contract for 6 years 91 mil and Melo 5 years 80 mil. Signing those guys basically shores up 30 mil the 1st year, but its a lot more after than considering both contracts are back-loaded. I guarantee if that did happen, we would have to do 2 things: Z would have to be gone. We would owe him 11.5 after next season so that deal would be enticing for another team to take up as long as his health was OK (id imagine he would want to retire a cav so restructuring is a possibility). The 2nd part would be restructuring Redds,Melo, or Lebrons contracts. Considering Redd and Melo would be under contract through 2011 and 2012 respectively, it seems keeping those 3 guys together would only be possible for the 08-09 and 09-10 seasons. That being said, these deals would imply that we bank on Delonte being the PG for the next 3 seasons+. As long as he cuts the TOs, hes gonna be good, especially if we get more athletic talent around him. Sorry for the long post, so much to talk about now that the season is over.

graham said...

A couple thoughts:

- I don't think you can definitively say the Cavs team prior to the trade wouldn't have gone any further than this team. Gooden had some great games in the playoffs last year and Hughes didn't shoot any worse than Wally, and could play D. Sure, West was big in some games but he was missing in many others. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but we don't know for sure. However, they are definitely better positioned for the future because of the trade.

- I'd take Melo over Redd in heartbeat. End of discussion.

- Erik, agree with pretty much everything. You just can't revamp the roster at the deadline two years in a row. But, that might limit their options.

- I don't think West is a starting PG, and if James is going to be the main initiator of the offense, the "PG" needs to be more of scorer.

- They should draft the best player available in the draft at #19, whether its a PG, SG, PF, or C, as long as its not a pure SF. Hibbert is extremely slow and rebounds poorly for his size - I'd be concerned taking him.

- And finally, I'm personalized very disappointed in the Cavs. It's not that team underachieved, but rather that LeBron has no support - so many of these guys that we relied on wouldn't get much burn at all on other contenders.

LeBron James is the best player in the world, and it's incredibly frustrating to know we have a superstar who can win a championship if he had any real assistance from his teammates. Simply stated, when you have a player of James' caliber, you can't afford to have years like this.

We all knew they wouldn't compete for a title because of those reasons, but watching unfold in front of your eyes was tough to watch IMO.

Erik said...

What's really frustrating (and frustrating for LeBron in particular) is that the Cavs stood pat for two years while most of the rest of the Eastern Conference got better. It has to be head-smacking to LeBron that the Celtics went from 24 wins to 66 wins and a possible NBA title in one year.

Now, there might be other teams (Knicks and Nets in particular) who might try to follow the Boston miracle-turnaround blueprint and hit the trade market attempting to make bold, franchise-altering trades this summer. So not only will the Cavs be chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, other teams will as well. That makes Ferry's job harder.

Bottom line: The Eastern Conference is no longer a conference where 53 wins will get you the 1 seed and 50 wins the 2 seed, as happened last year. After the Celtics' turnaround, I think you are going to see a lot of teams eschew methodical, long-term rebuilding projects for quick fixes, partiucarly teams in big markets with a lot of pressure to win.

With LBJ, all things on the basketball court are possible, but I expect the East's road to the NBA Finals to get a lot tougher in the next couple of years. The East, at some foreseeable point, might actually become the dominant conference again.

Ben said...

The Boston situation was so unique, I'm not sure anyone CAN really replicate it.

I mean, they offered a ton for KG and didn't get it (#5 pick, Jefferson and expiring deals). Then they offered some of the KG package for Ray Allen (#5 pick). Then they got KG with less than they originally offered (Jefferson and expiring deals). They were a rebuilding team with a star on the downside of his peak years and they were able to add two more vets.

That situation was sooo unique, I'm not sure how anyone can repeat it. The Knicks? Meh. The Nets? Maybe, though I'm not sure.

It is frustrating that the Cavs stood pat, but they didn't really have much choice. They made their franchise altering move in 05 and were stuck with it.

The East is better, but the Cavs still have a good team. Plus, there's a case to be made that if this team had been together the entire year, they'd have beaten Boston.

But this is the summer to take the next step. They need to add some legit pieces to get this team closer to 55-60 wins, rather than 45-50. I think Redd (and/or Mo Williams) could be that step.

I also think you might see the Cavs talk with Chicago about either Hinrich or Thomas, depending on who the Bulls are looking at.

