RAISING THE CADAVALIER - many, many thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers by ROBERT ATTENWEILER

Posts Tagged ‘Anderson Varejao’

NBA Basketball

2012/11/27

2 Things About the 4 and 5…

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1. I won’t necessarily say I’ve done a 180 when it comes to the “trade Anderson Varejao argument.” I never fully thought it would net the Cavs a player that came close to doing what Andy does – and is doing even more of this season – for this particular team. I did think (and, partly, still do) that the team would feel the need to move him, likely at or around the 2013 Draft. I think he still might be traded at some point while still under this contract to this team because he’ll be coming off this contract right around the same time that the team will be figuring out how they want to divide their duckets among its new core crop. Andy will be 32 and staring at what will likely be his last contract. I don’t see any reason for his production to drop off while under his current contract, so you’re looking at a guy (CBA willing) that could command a 3 or 4-year contract at a hefty clip. This could be like a less crazy, more offensively useful Dennis Rodman hitting the market at right around his prime. That is what Andy is playing like now—and that player is useful no matter what team he plays for and, you’d think, especially if he plays for a team of up-and-coming wing players who might appreciate a good number of their outside misses being snagged. But using him to bring in some additional picks (those LeBron picks won’t last forever … the trick to this thing is to always have some accrued first rounders to look forward to) should the CBA make re-signing Andy less sensible for the Cavs (though, let’s face it, if the Kyrie Era’s getting it done, Gilbert will likely pay), they might see flipping their biggest asset as sensible, if they don’t see being contenders in the next 5 years. The biggest problem is equal value, since the league-wide perception of him is still that he’s a perfect off-the-bench “energy” guy, not one of the best centers in the East playing efficient offense, active defense and just sucking in rebounds.

Meanwhile, watching Andy play this year has been nothing short of amazing. If the young guys continue to progress (i.e. learn to play defense), Andy absolutely has more value here than anywhere else, because of how perimeter and pick-and-roll oriented they are/will be and how fun a Irving/Varejao/Waiters combo could potentially become (and, let’s face it, sometimes is already).

2. Now, Tristan Thompson…? Everyone I’ve either talked to or read can see all the problems with Thompson’s game this season. It’s that obvious: to slow making decisions, still too often blocked, not blocking shots, often out of position, still bad at free throws, still no shot at all. All that said, he’s averaging about 9 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes a night with a PER just a click or two below the league average. His FG% (always one of my worries with him) is up to 47% (needs to get well over 50%) and, even given his struggles, he looks like he could get into the 12/10 range that was reported as the goal he was set by coaches this year. I think the biggest thing with Thompson is that he probably shouldn’t be playing as many minutes as he is right now. The Cavs are tossing him out into the fire and he is getting more than his share of burns. But it’s waaaaay premature to label him “bust” or try to trade him (or even, really, to bring up the Valanciunas non-pick). He’s not an instant player – and non-superstar big men in particular need time. The test with him will be steady progress on his weaknesses – and we’re more likely to see that stuff in March of 2014 or 2015 than in 2013 … unfortunately. But there’s some Kurt Thomas potential to him that I think has value to this team going forward.

NBA Basketball,Uncategorized

2012/11/03

2 of the roughly 358 Things I Think…

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About the Cavs first 2 games.

The start of the NBA season began for me (and, let’s be fair, for millions of others) a few days later than it should have. With Hurricane Sandy plunging me into a dark, cold, connection-free existence of reading books by candlelight like some petty 18th century criminal (or, let’s be fair, some 18th century king) the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers campaign kicked off about an hour before their second game, at home against the Chicago Bulls. And, through the magic of a still maddeningly inconsistent NBA Broadband experience, I did some watching and rewatching and here, viewership, I am with you again, as it should be.

I will keep these brief because a.) two games tell you very little about the big picture stuff of a season and b.) everyone’s already written stuff about these games … so, you know, there’s that. So, welcome to the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers season here at RAISING THE CADAVALIER (which will be our third season covering this blessed little filthy child of a basketball team that I love so dearly) and here are a couple things that may not (or, let’s be fair, may) have been said yet.

1.) Anderson Varejao’s single greatest basketball skill is his ability to execute a reverse lay-up off a pick and roll. Yes, Andy has many great basketball skills and, often, I’ve found myself wondering what this team will look like once they trade him (because I’m resigned to that happening by the 2013 draft). His activity and rebounding and defense and … activity are such great teaching points for everyone on this team but especially a couple of offensively limited, but athletically gifted, big men (okay, mainly one of those big men, Tristan Thompson, but we’re willing to make the reach and say Samardo Samuels might be, in a very basic way, if not in a basketball way, considered athletically gifted). But watching Andy work the pick and roll with Irving and Waiters, even against the Bulls, Andy’s reverse lay-up seems like his most indefensibly weapon. That might, in fact, be the team’s most indefensible play. If this team can consistently get Andy buckets like this – and can figure out a way for Thompson to excel in this area, as well – they’ll be able to get easier baskets than they have been able to the last couple of years.

