NBA Trade Deadline: A Reminder of A Cavaliers Team Not Quite Good Enough

Tom DelamaterAnalyst IFebruary 15, 2010

Just as they were a year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be involved in trade talks as the NBA deal deadline draws near.

This time around, as evidenced by no fewer than three articles here in two days—and one of my own three weeks ago—the talk centers on Amar’e Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns.

(If you think it’s been busy here on the Cavaliers page, check out the Suns archive, where there have been almost two dozen articles about Stoudemire rumors in the past couple of weeks.)

The Cavs are supposedly dangling forward J.J. Hickson and either rookie Danny Green or veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas as bait for Stoudemire.

The Suns have other suitors for their All-Star power forward, however, so nothing’s certain.

Still, the fact that Cleveland GM Danny Ferry is once again involved in trade talks is indicative of his willingness to look for opportunities to make the Cavaliers stronger.

Consider his team of a year ago. They sported an identical 43-11 record at this point in the season. From there, they finished with a 23-5 flourish and topped the NBA with 66 wins.

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After sweeping Detroit and Atlanta in eight straight games, the Cavs wilted in the Eastern Conference finals and lost in six games to Orlando.

Will history repeat itself? Is the Cavs' performance this year likewise a mirage, destined to lead to another playoff disappointment and even the possible departure of LeBron James after this season?

Trade or no trade—whether for Stoudemire, Indiana’s Troy Murphy, Washington’s Antawn Jamison, or Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala—where do the Cavaliers stack up compared to a year ago?

By almost any measuring stick, this year’s team is stronger and more experienced. Start with LeBron James, who is putting up numbers that point to a possible second consecutive MVP award.

More important, James has clearly clicked with Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq recently spoke to James about taking over late in close games and, in effect, refusing to let the Cavaliers lose. Afterward, James elevated his play and launched Cleveland on their current 13-game winning streak.

Do not minimize the impact of a more seasoned, more determined, and more dominant LeBron James. This is his seventh professional season, and there is little James hasn’t seen or experienced in the NBA. It was in Michael Jordan’s seventh season, remember, that he and the Bulls won the first of their six league titles.

Beyond James, however, the 2009-2010 Cavs are stronger on a number of fronts.

A year ago, the roster included the likes of Wally Szczerbiak, Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, Tarance Kinsey, and Joe Smith.

This year, they’ve been replaced by Shaquille O’Neal, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Danny Green and, in a matter of days, Leon Powe.

That group alone could compete with the likes of New Jersey or Minnesota. In Cleveland, however, they all fill a role, plucking out their complimentary notes like the second and third violins in a symphony orchestra.

O’Neal has paired admirably with Ilgauskas in the middle, and Parker has assumed a role he wasn’t expected to play as the starter in Delonte West’s place.

Moon has been LeBron’s primary reserve, but when he recently was sidelined with an abdominal strain, Jawad Williams emerged from the shadows and has been contributing 15 to 20 meaningful minutes a game for the past month. He’s reached double figures in scoring six times, including a career-high 17 points in a Feb. 9 win over the Nets.

Anderson Varejao continues to confound the critics with his inspired play at both ends of the court, averaging about eight points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes per game. He’s discontinued much of the flopping that drew the ire of players and fans around the league and is turning in his best season as a pro. The Brazilian could start on many teams in the league, and would possibly average a double-double if he did.

Most impressive, however, has been the way Cleveland has handled the absence of Mo Williams and West at the guard position. Both were injured in late January and missed the bulk of the recent winning streak—yet win the Cavs did.

They did it with Daniel Gibson stepping in at the point. They did it with LeBron taking over the position late in games. They did it with Shaq and Hickson leading the team in scoring or rebounding on four separate occasions.

No matter what buttons Mike Brown has chosen to push, the results have been the same. The Cavaliers keep on winning, and they do it with a mixture of size, speed, and experience.

Stoudemire or no Stoudemire—or anyone else, for that matter—the Cavs are poised for a deeper playoff run than a year ago. That would mean a return to the Finals, where they would have a much better chance than the Cleveland team that was swept by San Antonio in 2007.

Mo Williams and Powe will be at Brown's disposal soon, adding strength outside and inside to an already potent lineup. If Ferry is able to add another seasoned veteran—Stoudemire the chief prize among them—the Cavs will be even more formidable, and a much more imposing candidate to dethrone the Lakers as NBA champions.

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