After an All-Star Weekend simmering with talks of Amar'e Stoudemire headed to Cleveland to pair up with LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal, the Cavaliers' front office threw a curve ball at the rest of the league.
Except it was not much of a curve ball at all.
After being hot in pursuit of Washington's Antawn Jamison for the better part of a year, Cleveland GM Danny Ferry finally acquired the sharp-shooting big man out of North Carolina on Wednesday a little less than 24 hours before the NBA's Thursday trade deadline. And all it took was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a first-round pick.
Factor in the fact that the Cavs expect to get Ilgauskas back after 30 days once Washington buys out the remainder of his contract, and this is the equivalent of a highway robbery. Also factor in the fact that the Cavs are expected to pick 30th in the draft for a second straight season due to having the best record in the league, and what Ferry pulled off is nothing short of criminal.
The scary part is that this is just the norm for him and the Cavaliers front office.
Last summer, Ferry traded Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns for future Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal—all because the Suns wanted to save money. O'Neal has been nothing short of rock-solid as an anchor for the Cavs on both ends of the floor, and although it took him a while to get acclimated with the team, he is a big part of Cleveland's league-best 43-11 mark.
The summer before, in 2008, Ferry traded Damon Jones and 33-year-old Joe Smith for point guard Mo Williams. Williams was a stat-stuffer for a poor Milwaukee team back then, but with the Cavs he translated those numbers to a team that won a league-best 66 games. Williams was also named an All-Star just six months after the trade while Smith was bought out and returned to the team for the playoff run.
So in essence, assuming that Ilgauskas is bought out and returns, Ferry has turned Damon Jones, Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, and the 30th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft into Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, and Antawn Jamison.
Think about that for a minute. For just one minute.
Considering the way Ferry has evolved as a general manager since taking over in June of 2005, the Cavaliers and LeBron James could not have asked for a better man to build this team. Immediately upon being hired, Ferry has $28 million in salary cap space to play with, space that he used to sign Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, and Damon Jones.
Although all three players became busts for the Cavs, Ferry learned from his mistakes and found a way to get rid of all three for assets. Those were the very assets he used to acquire players such as Williams, O'Neal, and Jamison—players that could help the city of Cleveland win its first championship in any major professional sports since 1964.
The Cavs also used the 19th pick in the 2008 draft—the highest pick Ferry has had to work with since being hired -- into promising young power forward J.J. Hickson. So promising is Hickson that the Phoenix Suns wanted him as the centerpiece in a trade for Amar'e Stoudemire, and LeBron James himself took Hickson under his wing during thie past offseason.
Many other general managers across the NBA may get a lot of credit for acquiring talent. Portland's Kevin Pritchard and Oklahoma City's Sam Presti come to mind. But considering the way Ferry's predecessor in Cleveland, Jim Paxson, lost Carlos Boozer and surrendered draft picks needlessly, the way Ferry has built today's Cavaliers is nothing short of admirable.
It looks like an A+ job on paper. But Ferry himself will tell you that it will not mean much if he and the rest of the Cavaliers organization aren't celebrating in a championship parade just soon.
Regardless, he is the last person you can blame if it doesn't happen. And right after LeBron James, Ferry should be the first person you should give credit to if it does.
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