2.) These are the things I like most about Dion Waiters: a.) I do believe he can get past a great variety of NBA players and I like his instincts – especially passing – once he’s past the initial defender b.) he seems like he’ll be an above average on-ball defender and, maybe, he’ll break the curse of Syracuse players not being able to adjust to the man-to-man pro game c.) it actually looks like someone shoots him in midair every time he takes a shot – like there is a sniper in the rafters whose only job is to shoot Dion Waiters when he takes jump shots – that’s how awkward his shot looks. Luckily, though, some have gone down. I might just start calling him Bulletproof, though and d.) I mentioned this during Summer League – I think Waiters has amazing body control for a slasher. In Summer League, he was trying to finish a drive when a defender slid in front of him and Waiters seemed to pull back to avoid making enough contact to commit an offensive foul. He also converted the shot. In the Wizards game, it was Bulletproof driving through the defense, jumping, finding that he’d jumped just a bit early for a slam and half-rolling/half-willing the ball through the hoop. I’ll admit, I look for reasons to like this guy. But, so far, he’s giving me enough. Very excited to see what/if anything he can do against a less-than-interested defender in Monta Ellis.

Uncategorized

2012/01/21

FORESIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/200 … or, it’s never too early to start thinking about how bad we might still get

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Just when you thought you were done seeing those “worst loss in franchise history” things…

Well, let’s hope that was the “aberration” Byron Scott said it was and look at the bigger picture.

At 6-8, the Cavs have wins against the Pistons, Bobcats (twice), T-Wolves and Suns – and competitive showings against the Pacers and Lakers (though not, unfortunately, in two against the Raptors).  So, they’re beating the teams they are (at least, mostly) better than and showing the resiliency to not roll over against the league’s elite (remember, Bulls game = aberration).

Kyrie Irving is playing better earlier than many people thought.  Anderson Varejao is being a particularly good version of Anderson Varejao.  Antawn Jamison is finding ways to be effective/inefficient.  This team is a professional basketball team again.  In fact, the only people more excited by the way the Cavs are playing might be D.J. Augustin and D.J. Augustin’s agent.

Of course, going forward, there are still plenty of things waiting to upset the apple cart of good feeling (and piss on all of the apples and then set the cart on fire) and get us right back to NBA bottom-feeder (instead of hovering-just-above-the-bottom-feeder).  And I’m not even talking about the schedule.  I’m talking about the trading deadline and/or the off-season and what we’d look like without Varejao, Jamison and Ramon Sessions.

1.)   Varejao: What’s that?  You’ve heard that the 2012 NBA Draft is deep with delicious, delicious talent? You’ve heard that teams have been inquiring about Andy and that a deal could net the Cavs an additional pick which would be better than nothing considering Varejao will be past his prime if/when the Cavs are ready to contend again?

But you also like that the Cavs look more active defensively this year (outside of certain aberrations) and think there are things the younger bigs (Tristan Thompson, in particular) can learn from Varejao? Well, spit out that cake.  You cannot have and eat, y’know?  Here’s the thing (and it’s been written about, I’m just agreeing): there is no sense in trading Varejao if the only thing you’re doing is getting a younger (and quite possibly worse) player.  If you’re trading Andy mid-season, he’ll be going, no doubt, to a contender – so your precious added draft pick will likely be in the mid to late 20s.  And, while this isn’t written in stone, I’m betting that Anderson Varejao is going to be better even 3 years from now (when, hopefully, he’s able to come off the bench again at power forward and slow down his career odometer a little) than the players available with that pick.  Again, not stone writing here – but I’d be willing to lay valid currency on it.  And I’m not sure that half of a shortened season is enough time for him to impart on Thompson the types of “how to succeed as an NBA hustler” lessons.  Give him, at least, a full season.

Might there be a trade proposed in the off-season that makes sense?  Sure. Off-season deals are the ones when you’re more likely to see a decent or up-coming player get moved for the piece that is Anderson Varejao – or a team making the move thinking it will contend but then actually sucking – the deals that, with some luck, end up looking a little better than you first thought.  But Anderson Varejao for late first round pick (even a 2012 first round pick) ain’t getting us any better and sooner than Anderson Varejao.  And, you know, we’ve already got him.

2.)   Jamison:  Well, things couldn’t all be hopeful-outlooky…  Antawn Jamison is (understandably) the focus of the vast majority of fan frustration this year. We’re not frustrated with Irving or Thompson.  They’re rookies.  We’re not frustrated with Varejao.  He’s busting his ass out there and being productive.  Maybe we’re frustrated with Casspi, but he’s still too new (and we were already so used to being frustrated with the guy we traded for him).

Jamison is a former All-Star who – for better or worse – is going to wind up taking most of the shots not falling into the box score under “Irving, Kyrie.”  And, you know what?  He should be.  He’s the only person on this team with a proven track record as a scorer on the pro level.  And, you know what else?  He hasn’t been terrible this year.  He’s averaging 16.1PPG and 5.8REB and, yes, while you don’t want your starting power forward shooting 41% from the floor, Jamison’s always going to shoot way too many 3s and long 2s, bringing his field goal percentage well south of what you’d like from his position.  He’s put up some stinkers (and has been destroyed by big, physical frontcourts since he got here) but, as has been pointed out, when the Cavs are successful, they’re usually getting good games from Irving and Jamisonand that’s the problem.

