Over the past few years Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry has been under some heat for making questionable signings in free agency (see: Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, and Larry Hughes).
But even more noticeably, Ferry has been criticized for not being able to acquire much of a supporting cast around Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. In particular, the Cavs have lacked a solid No. 2 scoring threat.
This past year, names like Jason Kidd and Mike Bibby have surfaced in trade rumors for the Cavs but ultimately, Danny Ferry couldn’t pull the trigger. With the threat of disturbing team chemistry as well as little room to operate in terms of cap space, Ferry chose to stand pat.
Despite the fact that this Cavaliers team made it all the way to the NBA Finals last year, the glaring lack of a supporting cast around James has been especially evident this season.
The Cavs started off the 2007-2008 season sluggishly with a 10-14 record. Currently, they are 30-24 but with the most talented player in the NBA in a very weak conference, it is safe to say that the Cavs have underachieved so far.
Something major needed to be done to turn this team into an elite contender, and yesterday many Cleveland fans got their wish.
The Cavaliers were involved in an 11-player deal with Chicago and Seattle, which ultimately netted 4-time NBA All-Star Ben Wallace, sharp-shooting guard Wally Szczerbiak, 6’4” point guard Delonte West, and journeyman power forward Joe Smith.
In return, the Cavs traded away the much-maligned Larry Hughes as well as Drew Gooden, Shannon Brown, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble, and Cedric Simmons.
When all the dust was clear, many cards switched hands, but did the Cavaliers actually benefit?
Each player the Cavaliers acquired should make a positive contribution to aspects of the Cavs’ game that need improvements.
Surely, strong inside defensive presence of Ben Wallace will be an improvement over Drew Gooden.
The outside shooting threat of Szczerbiak should effectively complement Daniel “Boobie” Gibson.
The addition of Delonte West gives the Cavs a true point guard who can score—something they haven’t had since Andre Miller.
Even the addition of 12-year veteran Joe Smith—infamously known for the “Kevin McHale fiasco” in which Minnesota lost its first round draft picks for half a decade—provides a strong rebounding and defensive presence.
There are without a doubt several positives to this trade, but the Cavs noticeably did not address its most obvious need: a No. 2 scoring threat to take the pressure off of LeBron James.
Since he arrived in Cleveland in 2003, James has carried the load for this team scoring-wise. The Cavaliers have added three-point specialists, defensive specialists, or other similar role players to help James out, but the evasive second option has eluded them.
This is not to say they haven’t tried.
The Cavs offered Michael Redd a contract two summers ago. Redd represented the ideal complementary player to James, but he chose re-sign with the Milwaukee Bucks instead.
The Cavs had to settle for their second option, Larry Hughes, and signed him to one of the worst long-term contracts in the NBA.
Although Hughes failed as a second-fiddle player in Cleveland, Danny Ferry chose an excellent opportunity to get some value for him.
Hughes may be a streaky shooter but teams coveted his length and ability to defend both guard positions.
What teams didn’t covet was his absurdly large contract of $70 million over 5 years.
But that became a non-issue when Ben Wallace—another highly-paid trade-able asset—wanted out of Chicago.
In trading Hughes away, the Cavaliers abandoned their search to find a second scoring option for the immediate future.
Although his confidence deteriorated over two injury-riddled years on Cleveland, Larry Hughes was the only other player on the team capable of being that guy.
Now the team will have to rely on a more collective mindset in support of James.
The strength of the Cavaliers post presence is gone after dealing away Drew Gooden, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joe Smith, and an improved Anderson Varejao should easily pick up the slack.
As for the perimeter game, the Cavs should thrive with Gibson, Szczerbiak, James, and Damon Jones.
On defense, the perimeter has weakened with the departures of Newble and Hughes, so the team will have to rely on strength of its inside defenders: Wallace, Varejao, Smith, and Ilgauskas.
A deal seemed inevitable for the Cavs.
Hughes needed to be traded while he was still an asset to some teams. The Cavaliers also needed relief in its cap room next year so it could sign free agents.
But ultimately, Danny Ferry needed to make some kind of move to attempt to better his team (and not get fired for complacency).
Whether this move actually ends up benefiting the Cavs is yet to be determined.
The Cavs made an overall improvement in terms of talent, but their lack of another top scoring threat could hurt them in the playoffs.
A rejuvenated Szczerbiak and Wallace could provide the spark this Cavs organization needs, but another failure in player acquisitions could be the final strike for James, who is eligible for free agency in a few years.
Either way, this blockbuster deal will give the Cavs the potential to be great with the team’s new identity.
And ‘potential to be great’ is always better than ‘slightly above average.’