Cleveland fans, hold your breath. Charlie Villanueva might be the piece that finally pushes the Cavaliers to a title.
Cavs GM Danny Ferry has been busy the past few offseasons, struggling to assemble an adequate supporting cast around LeBron James.
Though the team has gotten better, as evidenced by their league-leading 66 wins this past season, their playoff performances haven't. Their 2007 run to the Finals remains the furthest the Cavaliers have ever gone.
Even with the moves they've made—bringing in Mo Williams last year and trading for Shaquille O'Neal already this offseason—the Cavaliers have some holes to fill.
Villanueva could fill a very important one.
Villanueva is an athletic big man, a 6'11" power forward who can play out to the perimeter. He averaged 16 points per game for the Milwaukee Bucks last year, picking up some of the scoring slack from roster injuries, and added seven rebounds a game.
He's a good shooter, too, shooting 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc.
By virtue of the Milwaukee Bucks passing on his extension yesterday, Villanueva is suddenly available—and he and the Cavs have expressed mutual interest. Cleveland has a mid-level exception remaining, which they could use to land him.
Villanueva's biggest contributions would be on the offensive end of the floor, where he can attack the power forward spot and draw some defensive attention away from LeBron. He's an excellent passer for a big man as well, making him a valuable frontcourt player to complement "The Chosen One."
His spot in the starting roster is currently held by Anderson Varejao, who offers great hustle and defense but often lacks offensive input outside of a few put-backs. The addition of Villanueva to the Cavs' roster—which already offers some significant offensive firepower—should strike fear into the rest of the league.
Villanueva, in short, would be a great fit for the Cavs.
He has his critics, of course. Villanueva has taken flak for a lack of focus, leading to streaky scoring and sizeable cold spells, and also for being a soft defender in the post.
These flaws, however, are reasonably well addressed by the Cavaliers' system and may not prove to be a huge liability. Williams also took criticism for his defense while in Milwaukee, but in the defensively-minded scheme of the Cavs, he has played well on both sides of the ball.
One crucial piece is that Villanueva wouldn't have to be the go-to post defender in Cleveland. With Shaq in the middle, Villanueva won't have to guard opposing centers. If the Cavs also keep Varejao, then they'll have a strong defender that can come off the bench when opposing teams play big in the middle.
Instead, Villanueva can be matched up with the occasional athletic big, like Orlando's Rashard Lewis or Boston's Kevin Garnett. This frees up LeBron to guard a faster wing player and puts less pressure on "The King" to defend all over the floor.
Villanueva's streakiness in scoring is easily managed too, inasmuch as he won't have to be a first option in Cleveland. The Cavs' starting five of James, O'Neal, Williams, Delonte West, and Villanueva would boast five players capable of taking over a game offensively, again taking pressure off LeBron to take the team on his back every night.
His style of play most resembles Lewis, a player that burned the Cavaliers in the playoffs with the mismatch he created.
While Dwight Howard dominated in the middle (a hole the Cavs have temporarily patched with O'Neal), the combination of height and perimeter offense offered by both Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu picked apart Cleveland's defense, which lacked either athletic bigs or long guards.
Villanueva gives Cleveland some of that much-needed defensive size away from the basket. While the 6'1" Williams and 6'3" West aren't getting any taller, it wasn't the Orlando guards that beat the Cavs on the perimeter—it was switching that matched the 6'10" duo of Lewis and Turkoglu against those guards, creating major mismatches.
"I think I would be able to help out a lot," he said earlier this month. "Just the fact I bring my versatility and create mismatch problems. One of the reasons Orlando is in the Finals is because of Rashard Lewis. They have a legitimate big man (Dwight Howard) that demands attention, and they surround him with guys that can play on the perimeter."
The point isn't just matching up against Orlando either. Beyond fixing those mismatches, Villanueva creates those same mismatches against almost any other team.
He adds a scoring threat to the power forward position, he adds a long, athletic player to the floor, and he adds an unselfish player who can work in transition or half court.
He ups the ante for Cleveland. The addition of Villanueva to the roster challenges all the other Eastern Conference teams to try to match Cleveland's talent and athleticism.
Now's it's just up to the Cavaliers' brass to make it happen.
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