As a Cavs fan looking forward, I (and I believe everyone else, Jamison included) would love to see him traded to a playoff team for a first rounder.  Using exactly the same logic as with Varejao, Antawn Jamison is (most, most likely) going to be less serviceable three years from now (to the Cavs, anyway) than Player X drafted in the 20-30 range.  But, there are also 25 games this year after the trade deadline.  So, no one should complain about the number of wins we’re getting early.  If Jamison gets moved at the deadline (which, again, is the right move … or a right move) this team will likely go from “not good” to “baaaaaad” real quick as teams play “5-on-Kyrie” until the end of April.  Now, what team needs Jamison?  Does any team need Jamison?  That remains to be seen.

3.)   Sessions:  Ramon’s lost a little of the luster he had early in the season when he was hitting(ish) his 3s, seeming to care just a smidge about his defense, and teaming with Irving to form one heck of one point guard.  He’s still shooting a career high from 3 (31%), but you’d love a little more distance between that number and his overall field goal percentage (32.5%).  I don’t think I’m going out on too long of a limb in saying this: Ramon Sessions is a top-10 back-up point guard.

And that’s great.  The Cavs need top-10 players everywhere, so if their back-up point is one of the better back-up points in the league (and it’s fair to say that Sessions is), then we don’t have to worry about that and we can get back to the business of replacing our bottom-10 starting 2, 3, 4 … well, I don’t have to tell you.  Sessions is still a pretty young player (25), so there’s still the chance he can improve and still be playing at his peak back-up years when the Cavs next start considering the playoffs.  And he’s an upgrade over who many teams have coming off the bench, so there’s going to be rumors about Sessions out there.  I could go either way with this one.  Again, having Sessions keeps us strong at a very important position.  But, you can find guys who can replace enough of what he brings so that (for a team that’s not very good, remember), you won’t be losing a ton of games on account of this one move.  And if you trade him and wind up getting a player you think could start in this league … well, that’s a whole lot of hypothesizing that’s probably not useful at this point.

NBA Basketball

2011/02/01

WE’VE SEEN BAD BEFORE

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Cavs 90  Heat 117

Cavs 87  Magic 103

Cavs 103  Nuggets 117

Yeah … so, there’s all of that.

You’ve gotta hand it to this year’s Cavs team:  they’re consistent as hell. Every box score ends up looking the same.  Another 20-point loss.  Another notch on the Losing Streak Headboard.  And the worst part?  The schedule doesn’t really have any soft spots until we get toward the end of March.  Our ridiculously easy schedule to start the season –the one that produced our now known to be ridiculously misleading 7-9 record after 16 games – has not given us much hope for anything beyond fleeting success for the rest of this year.  Let’s assume we’ll find a way to win one game here or there.  We’ll still be want for winning streaks.

But I’m still not convinced that this is the worst Cavs team I’ve ever seen.  For me, 2002-03 will always hold that title.  Team Ricky (the 02-03 team) ended their season with 17 wins, a full 5 more than the most dire pre-season prediction for Team Hicky (your 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers … I was considering Team ‘Tawn, but J.J.’s definitely our season’s poster boy – bad defense, trouble rebounding, abbreviated last name rhymes with “Ricky”), so why can’t I shake them as the ultimate purveyors of suck?

Maybe it’s because, despite having the better record and setting fewer team benchmarks for futility, Team Ricky actually was worse.  I’m not just talking less likable (which they were), I’m talking worse at basketball.

A quick qualifier:  Yes, I’m reasonably certain that the ‘02-‘03 team would beat us right now. That’s partially because Team Hicky seems to have embraced their historical badness (I wonder, at this point, how many players on this team think they actually have a chance in most games) but it’s also because of health.

Five of Team Ricky’s top-eight scorers played in at least 79 games that season. That includes their top-four scorers, Ricky Davis, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Carlos Boozer and Jumaine Jones.  Davis and Ilgauskus were starters.  By the end of the year, so was Boozer.  Your other players with the most starts were Darius Miles (played in 67 games and was their sixth leading scorer) and Milt Palacio (played in 80 and was eighth in scoring).

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  While most people feel pretty confident that Team Hicky would be the worst team in the league this year even at full health, they most certainly have not been given the chance to prove it, losing key contributors Anderson Varejao (for the season), Mo Williams (on-and-off all year … though, doesn’t it shock you that Mo has actually played 32 games for the Cavs this year?  Doesn’t it seem more like 12?) and Daniel Gibson (played in 39 games … also hurt on and off).

It’s not that Team Hicky is ACTUALLY better (“actual” standing in for “wins basketball games”) but, based on the fact that Team Ricky landed the league’s worst record (okay, okay tied for the worst record) on a club whose key guys played almost all of the games, Team Ricky is PERCEPTUALLY worse.

