The Cleveland Cavaliers currently sit all alone, atop the Eastern Conference, just percentage points ahead of their nemesis, the Boston Celtics.
While Cleveland fans are all agog with anticipation as their beloved Cavs attempt to extend their historic home winning streak against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon, much of the media attention has focused on the superstar exploits of LeBron James. And rightly so.
James has taken a clear step forward with his game, becoming more confident with his jump-shot, reducing turnovers, minimizing ill-advised heat-check shots, and playing with tenacity on the defensive end of the floor.
Last year, at this time, a gaggle of detractors were lining up to nitpick the Akron native, citing the aforementioned deficiencies as well as claiming he lacked the killer instinct to be effective toward the end of games.
Those same negative Nancys are now queuing up with laurel branches to anoint LBJ the true king of the NBA universe. And rightly so. Right?
Sort of. While James' progress as a basketball player is irrefutable, he is the beneficiary of playing on an extremely well constructed team, put together by Danny Ferry and his staff.
To truly appreciate the remarkable job that Ferry has done since assuming the post in 2006, one needs to realize how handcuffed he was by his predecessor's ineptitude and willingness to trade future draft picks in a desperate attempt to salvage his job (Read John Paxton giving the Celtics a first round draft pick for Juri Welsh whose schlepping bags for prospects in the D-League).
Ferry has only had two first-round draft picks since taking the reins, and he nailed both of them. JJ Hickson and Boobie Gibson will be solid contributers to the team for years, though currently they inhabit a modest spot in the playing rotation put together by Mike Brown.
Ferry got rid of inconsistent Drew Gooden, secured defense and veteran leadership in Ben Wallace, and nabbed the most underrated player in the NBA: Delonte West, in the same trade.
The Mo Williams trade that followed was an absolute coup. I'll let you google that and wonder what the Bucks were thinking on that one.
In another sagacious move, Ferry elected to keep Zydrunus Ilgauskus, despite his increasing years and decreasing production. The move figured to be prescient. Z, a totally underrated and viable center who significantly impacts the game on both ends of the floor, has proved to be indispensable to the Cavs offense, both through his ability to hit the pick and pop shot, and his aptitude on the block.
Sasha Pavlovich and Anderson Varajeao are among the elite of the league when it comes to coming of the bench as both provide explosive energy and hustle. Both are still raw as basketball players but continue to progress, along the same trajectory as their teammate LeBron, although clearly not to the same degree or on the same level.
Thus, the Cavaliers success this year is not solely predicated upon the improvement in LeBron's all around game as most of the major media outlets would have you believe. Rather, it was a combination of shrewd moves by the GM, and the natural progression of younger players who continue to grow into their roles, that has allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to coalesce and come together as a complete NBA team.
There are nights where LeBron regresses, and the Cavs still win. There are times when LeBron forces shots, plays lazy defense, takes the outside shot instead of driving to the rim, and the Cavs still win.
So while LeBron will inevitably have something to say about who hoists the trophy in early June; Mo, Z, Boobie, JJ, Anderson, Sasha, Delonte, and Ben Wallace are going to have a say in the matter as well.