The 2009 NBA Playoffs ended in a letdown for the reigning MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. After such an abrupt end to what seemed to be a collision course with Kobe and the Lakers in the Finals, what's next for the Cavaliers in the upcoming off-season?
The fans in Cleveland are definitely left with more than a few questions regarding how to fix what went so terribly wrong in this year's Eastern Conference Finals. Here are five issues GM Danny Ferry and company will look to address in the coming months and how they might go about it:
1. Zydrunas Ilgauskas isn't getting any younger or quicker, so no surprise there. How can the Cavaliers find an answer for Dwight Howard and other "next generation" big men moving forward? (As this seems to be the biggest question for the Cavs, I'll try to shed a little more light on the situation.)
A: Starting with free agency, there won't be a whole lot that is appetizing to the Cavaliers in the way of big muscle down low. Rasheed Wallace is a good looking offensive big man, but also isn't as young as he once was and could cost a little more than the Cavs are willing to spend.
As far as trades go, all of the talk has been around Shaquille O'Neal. This certainly seems like a good option, as nobody can doubt his physical presence and the re-emergence of mobility he needed to run with the Suns. LeBron has also said he wouldn't mind having O'Neal. Still, Shaq is not a long term answer by any means, but could provide the muscle down low that the Cavs desperately need. A possible catch in the deal could be that it is believed that the Suns want Delonte West as part of the deal, a valuable guard that Ferry may not be willing to part with.
Now to the draft. In a perfect world, Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair or Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet would fall into the Cavaliers' laps, but that circumstance is not only beyond improbable, its impossible. This leaves the Cavs with a couple of late first-round options, but none that could step in and contribute in the fashion they need most. A common name that is thrown around many an internet mock draft is USC Power Forward Taj Gibson.
In essence, there is no clear answer to this problem. The premier big men of the NBA aren't going to be available until the 2010 offseason in which Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh become unrestricted. The obvious problem the Cavaliers will face will then become making room for either of the pair and LeBron James. Until then, there is no obvious quick fix for the low post in Cleveland beyond other trade options.
2. Could Mike Brown lose his job after winning 66 games and winning the Coach of the Year award? Will the mere discussion become a distraction to the team?
A: In a nutshell, absolutely not. Not only would this be a media fiasco to try to explain such a move after such a successful season, but it would be the entirely wrong message to send to the team. It would basically render the season a failure, something it simply was not.
As far as any of this talk distracting the team, the lack of coverage on the issue and the lack of demand for player comments certainly seems to be very telling of the loss of momentum this story has gotten from the beginning. In other words, it seems to be a non-issue to the players, the front office, and the fans of Cleveland.
3. Beyond Ben Wallace's possible retirement, will the Cavaliers have to fill any roles through free agency or otherwise this offseason?
A: The Cavs will get Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Lorenzen Wright off the books this summer, and Ilgauskas has an Early Termination Option on his contract. On the flip side, Anderson Varejao has a player option to mull over this summer.
The simple answer is yes, there are certainly shoes to fill, and the aforementioned Taj Gibson could be a great replacement for Joe Smith at the Power Forward position with a similar scoring mindset. Beyond that, big man Lorenzen Wright was not a regular contributor, but another year for the young JJ Hickson could come to fruition in the 2009-2010 season.
The resigning of Szczerbiak isn't out of the question, but filling his role could prove to be more difficult. One option may be sharp-shooting Von Wafer who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2009. While he may be a more pricy option, his skill set and energy level off the bench for Houston was instrumental to their success after the loss of Tracy McGrady during the season, and could help the Cavaliers immensely on the offensive end.
4. How can the Cavaliers begun to prepare for what in shaping up to be a wild 2010 free agency period?
A: Right off the bat, clearing Ben Wallace's $60 million contract will undoubtedly help. Also, this will be the first time the Cavs will not have to deal with the dead-weight contract that belonged to Eric Snow.
A newer development is the sale of a large share of the Cavaliers to Chinese investors who bring a very interesting marketing option to not only LeBron James but to the Cavaliers. This also could provide further economic stability for the franchise as they move forward into 2010.
Until the rest of the 2009 free agency period plays out, the Cavaliers' financial situation is unclear. One thing that is certain is that they will be able to offer LeBron the most money in 2010, and James has said that he has no plans to leave Cleveland.
5. Finally, how will the nucleus of the Cleveland Cavaliers respond to such a heartbreaking defeat in this years playoffs?
A: Confidence is everything, and though the Cavaliers suffered a disappointing loss, they should be back with a purpose come October. They return a solid nucleus with Mo Williams, LeBron James, and Delonte West leading the charge.
Furthermore, the experience of a loss will only serve as motivation for an already highly motivated team. Don't expect a drop off in energy and intensity for the 2009-2010 season, as the Cavs still have talent and depth to work with. The loss of this year will be a thing of the past come training camp this summer.