Also, the NBA is a noticeably better league now than it was in 2002-03.  I mean, have you looked at some of the rosters from that season?

Your NBA Finals that year pitted the New Jersey Nets (coached by Byron Scott, if you were wondering) of Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and Jason Collins against the San Antonio Spurs of Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowens and Stephen Jackson.

Keep in mind about the Nets: Jason Kidd made a lot of the guys on that team look better than they should have and Kittles and Martin probably would have enjoyed better career standing if not for injuries that ended one career (Kittles) and definitely took some zip from the other (Martin).

Keep in mind about the Spurs:  Duncan is in his prime here (23.3PTs and 12.9REBs) but he has David Robinson in the last year of his career, Stephen Jackson before he was known to make love to pressure and a 20-year old Tony Parker who, if you remember, couldn’t shoot a lick from the outside.

Kinda makes you think our 2007 Finals team might have been able to do something in that league, right?  Right??

Maybe that’s pushing too far but this is clear: Team Ricky was the worst team in a much weaker league when their main contributors played in nearly all the games.  Team Hicky is the worst team in the league missing the most important player to their chances of winning any games this year (Varejao), have two of their main guards in and out of the line-up and have the rest of the roster watching college ball to see who might be playing with them next year (if, god forbid, they’re still here next year).

None of these points mean much in the grand scheme.  None of this will add wins to the Cavs 2010-11 season or make any of their players shoot or defend better.  This is all pitting the actual vs. the perceptual – but, as a fan, it’s really the perceptual that we hold onto longer than the actual. And I may never see a team as perceptually bad as Team Ricky ever again.  (tear falling down cheek)

NBA Basketball

2011/01/11

YOU THOUGHT THINGS COULDN’T GET WORSE?? … well, clearly you’re stupid.

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The water’s been rising here for a while now.  First it flooded the floor of Quicken Loans Arena, like Lake Erie spilling over, and has steadily risen on the Cavaliers this season … first cresting over their ankles … slowly creeping up to their waists, soaking the numbers on their jerseys and finally, fittingly and mercifully submerging their heads.  All we can see is Anderson Varejao thrashing his sponge-like wad of underwater curls as he waves goodbye to us. We cannot hear him scream.  That … well, we’ll keep the right to that.

I’d like to give you my first and honest reaction to the news that Anderson Varejao would be lost for the season, the result of a torn tendon in his foot suffered in a non-contact running drill in practice.  IN PRACTICE…

My reaction:  Well, clearly they don’t want to trade him just yet and are pulling the plug on him so that he actually can physically make it to next season.

I know that’s not what happened.  I don’t think teams really give players half a season off, just because they don’t want them to take the physical pounding that comes with being the only scrappy player on a team that is, otherwise, just scraps.  But that’s the spin I’m choosing to take on this.  This is an injury he should be able to come back from, so let’s get a healed Varejao back next year.

Next season (if, of course, there is a next season and if the Cavs don’t get a good offer for him over the summer), Varejao will also be healed from his broken face and bruised ribs that caused him to wear a flack jacket when he played.

I can’t believe how many words I’m being forced to put into italics here!!

The point is: Andy was only going to get more hurt playing on this team. He’s wired to play a particular way and when he’s the only one expending that kind of energy, he will get hurt.  He will still get hurt when playing on a better team, but you cut the risk of it considerably if you have other people doing crazy energy things so that Varejao doesn’t have to do them all.  So, Andy, you’ve put your time in on this abysmal season.  You proved that you are one of the scant few professional basketball players on this roster so, from us at RAISING THE CADAVALIER to you: heal up … we’ll see you next year.

Varejao’s absence is one I can come to terms with, but it doesn’t mean that it is any way beneficial from a basketball standpoint.  I’ve gone on record as saying that we would not win a game without Andy in the lineup and … sigh … from everything we’ve seen, we have no reason to believe that we can.

Nationally, the injury got more attention because it removed for the season the player who was widely viewed as Cleveland’s most attractive trade chip. I was never convinced that the right scenario existed that would net Cleveland another young, active big man, which is what it would have taken to get them to part with theirs.  Maybe something would have come along, but the Cavs were not going to trade him for a late first-rounder or expiring contracts.  Those things would not help this team get better.  A healthy Varejao is what helps this team get better.

This hurts the team most on the floor and in their own heads. It’s a shame that we can’t land two lottery picks by being really, really horrible this year.  Then I’d agree with tanking.  But, barring that, I think you have to figure out a way to get your players playing a particular way so that the learning curve is reduced when the overall talent on the team improves.  Winning is probably the biggest positive reinforcement for good behavior and, with Andy gone, it becomes less and less likely our younger players will be able to experience much of it.  Not that we were on a tear with Andy in the line-up, but I think he could have been a hugely positive influence on players like Alonzo Gee and, particularly, Christian Eyenga when it comes to hustling, playing defense … just playing hard basketball.

