Offseason No Time For Rest For Cavs
In my 20 years on Earth, I can’t recall a time when there has been so much buzz surrounding an NBA offseason and the draft as there has been in the past few weeks. Trade rumors are everywhere – it seems like Kobe and KG have been linked to every team in the country except for the Columbus Blue Jackets. And obviously there’s the whole Durant-Oden question at the top of the draft.
The biggest question, though, for us Cavs fans is: how the heck can we improve this team? For a team that won 50 games and advanced to the NBA Finals, there are bright, glaring weaknesses, such as:
1. No one can run an offense effectively
2. No one can consistently hit a jump shot
3. No one can block shots
Well, those should be easy enough to fix, right? We’ll just use our first-round draft pick on…
(Oh, right, we traded that for the incomparable Jiri Welsch two seasons ago. He played – oh, you’ll love this – 192 minutes in a Cavs uniform, which was about as long and dreadful as Pirates of the Caribbean 3).
OK, so without a first-rounder, we’ll just get a second-round steal like Boozer or Gibson and…
(That’s gone too? Really? The Gooden and Varejao trade? All righty then.)
Thank God we’ve got free agency, then. Lots of cap room and…
(2006-07 NBA Salary Cap: $53.135 million. 2006-07 Cavs Payroll: $62,992,728, according to espn.com. I’m not a math major, but those numbers don’t add up so well.)
So it looks like Danny Ferry will have to get creative, a thought that makes me shudder. After all, this is the man who gave Donyell Marshall $5.6 million per year, Damon Jones $3.8 million…well, just look at this roster and salary numbers yourself and let me know what you think:
Thankfully, Brian Windhorst, arguably one of the best beat writers in the country, reported earlier that Ferry has Dan Gilbert’s approval to spend into the luxury tax. So that does give the Cavs some options. Since I’m not an “NBA Insider” and privy to all those swirling draft and trade rumors, here’s how I think the Cavs should address their needs through free agency and other offseason improvements.
Let’s Get To The Point
I liked Windhorst’s suggestion that we go after a point guard like Steve Blake – his production stepped up after being traded to the Nuggets and playing with Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. He can run an offense (6.6 assists per game), shoot the three decently enough (34 percent), plus he’s a scrappy kind of player and still young enough (27) that I wouldn’t mind giving him a three or four year deal. Steve, I hated you at Maryland, but I’d be willing to let bygones be bygones if you become a Cavalier.
I know a lot has been made about Earl Boykins, a Cleveland native who is an intriguing prospect to fill the point guard role. He’s a good outside shooter (39 percent from downtown) and scorer (over 14 points per game last year). But he’s already 31 years old, has only started 33 games in his career, and has never averaged more than 4.5 assists per game.
And let’s not get started with Chauncey Billups. He’s 30 years old and will want more than the $6.5 million he got from Detroit last year. He’s a marginally better shooter than Larry Hughes. (The stats don’t lie: go to ‘Compare Players’ and select Chauncey Billups). Between him, LeBron, Hughes, Gooden, Z and Pavlovic/Gibson, there’s just not enough shots to go around.
I don’t think Daniel Gibson functions well as a true point guard. Hughes, remember, played great at the position when he first started there this season, then went back to his regular Larry Hughes form.
‘The Shooter’, Not Starring Mark Wahlberg
Problem number two, I believe, can be addressed internally, and it starts with Number 23. LeBron’s offensive game still needs a lot of work. If he can find some kind of rhythm from 15-18 feet out and also learn how to be an effective post player – I mean, watch out. He could average 35 or 40 a night, easily. He made his biggest improvement as a player between his second and third years, when he learned how to hit a few jumpers and threes, and now needs to make a similar leap between years four and five to take his game to new heights.
Granted, that’s all easier said than done – after all, LeBron is only 22. But I think he’s smart enough to know that he has room for improvement, and as he displayed in Game 5 against Detroit, he has the ability to do that every night. He averages 27 a night on mostly driving to the hole and getting to the free throw line. We don’t even know what he’s capable of down the road.
Then you also have to look at guys like Sasha Pavlovic, who is a restricted free agent but will likely remain with the Cavs, and Daniel Gibson. They both emerged as solid offensive players this year. And how about Shannon Brown? Sure, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire, but didn’t play poorly either. (The treatment of Shannon Brown this year deserves its own column. Just check out his game log, and you’ll see. He basically played in about 7 or 8 games, wouldn’t play for 10 or 15, then get in another 7 or 8. That bizarre rotation courtesy of Mike Brown.)
Finally, should the Cavs sign a real point guard and move Hughes back to the two, let’s see if he can put the “shooting” back in “shooting guard”. For over $13 million a year, hopefully he can figure that out.
Center of Attention
Now, to solve our depth along the frontline and add someone who can swat some shots. Z, Gooden, and restricted free agent Anderson Varejao are quality players, but they’re not intimidating defensive players by any means. And don’t get me started on Donyell Marshall. Scot Pollard is also a free agent, and I never understood why he never got a chance in the rotation.
I was looking at the list of free agents and some of the centers I see include Michael Olowokandi, Dikembe Mutombo (an interesting prospect, but he’s all but assured to stay with Houston), Dale Davis, Chris Webber, Jake Tsakalidis, Chris Mihm, Kelvin Cato and Jamaal Magloire. Not exactly an awe-inspiring collection of big men. Webber’s clearly the best player out of that group, but he got real old, real fast, last season. And I couldn’t find anything online about what his intentions are for this offseason, but I would have to figure he wants a lot of money and to start, and I don’t think he’s better than Gooden or Z right now.
Windhorst said that he thinks the Cavs would let Andy walk if another team offers him a big contract (he’s a restricted free agent, which means the Cavs have the right to match any offer), and I tend to agree. He’s been a valuable contributor, but he is by no means a starter, and you can’t pay him that kind of money to play 20-25 minutes per game off the bench and not score.
That being said, though, the Cavs will have some problems if Andy doesn’t come back. Then the only centers and power forwards we would have under contract next season would be Z, Gooden and Marshall. Even Dwayne Jones (the big guy in the suit at the end of the bench, in case you didn’t know) is a restricted free agent.
So I don’t see how we can add a shotblocker when we would just be struggling to get enough bigs out on the court. Defensively, we played great without having to block shots, but as we saw early in the Detroit series and against San Antonio how valuable interior defenders can be when they protect the rim.
Can We Put It Together?
This will be a critical few weeks for the future of the Cavs. I don’t know if a league runner-up has ever had so many question marks heading into the next season, but the Cavs certainly do. Some things are pretty clear right now: LeBron is a darned good player. Larry Hughes is no Scottie Pippen (he’s barely even Pippi Longstocking). And the roster, which was left largely intact last year, needs improvement.
It’s the offseason and Danny Ferry, you’re on the clock.