Monday, June 01, 2009

Next Year

As a life long Cleveland Sports fan I don’t even have to say it. Wait until next year is embedded in my DNA. In spite of the fact that the Cavaliers dominated the NBA this year, deep down inside I knew that they weren’t going to win it all. It’s simply impossible.

Cleveland’s last major sports championship was delivered in 1964 by the Browns. That was a full six years before I was born and since it was also before NFL and AFL merged, it doesn’t count.

The Indians managed to get to the World Series twice in 1995 and again in 1997. They gave the Atlanta Braves a long awaited title by going cold in ‘95 and just gave away the series to the Marlin’s in ’97. I knew it would happen. It was exciting to get to that level but I knew the Indians were going to lose. As a Clevelander I can’t conceive of anything else. The Drive; The Fumble; The Shot; The stupid trade that sent Ron Harper and two first round picks to the Clippers for Danny Ferry and a bag of stale peanuts people called Reggie Williams…if I ever want to back a winner I’m going to have to pick another team.

I’ve had people try to console me with Ohio State but that’s no good. It’s not that same. College Football doesn’t even have a true National Championship and I’m not that big a fan of college sports anyway. There’s too much corruption and it’s hard for me to look the other way. I prefer my greed upfront where I can see it. Besides, Jim Tressel creeps me out. I also hate Buckeye fans. Living in Columbus will do that. OH indeed.

In spite of the setback against Orlando, a series I had hoped wouldn’t happen, the Cavaliers still represent the best hope for a title. The Cleveland Browns had hired an idiot for a head coach and will likely be rebuilding again in three years. The Indians also have an idiot running the show and Major League Baseball shamelessly stacks the deck in favor of large market teams. So the Indians, like most baseball teams, are essentially a farm team that gets a bite at the apple if they manage to get prospects to produce before they get lured away with big contracts. Meanwhile Boston, New York and LA just keep spending that money. I don’t even like baseball anymore. Even if the Indians were doing well I don’t think I’d care because I can’t allow myself to identify with the players.

The Cavaliers will retain LeBron James. In spite of the fact that there is still a paucity of talent on the team, Danny Ferry has done a great job in finding help and Cleveland will have some money to spend. Rumors are circulating that Ben Wallace is set to retire, freeing up more than $14 million under the cap. Wally Szczerbiak is a free agent this year which means his $14 million will be available as well.

The concern in free agency for the Cavs is Anderson Varejao, who begrudgingly signed his contract after holding out a season ago. He can opt out if he likes and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him test the waters, but Danny Ferry doesn’t want to overpay. Anderson brings a lot of energy to the table but he doesn’t provide much in the way of consistency and he needs to hit the gym to become a more physical presence in the post. Cleveland really needed to knock Dwight Howard around in that series but they didn't have anybody who could.

LeBron James isn’t stupid. He knows that the New York Knicks won’t offer any more of a title shot than the Cavs do. Even if he does go to New York and grabs a couple of rings, it won’t be the same. He’ll be a mercenary who let somebody buy him title, rather than earning his legacy the way Jordan did. Moreover, New Yorkers won’t hold him in the same esteem that Cleveland fans will. In New York LeBron would be one of many vaunted sports heroes. His popularity would fade with his skills. In Cleveland LeBron would be adored long after his playing days are behind him. Under the NBA’s salary cap, no other team can offer him more money and because of the global marketplace, New York and LA aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

So what does that mean? It means that Danny Ferry needs to get busy. Encourage Ben Wallace to call it a career and let Varejao shop around. Go out and see if you can pry Big Baby away from Boston, and find out if Lamar Odom is tried of catering to Kobe’s ego in LA. Ron Artest seems to have matured over the past several years and his defensive skills would fit nicely in Mike Brown’s scheme.

It might not be a bad idea to shop some players around. Delonte West should be commended for his effort, and Mo Williams was money from the perimeter until the Orlando series but do the Cavs really need two starting point guards? Especially when the offense runs through James? The Cavaliers were killed by Orlando’s height. In order for Williams and West to get a hand in the faces of Orlando’s shooters they had to leave their feet which is a fundamental mistake.

Before Cleveland starts addressing needs they must answer one question: what is LeBron James. The biggest problem Cleveland had against Orlando was that it couldn’t decide whether LeBron James is a forward or a point guard. On paper they seem to think of him as a forward but as the game goes on he plays the point. And he should. He’s the best passer on the team. When he has the ball in his hands he forces defenses to respond to him and that creates opportunities. Magic Johnson was 6’9” and played the point, why not LeBron?

The Cavs didn’t struggle offensively against Orlando, what killed them was defense. That’s because Mo Williams and Delonte West were giving up nearly a foot to Orlando’s lanky shooters. Off the bench the Cavs often brought in Daniel Gibson who is also diminutive by NBA standards. The Cavs just couldn’t stop Orlando and the Magic aren’t going anywhere. Cleveland and Orlando are going to rule the east for years to come and right now Orlando just has Cleveland’s number. Danny Ferry needs to build this team to beat them.

The Cavs need a true big man. They need a tall guard and some depth on the bench. It’s not rocket science, but Danny Ferry and Mike Brown need to figure out how they want to deploy LeBron. If you’re going to run the offense through him, cut a point guard loose and get a true small forward. If you want LeBron to settle in as a 3, get him a real shooting guard who can match up on bigger guards. Until they decide on LeBron’s role, it’s going to be hard to find the right pieces and harder still to claim that title.

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