Who else are they going to learn from?  Is Mo Williams going to show Manny Harris the importance of keeping your man in front of you on defense?  Is J.J. Hickson going to show Samardo Samuels some tricks on being an effective rebounder in the NBA?  Is Anthony Parker going to show Eyenga how to get under an opponents skin on defense?

I might be overvaluing Andy’s role as mentor, but this is true: Andy still played like he was on a winning team.  Watching the Cavs go from good to bad to really bad to good again over the years (oh, the “back to really bad” goes without saying) I’m most worried about the mentality of the players and how – the young guys in particular – might get too used to losing before the team is ready to start winning again.

NBA Basketball

2010/12/22

ON TRADES THAT SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN

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Yesterday, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that the New York Knicks were looking at possible second options if the unlikely event of them not getting Carmelo Anthony comes to pass.  One Plan B he mentioned makes some sense.  The Knicks would finally liberate Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia for this year’s anthropomorphized expiring contract: Eddie Curry.  Sure, the Sixers would probably want a little more back than cap relief – but none of Iguodala’s possible suitors are perfect and there are some smaller pieces that the Knicks might be willing to give up that could make Curry’s expiring deal the best, if not for the Sixers, then certainly for Iguodala.

And, who knows, maybe Philadelphia would actually attempt to give Eddy Curry some court time.  Aren’t you even the least bit interested in seeing that?

Then Broussard got to his second hypothetical Knick move.  They’d love to acquire Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and Anderson Varejao from the Cavs. He doesn’t specify what the Knicks might be offering the Cavs who, still sitting on a $14 million trade exception, don’t really need additional payroll relief.  The Cavs would want picks (which, remember, if the Knicks had some good picks, they’d probably have Carmelo already) or one or two of their better young players (since they’d be … you know … taking away the most productive players on our team) and I don’t really see them wanting to part with Chandler, Gallinari and/or Landry Fields to get Boobie and Andy – and, let’s face it, those are the only three that might even make the Cavs consider dealing.

If the Knicks want Mo Williams, I’m sure they could put together a package to get him – but I’m not sure that’s the move the Knicks would consider making, at least not right now.  The Knicks are in a position very similar to where the Cavs have been for the last several years: they don’t really have the young players or draft picks to make trades.  The young players they do have are playing a lot and are crucial to the so-far-so-success of the Knicks, so there’s no reason they’d give up enough of those pieces to a team who doesn’t really need salary relief in order to get two of their better players.

It doesn’t make any sense to me.  I don’t know why Broussard thinks it does.

In fact, as I’ve said before, I think Boobie and Varejao are the two players you keep during the rebuild.  That’s not saying that they’re untouchable.  But we can still be bad enough to get high draft picks (as evidenced by the last month) and have players who will allow a team to be further along when it finds its new direction than it would be otherwise.

Do you remember 2003-2006?  All we did was try to find three-point shooters to put around LeBron.  Boobie’s a much better option than Damon Jones, isn’t he?  Boobie’s got some round edges to his game, even if he will always be thought of, first, as a shooter.  And the things Varejao does … I’ll keeping saying this:  there’s a reason every other team in the league would take this guy.  You always need players to do the things that he does with his defense and activity and you can’t always find them (see: Hickson, J.J.).

The 2003 roster had Zydrunas Ilgauskus, so the cupboard wasn’t completely empty. But it took us so long to find the other pieces that contribute to a winning team.  Boobie and Andy will not win us too many games by themselves, but you can argue that the experience of carrying this team will make them an even better supporting cast should our next franchise player get here sooner rather than later.

In on of his podcasts last week, Bill Simmons talked to Wizards and Capitals owner, Ted Leonsis, and Leonsis had some good thoughts on rebuilding a team (which he did with the Capitals and is now doing with the Wizards).  He talked about how teams with long-running success identify their guys and let those guys grow in the organization, about how you almost never see the free-agent sweepstakes lead to championships.  He pointed to Jordan and the Bulls, Duncan and the Spurs and – the most interesting one – Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher for the Lakers.

No, Kobe’s not the interesting part of that (though he has been with the Lakers his entire career).  It’s that Leonsis talked about both of them, saying that the “starting backcourt” for so many successful teams was built with two first-round picks who have played together for a very long time.  Derek Fisher is not the player that Kobe Bryant is – and no one is comparing Boobie to Michael Jordan or Varejao to Hakeem Olajuwon – but good young talent is, as we know from following Cavaliers drafts for so many years, not really so easy to find.

NBA Basketball

2010/12/21

YOU WIN ONE, YOU LOSE SOME

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Cavs 90  Jazz 101

Cavs 109  Knicks 102

It’s becoming clear what we’ll be able to expect from this new “we give some manner of a crap” Cavaliers rotation, who have generally played more spirited basketball since head coach Byron Scott shuffled his starters, shortened his bench and resigned himself to be on constant J.J. Hickson pout watch.  They’re the spoiler, the other team’s “trap game,” who (mainly at home … I can’t see them doing too much of this on the road) will sneak up on a team that has much bigger things to worry about than the Cavaliers.

