All for One, One For All: 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview by Adam aka Cleveland's Finest
08-09 Record: 66-16 (Finished 1st in Central Division)
Head Coach: Mike Brown
General Manager: Danny Ferry
Arena: Quicken Loans Arena
I. A season to remember….and to forget
Coming off of a second round elimination, the Cavs went into the 2008-09 season with the acquisition of Mo Williams. To say that might’ve been the best move of the season, as the Cavs went on to win twenty one more games that season that the year before, is understandable in the least. Winning the East, clinching home court advantage fully in the playoffs, and having a league best 39-2 record at home were certainly not expected by Cavs fans. At most, maybe a second seed at best and a win total amounting in the mid 50’s at best would be a successful regular season.
Mo Williams, however, turned to be the point guard the Cavs never had in the LeBron James era. He was the player that Larry Hughes was supposed to be. He knocked down shots, made plays, and could keep the Cavs in the game when the King was not on the floor. Mo proved successful as the Cavs outscored their opponents when LeBron was on the bench. For the first time, the Cavs had two options.
As the season game to a close, fans speculated that this was “The Year”. Never had the Cavs looked so dominant in the LeBron era. From the “One Goal” moniker to LeBron James MVP season to Coach Mike Brown’s Head Coach of the Year award to even Joe Smith’s playoff song, the Cavs seemed destined in a sense to win the first title for the city of Cleveland in over almost fifty years. The Cavs success against the elite was somewhat downplayed at the time. With a 3-6 against the next best three teams, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Boston, it would only be a matter of time before the Cavs felt the backlash from the other contending teams.
Key 08-09 Season Team Stats
-> 1st in opponents points per game (91.4 ppg)
-> 1st in point differential (+ 8.9 points)
-> 1st in winning percentage when scoring 100 plus points (.950)
The playoffs began. This was the year and this was the moment in which Cleveland would win a championship. It couldn’t begin any better than it did. The Cavs swept their first round opponent, the Detroit Pistons. They were hot, sweeping their second round opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, in the second round. Capping off a successful start, the Cavs now paid their attention to the Orlando Magic, a team coming off of a comeback series win in seven games against the Boston Celtics. Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals began. To say the Cavs were prepared was an understatement. Game one began with a 19-6 lead by the Cavs and the Cavs lead by fifteen at the first half. At this point, the Cavs fans were expecting a shutdown second half by the Cavs. And there was no reason to not expect that. After all, this was the best team in the NBA. But this second half wasn’t what the Cavs fans expected. Something happened, and that something influenced the series and put the Cavs in a corner. The Cavs were outscored by sixteen in the second half. Magic forward Rashard Lewis hit a key three pointer to take the lead with seconds left. Sure, the Cavs had the lead in the final minute, but what is the excuse for blowing a lead in such an important game?
Game 2 began. No way could the Cavs lose this or else they’d have to go to Orlando for two games down 0-2 in the series. They blew another first half lead, this time a twelve point lead. The Magic yet again took control and were winning by two with 1 second left. It was time for LeBron James to be a star, and he went to the next level with a three pointer to get the Cavs back in the series with a spectacular win.
The Cavs went to Orlando and fell apart in Game 3, never getting control. Game 4 was a thriller, and the Cavs had the lead with seconds left until Rashard Lewis sent the game into overtime with a three. In overtime the Cavs fell apart yet again in the series. The thing is, they lost both game and were down 3-1. One more loss and they are out.
The Cavs won Game 5 at home after guess what, blowing another lead. Now down 3-2, Cavs fans believed that their superstar could recreate his magic from Game 6 against the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. To no avail, the Cavs didn’t come within single digits the whole second half and the season ended prematurely with a 4-2 series loss to the Magic. Was this surreal? Weeks ago they had just gotten their sweep against the Hawks and had all the momentum riding. And at the first half of game 1 of the ECF, everything seemed sure. The overall mood and feeling was hard to describe and sort of uncomfortable. After putting so much into this one year and seeing it all fall apart like that just felt disturbing.
II. The 2009 Offseason: The final offseason before LeBron’s contract expires. How will management put together a winning team?
It was hard to believe the Cavs did not even make the finals. On June 25th, however, something gave the fans a reason to get hope for next year. The Cavs agreed to deal Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace to the Phoenix Suns for center Shaquille O’Neal. The thing about Shaq is that he’s won a ring with Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade. Would LeBron be the next star in line to share a ring with Shaq? Not only that, but the Cavs finally added the first dominant presence in the post in awhile. Since the days of Shawn Kemp the Cavs haven’t had an all-star caliber center dominant like Shaq. Ilgauskas was great at center, but he was limber and his skill set was best outside of the paint on the offensive end. When Shaq arrived in Cleveland, he said that he is here to “Win a ring for the king,” which gave huge implications of what could be of the Cavaliers 2009-10 seasons.
