The Matrix may not be the marquee draw he once was, but the 36-year-old's versatile skill set should still serve a prominent role in Cleveland's championship quest.
League sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein on Sunday that Marion "has committed to sign" with the Cavaliers. Marion, sources said, was drawn to Cleveland by "the chance to play with LeBron James and immediately compete for a championship." Those are strong enough appeals for him to look past the franchise's tight financial sheet and agree to the minimum deal it had to offer.
The budget rate is important. Not only does it represent solid value during an offseason when teams paid a premium for just about anything, but it also casts Marion in the most favorable light possible.
It's harder to complain about the warts that have developed in his game when he is such a Lilliputian blip on the team's payroll.
Salaries play a tremendous role in talent evaluation. Production can look dramatically different the higher contract figures climb.
Marion's minimum deal allows fans to focus on the small things he brings to the table. For the Cavaliers, they just added a player capable of providing efficient complementary scoring (10.4 points on 48.2 percent shooting last season), an active presence on the glass (6.5 rebounds) and long, dexterous defense that can bother players at either forward spot.
He's also highly durable, having missed seven games or fewer in four of the past five years. If Marion can contribute on a nightly basis, that could go a long way toward lightening James' regular-season load. The four-time MVP has logged 14,796 minutes over the last four seasons combined (playoffs included). With his 30th birthday hanging around the corner, the King could use a break.
When the pair share the floor, Marion can still give a lift to James' reserve tanks.
"Marion will be the Cavs' Shane Battier," wrote NBA.com's John Schuhmann. "He can guard power forwards and allow James to play on the perimeter defensively in those small-ball, more athletic lineups."
According to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, Marion had a long recruiting meeting with Cavs coach David Blatt, where the idea of Marion and James playing together was discussed. While Kevin Love never officially came up—"because the deal is still pending and can't be announced until August 23," Pluto noted—the idea that all three forwards could share the floor was still communicated.
It's been a long time since James sat down with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins and wrote how the Cavs are "not ready right now." Expectations have changed, as has the veteran talent base. Cleveland is all-in on the 2014-15 campaign and still hasn't stopped looking to strengthen its ranks, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
Of course, there are no guarantees that the on-court product will look nearly as good as these names do on paper. Multiple adjustment periods may be needed.
Blatt must figure out if his heavyweight trio works best together or if their minutes should be staggered to keep at least one on the floor at all times. He has to find out how long he can get by deploying aging sharpshooters Mike Miller and James Jones, or Ray Allen if he joins the party. Blatt still holds the Rubik's Cube that is Dion Waiters, a third-year player who understands his game needs to evolve on this new-look roster.
This group is overloaded with talent, but there are egos to manage and new roles to master. Love and Kyrie Irving, primary scoring options to this point in their careers, will now be rediscovering life as Plan B or Plan C scorers.
It could take some time getting everyone on the same page, but a proven commodity like Marion should help speed things along.
"He won't demand the ball and he won't get in anyone's way," wrote James Herbert of CBS Sports. "At this point in his career, the 36-year-old knows what he's best at and wants to compete for the championship."
Marion can be a glue guy for Cleveland, making the hustle plays that can change the outcome of a game or sparing James from the physical thrashings handed out on the low post.
Frankly, Marion needs to play that role because his days as a top-shelf contributor are well behind him.
Last season, his scoring average fell to its lowest level since his rookie season. His 11.9 rebounding percentage was the second worst of his career, per Basketball-Reference.com. His 13.7 player efficiency rating and .092 free-throw rate were both personal lows.
The Cavs shouldn't be asking much of him offensively, but his struggles weren't confined to that end of the floor.
Opposing 3s enjoyed a 17.1 PER against him, while power forwards ran up an 18.4 PER, per 82games.com. He ranked outside of the top 150 defending against isolations (0.91 points per possession, 199th), pick-and-roll ball-handlers (0.96, 231st), post-up plays (0.89, 165th) and spot-up shooters (0.95, 165th), per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
If fans are expecting to see vintage Matrix, they're bound to be disappointed. He simply is no longer the same player.
However, he shouldn't be held to those lofty standards. Not with the mileage on his NBA odometer, and not with the relatively meager earnings he'll collect next season.
At one point, Marion was a prominent piece of some really good teams. He cannot play that role anymore, but Cleveland won't ask him to.
If he can help James at the defensive end, this is money extremely well spent. If Marion provides a bit of floor spacing, glass work and efficient offense in the process, this could go down as grand larceny.
He's a small player in Cleveland's grand championship scheme, but he could still play a comparatively massive role in that pursuit. He's a shrewd signing for a front office that continues to reap the rewards of James' Midas touch.
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