As for Melo vs Redd, I take Melo. He'd be a great fit with James and he'd definitely be a long term solution.

Elton Brand also seems to be a possibility, but I'm not sure how it happens. Mike Miller is in there as well.

The Cavs should be able to add two guys and hopefully a decent FA with the mid-level exception.

Windhorst made a point that the Celtics got two wins because of guys they got for free late in the year (Cassell in Game 1 and Brown in Game 7). If the Cavs can add another piece, they should be a destination for all those chasing rings.

Anonymous said...

cavs cannot afford to stand pat this off-season like they did last time. they have to make at least one move, if not more, just like what boston did last year. with those 2 seperate deals to land kg and ray allen, the celts went from a lottery team to the # 1 seed in the east. surely the cavs getting another all-star caliber player to pair with lebron would take them from the #4 seed all the way to a title, right??? i realize he's in his mid 30's now, but phoenix is probably looking to rebuild, so how about steve nash in a cavs uniform??? that way lebron won't have to handle the ball as much & then he will be the guy rolling to the basket to catch the pass on the pick and roll instead of the distributor. that would be pretty much an automatic 2 points as well as an "and one" opportunity every now & then. certainly those 2 on the court at the same time would be enough to get them a title in the next 2 years, right??? we can only hope.

Ben said...

I've also seen talk of the Knicks packaging the #6 pick with Zach Randolph for cap relief (to get out of Randolph's contract). Or Curry.

Not sure I like either of those guys a lot, but if the Cavs could get one of them AND a shot at OJ Mayo, I'd be OK.

graham said...

Give cap relief to the Knicks?

Cavs could be planning their own funeral if they go that route.

Ben said...

Normally I'd agree, but getting the 6th pick would be tempting.

Erik said...

One way or another, the Knicks are going to have some cap relief by 2010, either through trades or attrition.

But figure this. If the Knicks clear enough cap space to sign LeBron in 2010, LeBron is basically going to end up on a team of nobodies again.

Now, if the Knicks can make Branson Wright's prediction come true and lure LBJ, D-Wade and Bosh to town in 2010, maybe that's not the case. But if a lack of a supporting cast ultimately drives LBJ out of Cleveland, why would he go to a team that, once again, offers him no supporting cast?

I don't care if it's New York. LBJ isn't going anywhere to turn a 25-win team into a 45-win team again.

You'd have to wonder if the Nets would be a much better option. Jefferson is already aging poorly with reagrd to injuries, VC will be 13 years into his career by then, and they have some promising young pieces like Nenad Kristic and Marcus Williams, but little else.

Ben said...

The "Melo to NJ" scare the shit out of me.

I think Milwaukee could be their best trading partner, with both Redd and Mo Williams (bc of Ramon Sessions) taking up huge chunks of salary while they're trying to get younger. Charlie V could also be available.

Varejao, #19 (and future #1s) and a boat load of cap relief could get that done (plus taking back Gadzuric).

I'm not a fan of giving up both Snow and Wally in the same deal, but something that nets Mo and Redd could be worth it.

graham said...

I still find it hard to believe the Bucks GM will deal to the Cavs, esp. since he grew up in the Pistons front office.

I think I'd rather have the Cavs target Mo Williams alone, if possible. You make a good point about Sessions - they could very well have something there and he's far cheaper than Mo. My excitement over Redd is starting to wane - he's 29, has had knee problems (according to Windhorst), and he's pretty slow as it is now.

Don't get me wrong, he could be a great fit here. But it's riskier than it appears at first glance.

Ferry needs to be really creative IMO, and I think he may have learned from the Hughes' signing to not go after the players most obviously available.

Erik said...

Redd would grow old on the Cavs' watch, no question. He might be a good short-term pickup, but would we want him when he's 32?

Plus the Cavs have a nasty recent history of picking up supposed sharpshooters who end up bending rims (Jiri Welsch, Donyell Marshall, pre-2007 Damon Jones and Wally Szczerbiak). I don't need to watch Redd come here and turn into Larry Hughes.

I thought the Cavs couldn't trade their draft pick this year because they traded away last year's pick. Could they draft a player and then trade him?

Ben said...

once the draft is over, you look toward the next two drafts.

meaning, the Cavs are not allowed to trade both their 2008 and 2009 firsts. if they trade the 2008 now, after the draft they'd be allowed to trade 09 and 11.

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