But spoiler teams don’t win consistently – otherwise they’d be an actually good team.

So, the Cavs saw one team (the Knicks) that was probably still trying to figure out what went wrong in their last two games against contenders Boston and Miami.  Anderson Varejao had an absolutely monster game with 14 points, 17 rebounds and defense on Amar’e Stoudemire that held the Knicks’ star (and early-season MVP candidate) to 8-19 shooting for 23 points.  Mo Williams had a nice little run with 23 points and 14 assists, the Knicks weren’t hitting shots they’d been making (both teams shot 41%) and when you dangle a win in front of this starved team in front of its home fans good things will happen … or, at least, good things are bound to happen sometimes and Saturday night was one of those times.

The Cavs then turned around and were handed a very business-like loss by the very business-like Utah Jazz.

Enjoy the wins when they come.  That game Saturday was extremely fun to watch.  I told myself I wouldn’t get too high or low with this team this year, but Mo got me hopping in front of the TV down the stretch.  But we’re not going to be in many games like that, since we have no way besides blind luck of having a team shoot as poorly as we do. Let’s just be clear about what we are here, folks.

Quick notes:

-Mo’s lines have looked good in the last two games, but his opponents aren’t looking too shabby either. Against the Knicks, Mo had the aforementioned 23 and 14.  Raymond Felton finished with 23PTs, 11ASSTs and 7REBs on 9-19 shooting.  Against the Jazz, Mo had 16PTs, 10ASSTs and 6REBs on 5-15 shooting, while Deron Williams had a very similar looking 17PTS, 10ASSTs and 5REBs on 6-16 shooting.  Point is: Mo’s not stopping anyone, but what he is capable of doing is playing even with some pretty good guards – giving as good as he’s getting.  And it is nice to see Mo being able to score and pass the basketball like he has for the last week.

-J.J. Hickson had a nice line against the Jazz, going 3-4 from the field, leading the team with 9 rebounds and getting to the stripe 7 times (making only four of those, though…).  The bad news: the Jazz’s front line had a nice game too.  At some point, we have to figure out how to get guys to play below their normal level or, at least, below the level of our guys. Right now, Varejao seems to be the only player who can do that and he’s not a talented enough scorer for us to really reap the benefits of his defensive performance (though, here’s a little secret … Andy’s a better offensive player than we think.  Probably time to get him somewhere in the 10 shots-per-game range.  Worth a try, right?)

-Jamario’s back in the rotation! This is partly because of injuries to Joey Graham and Leon Powe.  Jamario needs to defend, rebound and try to score in ways other than shooting 3-point shots to stay in the line-up.  Otherwise, it’s not so much that Jamario is less talented than some of the other players on this team, it’s that his skill-set is pretty redundant.  And when Joey Graham’s beating you in the game of “hell, we have to play somebody” you’re probably not putting your skills together as much as you should be.  Can’t we all imagine Jamario looking great on back-door cuts to the basket?  Am I imagining this?  My holiday wish to all of you: that you never be considered redundant compared to Joey Graham.

NBA Basketball

2010/12/17

WHEN A LOSS IS A WIN…

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Cavs 95  Heat 101

There are such things as moral victories.

But we should be clear.  Moral victories are, necessarily, losses.  Otherwise, they’d be … you know, victories.  No qualification needed.  Victories.

This season for the Cavaliers, though, is all about qualifications. It’s full of young players (with potential), veterans (of fluctuating trade value … if any), core players (unless we get a really good offer for them), losses that are bad, losses that aren’t so bad, victories that are bigger than they should be (because we aren’t getting very many of them and the ones that we get are against the 76ers) and moral victories … which, once again, are actually losses.

Two weeks ago, our season was different. Had we lost by six to the Heat back in Cleveland, I don’t know that I would have felt one way or the other.  It would have been nice to win – and I certainly wouldn’t have been embarrassed by the final score (which, in reality, I really, really was) – but I probably would have come away really wishing they would have won, maybe even believing that that could have.

But that was before two straight weeks of some of the most uninspired basketball I’ve seen in a really long time (though, as a Clippers fan pointed out to me when I made that statement, “Sure.  But, you’re not a Clippers fan.”).

And with those two weeks of bad basketball, the bar was lowered for this team and this season, perhaps for good.

When Antawn Jamison said mid-current-losing-streak “We’re playing like the worst team in the NBA right now,” I think every Cavaliers fan nodded and maybe was secretly comforted because we get bad.  We understand “worst team in the NBA.”  We get it.

But, maybe, we’re in a better spot now because we know what we’re doing when we’re watching our team play.  We are watching qualifications.

There are fewer good games.  Now, there are good games for Anthony Parker.

There are fewer big games – because the biggest game during any long losing streak is the next one.

There is less good basketball.  There is better effort than we’ve seen in a while.

But this is still fun, because this is basketball.  And this is Cleveland.  We get bad.  We get it.

