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What do the Cavaliers do Next?

What do the Cavaliers do Next?



2010-07-26

Nobody in Cleveland thought it could possibly come to this. Not after seven years as a Cavalier and a lifetime spent in Ohio. Not after he revealed prior to free agency that the Cavaliers had an edge in landing him. Surely not after all the heartbreaking moments and figures in Cleveland sports history that require no explanation: The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Mesa, Art Modell. Nobody expected LeBron James to leave Cleveland in the most heartbreaking, callous way imaginable. Instead, a city and franchise is left in disarray as it tries to make sense of it all. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult rebuilding job.


Itís no understatement to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers were totally constructed around LeBron James, on and off the court. Everything went through him and he was the fulcrum of everything they accomplished. This season, the two-time MVP led the team in points, assists, blocks, and steals, and was a close second in rebounds. Furthermore, every acquisition was made with the intent of appeasing James. Instead of building a roster around young talent and draft picks, they focused on more experienced players with higher price tags because they knew that they had to win championships with James.


Assessing a plan of action going forward for the Cavaliers is difficult. Itís pretty hard to replace 29.7 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have money to spend from what would have gone to Jamesí contract. Even then, there are some difficulties. Cleveland isnít one of the more attractive places for a free agent. Not only is it a small market, the winters are brutal, and the economic region is depressed. The conundrum can be looked at as such: if Chris Bosh didnít want to go there and play with James, who would want to go there without him?


A new wrinkle to the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of Cleveland is owner Dan Gilbert. Upon Jamesí dismissal, he wrote a public letter to the fans excoriating James and slandering his character. It leaves many questions about the way in which Gilbert operates the franchise and whether any superstar would want to place himself under that type of risk if things didnít go well.


Another unfortunate consequence of the timing of Jamesí decision is that it seems to have come too late for Cleveland to pursue any big name free agents. The Cavaliers couldnít reach out to anybody because James forced their hand and they had to leave the money available for him in case he decided to return. The domino effect of Jamesí decision has already depleted many of the role player free agents as well and there just isnít an abundance of talent left on the market. Perhaps the biggest decision for Cleveland to make in free agency is whether or not to keep Shaquille OíNeal, who can still occasionally produce but slows the game down significantly and is an injury risk. And NBA betting have had their fill of Shaq.


Thatís not to say the Cavaliers are without assets though, perhaps the greatest of which is Byron Scott, who might not have signed with the team had he known James would leave. Scott has a proven pedigree as a player and coach, especially with the New Orleans Hornets.


As far as player personnel, Mo Williams is a very valuable cog. He blossomed as a point guard last year, occasionally making clutch plays down the stretch and showing great shooting ability. Antawn Jamison was brought in for James and was thought to be a short-term player. However, he is still under contract and the Cavs are hoping he still has mileage left at 34 years of age. Both these players averaged 15.8 points a game last year and it will be interesting to see how well they play without James and if either one is capable of becoming the leader the team needs.


The Cavs best young player is likely JJ Hickson, who showed signs of potential greatness last year. His development was likely stunted by the franchiseís choice to do everything to win then, which meant leaning on veteran players. Now that championships are out of the question, perhaps Hickson will be given more of a chance to show what he can do in an increased role. Other teams around the league certainly think highly of him, as is indicated by the Phoenix Sunsí refusal to trade Amare Stoudemire at last seasonís trade deadline when Cleveland declined to include Hickson.


The Cavaliers would be wise to take a long-term approach and follow a model like that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have gone from one of the worst teams in the NBA to a playoff squad that many think will eventually challenge for a title. To do that, the Cavs need to acquire younger players to surround Hickson with, as well as build through the draft.


As far as the Cavs prospects for the 2010-2011 season, itís difficult to see them making the playoffs. However, the Eastern Conference has been very top-heavy in recent years with a big fall-off after the first four or five teams. Considering this, their best-case scenario is challenging for a playoff spot and perhaps getting in as the seven or eight seed, where they just might play the Miami Heat and a certain former player.


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