Why Is LeBron James Unhappy About the Mo Williams Trade?

MB MBSenior Analyst IAugust 15, 2008

Somewhere in Beijing, LeBron James is doing a very unenthusiastic golf clap.

This clap is directed towards Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry for acquiring Mo Williams from the Bucks in a three-team trade on Wednesday, but it is unenthusiastic because this move will not put Cleveland securely in the top four of the Eastern Conference.

Boston, Detroit, and Orlando are still clearly above them and the acquisitions of Elton Brand in Philadelphia and Jermaine O’Neal in Toronto have moved them slightly ahead of the Cavaliers. Another scary thought for Ferry is the possibility of “King James” leaving after his contract is up because the GM did not put enough talent around the Akron, Ohio native.

In return for Williams, the Cavs sent guard Damon Jones to Milwaukee and Joe Smith to Oklahoma City. Milwaukee also sent Desmond Mason to Oklahoma City, and in return they received Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin. That leaves Cleveland getting Mo Williams, Milwaukee receiving Luke Ridnour, Damon Jones, and Adrian Griffin, and Oklahoma City getting Joe Smith and Desmond Mason.

From Cleveland’s perspective, acquiring Williams is an upgrade at the point guard position. Unlike most people, I do not think that it is a huge upgrade.

Sure, Williams put up good numbers in Milwaukee last year, averaging 17.2 points per game and 6.3 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field. He is only 25 years old and should be hitting the prime of his career.

Those are all great things, but I really think Cleveland already had a very similar player. Daniel Gibson is still only 22 years old, and poised to have a breakout season if he is putting the work in.  I believe he is, because with much improvement brings an extension and his overall love for James inspires him to work hard.

Gibson also caters more to Lebron’s game. He is a spot-up shooter who shot 44 percent from three-point range last year. He also shows flashes of the ability to get to the rim, and with time will be on Williams' level.

Another negative about Williams' game is that he has to have the ball to be effective. The problem is, LeBron has the ball in his hands most of the game.

The trade also created an even bigger hole at the power forward position. By getting rid of Joe Smith the Cavs, have absolutely no scorers at the position. Ben Wallace’s skill set seems to be declining weekly, and he never has been a scorer. His backup, Anderson Varejao, gets called Side Show Bob more times in a game than he scores points. 

If Ferry thinks that rookie J.J. Hickson is the answer because he had a great summer league, remember that only Al Horford last year and Emeka Okafor in 2005 have had substantial impacts at the power forward position. It will be at least three years before Hickson makes big contributions.

At first glance, it looks like Milwaukee will be taking a step backwards at the point guard position, but that is not the case. After acquiring Richard Jefferson from the Nets to go along with Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, and Charlie Villanueva, the Bucks had no need for a shoot-first point guard.

Yes, the Bucks could have received more talent for Williams and the expiring contract of Desmond Mason—but when you are a GM sometimes the decision isn’t yours.

The Bucks are still fine at the point guard position. While Williams was hurt in the final 17 games last year, the Bucks received huge contributions from their second-round pick out of University Nevada-Reno, Ramon Sessions.

Sessions is the perfect fit for what Scott Skiles is trying to do in Milwaukee. He is a pass-first point who averaged 7.5 assists per game, while only averaging 26 minutes a night. That will complement the scorers the Bucks have perfectly. 

He has good size at 6’3”, and the ability to play very good defense. He also shot the three at a 42-percent clip—which will pay big dividends when Bogut, Jefferson, and Redd get doubled.

If, by chance, Sessions struggles in only his second year in the league, the Bucks have a very respectable guy in Ridnour who also fits the pass-first mold. Ridnour’s numbers did slip last year, but he only played 20 minutes per night and was being fazed out of Oklahoma City’s future.

When Seattle was a respectable team in 2006, Ridnour had his best season, averaging 11.5 points and seven assists. I look to see more of that Luke, with his minutes going up and a strong team surrounding him. Redd and Jefferson will love his penetration, which will leave them open from three.

The acquisition of the self-titled “best shooter in the world” will probably be short lived. I don’t expect Jones to make the Bucks' opening-night roster.

Adrian Griffin will add a short spurt of defense at the three, but won’t see many minutes with Jefferson, Villanueva, and rookies Joe Alexander and Luc Mbah a Moute eating most of them.

What Sam Presti is doing in the Pacific Northwest—sorry, what Sam Presti is doing in Oklahoma City has the future looking brighter and brighter by the day.

The GM of the Oklahoma City ______ (you fill in the blank) has been making every right move since he was appointed GM in June of 2007. The past two drafts have brought him the cornerstone of their franchise (Kevin Durant) and loads of talent that fit perfectly with Durant. Presti has made trades that make him look like a genius and the GM on the other side—well, less of one.

This trade is no different. By getting rid of Ridnour and Griffin and getting Smith and Mason, Oklahoma City shaved $6.6 million dollars off their payroll. Not to mention both Smith and Mason have expiring contracts that will have Oklahoma City close to $30 million under the cap next year—and they can also be traded for picks.

That money could put them over the top, with the possibility of Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion, and Allen Iverson becoming free agents next year. They could also save it for Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Yao Ming, Dwyane Wade, or Lebron James in 2010.

Smith, the former number-one draft pick in '95, has bounced around the league throughout his career, but is very effective on the offensive end. I see him sharing a lot of minutes with Nick Collison, and will probably be dealt before the deadline to a contender—where he will be perfect coming off the bench.

Mason is coming home to where he played his college ball as an Oklahoma State Cowboy, and back to the franchise with which he won the dunk contest in 2001.

Mason is now 30 and has seen his minutes dip over the past couple of years. He still is very athletic, but won’t see much time on this team that is trying to get its youngsters experience.

Now, back to the saga of LeBron James' free agency in 2010. This is not the move that is going to keep LeBron in Cleveland. Many teams have more young talent than the Cavaliers, and they are setting up their contracts to have cap money cleared to pursue the star of the league.

Cleveland still has $20 million in expiring contracts—and they better make a bigger splash than this if they have any hope of keeping LeBron. They desperately need someone in the post that is going to draw some attention.

Kobe has Pau and Bynum now. Dwyane Wade had Shaq and now has Beasley. Magic had Kareem. LeBron doesn’t need someone of that high of caliber—but just a step below will get the job done. If Danny Ferry doesn’t want to see his resume up on Monster.com after the summer of 2010, he will get LeBron his man.

Usually after a deal like this, you have winners and losers. The big winner of this deal is Oklahoma City, which is usually the case in a Sam Presti trade. They freed up cap space and got rid of a guy that was not going to see the floor with them.

Cleveland slightly upgraded their point guard position, but downgraded their power forwards. So they are like a rifle shooter at the Olympics that got fifth place, but two competitors ahead of him were doping so he gets the bronze (Who dopes in shooting?). They got a medal but they are not a winner.

Milwaukee did not get the talent a trade for Williams was capable of brining in, but it frees up shots for their more heavily-compensated players, and that is a good thing in the end. This move won’t shake the earth right now, but it could in a couple of years.


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