So, we walk away from a six-point loss to the Heat in Miami and feel pretty good about it.  It was better effort than we’d seen in a while.  It was a good game for Boobie Gibson and Anderson Varejao.  It was a big game … well, at least in terms of our ability to remain rational about our team’s struggles.

Moral victory secured.

Quickly, about the game itself:

-You’ll allow RAISING THE CADAVALIER to pat itself on its back about this one.  Which Cavs came up biggest in this game?  Boobie and Varejao.  Who have begun to be cited as the two players you would want to keep in near-total team blow-up?  Boobie and Varejao.  Who were the two Cavs who were named Winners (with the least number of conditions) in this column a couple weeks back?  Boobie and Varejao.

This column knows a thing or two.

-All of the Cavs starters in this game were on the positive side of the +/- except for Gibson – and he wasn’t bad with a -2.  That’s -2 for a game where you spent much of it guarding Dwayne Wade (who led the Heat with 28 points) and even found himself on LeBron for a possession or two.  This starting line-up is full of completely competent basketball players.

Our bench, though, is something else entirely.  Using only an 8-man rotation, Bryon Scott’s 3 subs were all in the negatives led by (surprise) J.J. Hickson’s -12.  Plus, the bench only contributed 12 points.  J.J. needs to find out how to get himself going in this new role or our starters are going to start dropping near the end of January, just weeks before their improved play would allow us to cash in on them at the trade deadline.  Come on, J.J.!

-The Heat didn’t need this game as much as we did, but they definitely did not want to lose it either.  In a lot of ways, the best thing to happen for these two teams is for the Heat to sweep us over the next several meetings – with an occasional drubbing thrown in.  The Cavs players have proven that they are in no way served by keeping the “We hate LeBron!” drama going.  It may mean something to us.  But the more they beat us, the less we’ll be able to get ourselves riled up when the Heat come up on the schedule and the less riled up we get, freed from an entire region’s vendetta, maybe the Cavs will actually be able to play some good basketball, even if they don’t win.



NBA Basketball

2010/12/14

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE SASHA PAVLOVIC? (or, our organization turns its lonely eyes to Hughes…)

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It’s hard to believe that some people actually thought that this team was going to play defense. People who said that, since Mike Brown was a good defensive coach, the players under his tutelage, the now remnants of a contender, would continue to play good defense were just not looking at this roster very closely.

What’s probably closer to the truth is that many of us mistook the belief that this team would play hard (because they are used to winning and want that winning to continue at as high of a rate as could reasonably be expected) and that they would play with a chip on their shoulder (because LeBron thought they weren’t good enough … though, I can’t even imagine LeBron, even at the moment of his decision, thought they were this not good enough) for the belief that they would play defense.

We also thought they’d shoot over 40% fairly often.

Neither of those, it turns out, are even close to the case. I don’t really blame the guys on the roster (well, I blame some more than others … and I do blame them all for that Heat game in Cleveland) because these guys are playing at the same level they have for years.  Defensively, anyway.  Offensively, most of them, if they don’t figure out a handful of things that can be effective, will be vying for the worst statistical year of their careers.

But, back to the defense…

In 2009-10 the Cavaliers ranked 6th in the NBA in overall defense. In 2008-09 we were 1st, in 07-08 we were 9th, in 06-07 we were 5th and in 05-06 we were 10th.  Mike Brown would run out the unexciting backcourt of Larry Hughes at the point and Sasha Pavlovic at the 2 and their height, length and generally well-intentioned athleticism, combined with a 7’3” center, the 6’10” Drew Gooden (who was J.J. Hickson long before J.J. Hickson knew he’d become the J.J. Hickson that I’d be writing way too many words about some day … though Gooden was actually a pretty decent rebounder) and a 6’8” forward who was learning how to play elite NBA defense (see: blocks, chase down) made for a pretty obviously successful unit.  Yes, pick and rolls killed us.  Yes, fast point guards killed us (and they still do).  But this was a defense that could clamp down on you, get into the passing lanes, block a shot or two and rebound the hell out of the ball.

So, you’ll forgive this line-up being only 1/5 worth watching on offense – and, then, only in the last few seconds after he was done dribbling out the clock at the top of the key.

Eric Snow would be in there too.  Varejao was developing.  Ira Newble has box scores proving he played in NBA games. Donyell Marshall was tall.

This line-up (in some very similar form or another) got us to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 06 and then the NBA Finals in 07.

Oh, and we hated this line-up, didn’t we? Save for a player here and there (well, one in particular), these weren’t the types of players that get you over the top.

Apparently, GM Danny Ferry agreed and in the 07-08 season, we start to lose some of the pieces of what was, at least, a Finals-worthy defensive unit.  As we all know, out went Larry Hughes (do you remember how excited you were by that?), Drew Gooden, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall (and two throw-ins in Cedric Simmons and a guy, Shannon Brown, who’s having a pretty damn good run with the Lakers … though, if it meant getting rid of Hughes, so be it) and in came Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Delonte West (the Delonte era had begun!) and Wally Szczerbiak.

