One year ago today, Clevelanders were celebrating a dominant victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles and counting the many blessings (an MVP, a Coach of the Year, a four-time NBA champion, a crafty, savvy GM, and an owner who desperately wanted to win) scattered throughout their organization.
What a difference a year makes.
This year, the list of things the Cavaliers need to once again become a significant (and meaningful) team in the NBA stretches from Cleveland to South Beach (no pun intended).
They weren't able to fully take advantage of a relatively weak part of their schedule to begin the season and paid for it in December, losing 12 of their last 13 games and falling into last place in the Central Division with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavs won't be able to right the ship overnight. But maybe, if they have any sort of luck or karma on their side, a few things will happen throughout the rest of the season that will bode well for the future.
Courage (for J.J. Hickson)
This is more of a Wizard of Oz-type of gift than it is Christmas, but whatever—at this point, Hickson should take whatever help he can.
J.J. scored in double-digits in nine of the first 10 games of the season. He was even a real spark at times—his much-improved mid-range game and offensive rebounding were a difference-maker, exampled in the home opener against Boston on Oct. 27 when he outplayed Kevin Garnett for a majority of the game.
Since then? Not so much.
He's averaging less than seven points and four rebounds coming off the bench since Dec. 8. Before then, Cleveland's bench was one of the best scoring units in the league thanks to Booby Gibson and Antawn Jamison.
But Hickson has failed to provide any type of spark for the second-unit. And he's done nothing to suggest that he should move back into the starting five anytime soon.
To further rub salt in the wound, he hasn't shown the development or maturity the organization was hoping for when they refused to include him in any deadline deals last offseason (like a potential swap for Amar'e Stoudemire).
So our wish for you this year J.J.: play with confidence! Play with passion. Play with purpose. Don't be afraid to grab an offensive rebound or two. When a shot goes up, don't stand at the three-point line looking around aimlessly.
Show us what you started to display in the first few games of the season...and don't be afraid to make a mistake or two!
The struggling defense isn't necessarily a reflection on Byron Scott...but Cavs fans simply aren't used to seeing the team struggle so much on that side of the ball.
The team was fifth, ninth, first, and fifth in total points allowed from 2007-2010, respectively. They hadn't given up more than 96.7 points per game in a season since 2002-03.
This year, they're giving up 102.7 points per game—No. 22 in the league and is on pace to give up the most points allowed by a Cavalier team in almost 20 years (103.4 points in '92).
It's not like they're giving away a lot of free buckets—they're No. 1 in the league with just 13.0 turnovers per game. They're only giving up 14.9 fastbreak points a game (No. 17 in the league) and yield just a little over 38 points in the paint (No. 10).
So they don't turn the ball over, they don't let opponents run too often, and they're pretty good at defending the rim...yet they're giving up nearly 107 points a game in the last month.
The problem is, after a few passes and some decent ball movement, opponents routinely find breakdowns in the Cavalier defense. Opponents hit almost eight three-point attempts per game as well.
And when the Cavs find difficulties on offense, those struggles usually carry over to the defensive end.
The wish for 2011: some more consistency on defense. Nine guys on the roster played under Mike Brown for at least a year—try and remember some of those principles that led to success in the past.
Box of Matches (to Light a Fire in the Roster)
The Dec. 2 game against the Heat wasn't the beginning of the Cavaliers troubles nor was it the culmination of all of their weaknesses.
But on their biggest stage of the season, they folded. They got hit in the mouth and never responded. They rolled over in the second half and allowed the Heat to walk all over them.
They lost games to teams like Orlando, San Antonio, and New Orleans early in the season. But let's face it: at best the Cavs are a middle-of-the-road team and winning road games at those three venues is a difficult feat to accomplish.
In the games that followed the first meeting with Miami, their competitive streak slowly faded away. They gave up 129 points in their next game to the four-win Timberwolves.
They were thumped and thoroughly outplayed by Detroit, Philadelphia, and Houston—three sub-.500 teams.
It wasn't like they weren't trying at all but the effort was masked. Instead of a team they looked like a group of individuals who were waiting for a call from their agents to tell them they've been traded.
For the upcoming months, give us some effort like we've seen in the last week. Like we saw in the overtime win over New York where the team finally looked like they've taken enough **** over the past few weeks and desperately wanted to win.
Even effort like we saw in double-digit losses to Utah and Atlanta. The results might not look close on paper but the Cavs played relatively well—they simply didn't have enough talent to match up with two perennial playoff teams.
A Dominant Low-Post Player
Byron Scott talked about the advantages of having a strong post-up scoring threat in the Princeton offense earlier this week.
"I know what a post-up guy can do. If you have a post-up guy, this offense works so much better.
"You have a threat. He's hard to double because of the movement, the action and the spacing...if you do double him, you leave shooters wide open."
The Cavs have one of the most underrated centers in the league on roster in Anderson Varejao. But he's at his best when he's moving without the ball and diving to the hoop—he's not a back-to-the-basket threat.
Despite nearly being a 20-point per game scorer for his career, Antawn Jamison doesn't get a lot of his points in the post. Over a third of his field goal attempts are coming from the three-point line, so at this point in his career, he's not too dynamic in that department.
Ryan Hollins, Leon Powe, and Samardo Samuels aren't the answer. And we already discussed J.J. Hickson's lack of development earlier.
They haven't had a low-post scoring threat since Carlos Boozer in the early 2000s. And the team actually has some decent catch-and-shoot perimeter players (Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Gibson)—they just need someone else to command the opposition's attention.
The Cavs still have a $14.5 million trade exception though it's unclear how much they could ultimately receive in return. But that asset could come in handy either as the trade deadline approaches in February or leading up to next year's NBA Draft.
A High Pick In Next Year's Draft
No one wants the team to tank down the stretch or anything but it's pretty clear this group isn't making the playoffs. And there will probably be some roster changes as the trade deadline approaches.
But if there's any karma or positive vibes surrounding this organization, they'll land a high pick in the next year's lottery. Give the team a guy like Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, or Terrence Jones to help build around.
They might not be franchise guys but it's a step in the right direction...and the Cavaliers best chance to re-tool a competitive roster will be through the draft.