The Cavs made some key internal moves as well. They released Tarence Kinsey, lost Wally Szczerbiack and Joe Smith via free agency, and lost Sasha Pavlovic, a shadow of himself from the 2007 post season, and Ben Wallace, a declining big man with many injury problems, in the Shaq trade. A big move, however, was resigning Anderson Verajao, who started a majority of the Cavs game at power forward. He improved his jump shot and harassed his matchup with hustle and awareness.
Another key need was a long, athletic guard/forward who could guard the likes of Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus, or Hedo Turkogolu, which exploited a problem in the Cavs defense during the playoffs when the Cavs had trouble guarding them on the perimeter and when they penetrated. The Cavs signed veteran Anthony Parker, who was a star in the Euroleague and a consistent starter for the Raptors in his later years. They also signed former Globetrotter Jamario Moon, an athletic forward with many intangibles such as blocking and speed. To cap it off, the Cavs signed injured forward Cal-product Leon Powe, a member of the 2008 Boston Celtics championship team. Also, inspired by the Magic’s Courtney Lee, a rookie who had an abundance of success in the playoffs, the Cavs drafted a member of the NCAA men’s basketball champion team, UNC, in forward Danny Green. He was another athletic wing who could shoot the three.
To say the Cavs didn’t capitalize on free agency by adding long, athletic wings would be an understatement. They addressed almost every possible need in the offseason.
Addition by Subtraction:A quick look at the Cavaliers offseason moves.
Shaquille O’Neal (C)
Anthony Parker (G)
Jamario Moon (F)
Leon Powe (F)
Daniel Green (F)
Wally Szczerbiack (F)
Tarence Kinsey (G-F)
Ben Wallace (F-C)
Sasha Pavlovic (G)
Joe Smith (F-C)
Lorenzen Wright (C)
III. This will be “The Year”?
You see the additions above. The Cavaliers added solid shooting and athletic guards/forwards, and got the second most dominant athlete in the game in Shaq to be a presence in the post. The Cavs now have the two most dominant players in the league. The acquisition of Shaq pushed eleven year Cavalier veteran and former all-star, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, to the bench, which provided some solid depth at the center position. With Leon Powe and Shaq, the Cavs add two players who have won the big one and who have each produced in the finals. Powe had a breakout game in the 2008 finals against the Lakers, scoring over twenty points in Game two. This added championship mentality will certainly replace that veteran leadership of former Cavalier Ben Wallace.
There is no reason to think that the Cavs won’t be at the top of the conference. But at this point, is it acceptable to not make the finals in LeBron’s eighth year as a Cavalier? Not to mention, this is the last year on LeBron’s contract before the legendary 2010 offseason.
Before the season begins, there are a few problems and players that will affect the Cavs season:
1. Point-guard play: Last season, Mo Williams delivered the shooting. However, in the playoffs, most notably in the Orlando series, Mo shot a mediocre 37% from the field. With one year as a Cavalier under his belt, can he become the All-star he was during the regular season with a successful playoff run? It doesn’t end there. Daniel Gibson, who scored over 30 points in the clinching game of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, has seemed to disappeared the past two years. Averaging only 3.4 points during the 2009 playoffs along with shooting 36% from 3 point land, Gibson yet again for the third year has another chance t be the X-factor for the Cavs. Whether he finally takes that next step as a top sixth man is a crucial key to the Cavaliers’ success in the second season. A successful season by Gibson will show huge implications.
2. Defending the screen: Last year, especially during the playoffs, the opposing team had immense success when setting the screen. Due to Ilgauskas slow speed, he had little ability to catch up to the ball holder which gave up points. Now with Shaq, who could be even slower than Ilgauskas, how the Cavs defend the screen will be interesting. This hurt them during the playoffs and could be one weakness that the Cavs have to prepare to eliminate as we head into the 08-09 season.
3. Third and finally, are the newcomers. With the slowest rated tempo in the league, will Shaq, who had a hallmark season with one of the league’s fastest paced team in the Suns, be able to produce just as well with the Cavs, or will he be in LeBron’s way in the paint? Also, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, and Leon Powe will have high expectations in their first year. Especially Parker, who could be starting with Delonte West’s off-court problems, Anthony will be expected to provide the size and shooting ability that Sasha Pavlovic didn’t exactly use to his advantage.
With so much riding on this season, one thing is sure. The 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers will be in the playoffs, and they won’t end this season without giving it their all.
by Cleveland's Finest