Why The Cavaliers Need To Make a Move at The Trade Deadline
Around this time in 2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers were rolling on their way to a franchise record 66 wins. However, there was talk that they might be able to trade for Shaquille O’Neal of the Phoenix Suns. I was on the fence about the move, because they were playing with such a synergy that it seemed a big move could upset the chemistry of the team.
As we all know, the Cavaliers eventually did acquire Shaq for some spare parts, but not before Cleveland lost to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals, in a series that exposed the Cavaliers need for a low post presence and perimeter defenders with size.
Now history is repeating itself. The Cavaliers are playing great basketball, currently on a 13 game winning streak, after some early growing pains that were attributable mostly to the integration of Shaq into the offense. Since losing to Boston in the first game of the season, they have posted a stellar 4-1 mark against the NBA elite (Lakers, Magic, Celtics). This is in sharp contrast to the 3-6 record they had against those teams in the 2008-09 regular season. With the help of Shaq and some physical play, they frustrated Pau Gasol, made Dwight Howard irrelevant, and essentially dismantled the two teams that Shaq was brought in to match up with.
They stand at 43-11 right now, same record as last season, and well on their way to another 60+ win season. But as Cleveland fans discovered last year, there is always room for improvement. They are likely going to capture home court advantage throughout the postseason (again), but questions remain about whether this team has the necessary pieces to bring a title to Cleveland.
Much like last year, the prevailing opinion among Cavalier fans seems to be that we should stand pat, and let this team go to the playoffs as is. Last season I wouldn’t have argued with that wisdom.
Fortunately for LeBron James and the Cavaliers, this isn’t last year and the local fans aren’t making the personnel decisions. That privilege(?) belongs to former Cavalier Danny Ferry, the same person who brought Shaq to town amid criticism that Shaq and Lebron couldn’t mesh on offense. Shaq was too old, too slow, and was just going to clog the middle for Lebron, remember? Well, he clogs the middle so much that Cleveland scores in the paint to the tune of 9th in the NBA and 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind Atlanta. We can all see how solid those predictions were. Try to find someone who will own up to that prediction now.
I say this because many Cavalier fans are now being equally short-sighted when they say the team should stand pat. I will be the first to agree that this Cleveland team is superior to last year’s team. That is not the issue. The issue is that the Cavs have had seven years to build a team around Lebron James, and they STILL don’t have a legitimate number two scorer to take pressure off of the MVP.
Shaq’s impact has been huge, but even he will admit that he is basically a role player now, and not the dominant big man he once was. You simply cannot rely on a 37 year old (he’ll be 38 in March) to be your number two option in the playoffs. Most people will say that Shaq isn’t the number two option, and I agree. The problem is that two of the Cavs other options have some reliability issues as well.
Even if we assume that Mo Williams will return from his shoulder injury and be himself, there is no guarantee that he will show up in the playoffs. In game one of the Eastern Conference finals, Mo grinned and walked off the court after hitting a 66-foot shot to end the first half, and although he returned to the court for the 3rd quarter, his game apparently remained in the locker room. After that, the All-Star number two scoring option for the Cavaliers was anything but.
We can hope that this was an aberration, a symptom of Mo’s first trip to the conference finals and not a sign of postseason ineptitude to come.
His backup, Delonte West, has had some much-publicized off-court issues that leave him as something of a question mark for the postseason. He may play well; he may not be able to play at all.
Consider all of these uncertainties, and then remember that LeBron can walk after this season. What if he feels that Cleveland will never provide him with a legitimate sidekick that will show up in the playoffs? This is not Boston or Los Angeles, this is Cleveland. That familiar adage, “Wait until next year”, does not apply to this team right now. Without LeBron, the Cavaliers will have difficulty matching the winning total of those lovable losers that play football down the street.
Having said all that, I want the Cavs to make a move. This team needs a legitimate scorer at the power forward position, someone like Amare Stoudemire or Antawn Jamison, preferably.
I do not, however, want a shooting guard like Corey Maggette or Andre Iguodala. Despite the criticism he takes, I feel that Anthony Parker is a solid starter who doesn’t get enough credit for his defense and 3-point shooting. He plays a similar role that Bruce Bowen played for those championship San Antonio teams on which Mike Brown was an assistant. I think Mike Brown agrees, considering that Parker is a starter and is almost always on the floor to finish games.
Of course, I need to address the most valid objection to the Cavaliers making a trade, and that is the problem of allowing J.J. Hickson to leave. He is without a doubt a talented, athletic, young forward with potential. Unfortunately, with LeBron in his walk year, we cannot afford potential.
Potential will not win a championship ring. Potential will not convince LeBron to re-sign in Cleveland. Most importantly, potential is not a guarantee of future success. (looking at you, Darko) It would be different if Hickson was a guy who could create his own shot. As talented as he is (he showed some excellent low-post moves as a rookie), he gets most of his points off of assists from Shaq and LeBron. His contributions in two wins against the Lakers were huge, but we don’t know if he can do it in the postseason. His position in the starting lineup seems largely a product of the Cavaliers desire to showcase his talents for another team. Bottom line, he can be replaced.
The questions I’m going to end with are simple, and are intended mostly for Cavs fans to ask themselves.
First, if you have the opportunity to put an All-Star caliber player next to the MVP, why wouldn’t you do it?
Second, if your answer to the first question has something to do with disrupting team chemistry, ask yourself another question: How far did team chemistry take the Cavaliers last season?
And if those two questions aren’t good enough, ask yourself one more.
What if Cleveland doesn’t make a move…and Boston does?
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