The Cavs maintained their height, slowness of foot and offensive underwhelming-ness, but they had some guys with attitude, who would get up on you, who would play hard.  They also got Wally Szcerbiak.

And what did we get?  We got that great series with the Celtics, who would go on to make winning the NBA championship look relatively easy.

If only we’d had a guy or two who could make some shots.

Hello, Mo Williams.

When Mo got here, people were already asking Mike Brown about Mo’s … um, lack of defensive success.  Mike Brown said everything would be fine.  The scheme was in place.  Even though a Mo and Delonte backcourt would be shorter than he’d like, Delonte was a good defender, LeBron was nearing All-NBA in defense, Ben Wallace was still there. Varejao was there. Z was still tall.  You couldn’t take that away from him!

And that group was top-10 in Rebounds and Blocks, as well as in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage.  The Cavs still played at a relatively slow pace.  So, the fact that they had some tough guys to shoot around on the floor, would get more than their share of rebounds – and, the new wrinkle, they’d knock down threes on the other end – and, if you’ll remember, they shut the book on many games that year before the fourth quarter had even started.

But Ben Wallace got hurt and was never the same (until he was roughly the same the past two years with the Pistons).  Szcerbiak got hurt and was never the same (and would never play again).  And our inability to deal with Dwight Howard in the playoffs meant we had to go get more help.

Out went Sasha Pavlovic (who had, in fact, long since fallen out of rotation esteem) and in comes Shaq.  Out also went Z’s confidence in this organization.  Delonte’s legal/emotional problems went all the way to include playing well at the game of basketball.  In came an older Anthony Parker, and injured Leon Powe and an … how do I put this? … willing to take our money Jamario Moon (because, remember, LeBron wasn’t committing to free agents that he was going to stay).  Then, with the mid-season trade for Antawn Jamison, we now had a team of incredibly nice guys.  And they had fun together … until half of them left.

Our current crop cracks the statistical top-10 in just one category: turnovers.  It is 22nd in defense (which actually seems high) and 26th in rebounding. Varejao’s looking around like he’s going to go Black Swan on us at any minute.  The guys we are left with are not built to be a successful defensive unit – and they’ve all been around long enough to know what they can do, to know who they are.  That is stuff that you don’t change with coaching, or even mind-set or attitude.  You change that with different players.  Not all different, as I’ve said before.  But we need to start being honest about what our weaknesses are earlier in the process than we’ve been doing so far.

The players on our team are incredibly easy to like.  They are just, also, very easy to score on.

NBA Basketball

2010/12/06

THE CAVALIERS LOST WEEKEND

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Dear, Cleveland Cavaliers:  at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to pick you up at a bar, may I please say, “Heaven must be missing an NBA team because that resounding crash we just heard was obviously you all falling from the sky.  And hitting the ground hard.  And shattering into hundreds of pieces.  And then being balled up and collectively slammed to the ground again.  And then I think a dog peed on you.”

Byron Scott questioned the existence of your balls.  You lost to (when everything shakes out) one of the better teams in the league by 29.  Then you lose to one of the weaker teams in the league (based on record and them missing their leading scorer) by 34.  Luckily, the growing frustration of these two losses finally moved you to action: a 10 point loss in Detroit to the Pistons (who also suck, by the way) will allow us all to stand tall, shoulders back, head up, forks plunged deep into each of our eyes.

The good news: we may not have to dismantle the team to end up in the high end of the lottery in June.

The bad news: if that’s the case, how do we get rid of these guys?

Clearly, teams are going to look at the Cavs struggles and start to kick the tires on trades for players like Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams.  In the interest of finding something to be optimistic about, let’s look at who we have that someone might want and what, if anything, we might get for him.

Chris Grant has got to be kicking himself at not seeing that this team was built with a balsa wood bottom just waiting for the chance to drop out.  But I don’t blame him.  We may still end up winning some games and playing some respectable basketball, but the tendencies that led to this weekend’s performances (and, yes, the weekend begins on Thursday) – poor defense, lack of effort on either end, seemingly having no idea what might work on offense, doing whatever they felt like rather than sticking to a plan – do not bode well for us over the course of the season.

See, if Chris Grant had known this was going to happen, he would have been much more receptive to a trade that was rumored during the summer: sending Mo Williams to Sacramento.  What we would have gotten back is unclear – but five months ago you could have said the words “Mo Williams” and “former All-Star” in the same sentence without throwing up a little in your mouth.  Mo would look great with the Kings (he doesn’t play defense, Tyreke Evans is LeBron Lite) and we could have maybe gotten a first round pick from them or, barring that, one of their excess of big men such as Jason Thompson, who they recently were reported to be offering the Hawks for Jeff Teague (and which the Hawks turned down).

Do I want Mo to be traded for a power forward/center who averages 6.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in just over 17 minutes a game?  Not straight up, I don’t.  But would I be willing to do that if the Kings included a first round pick (or maybe a couple second rounders that we might be able to convert into first round picks at some point)?  I would listen to that offer.  Thompson is 6’11”, 24 years old and has shown to possess … god, what is that thing … I haven’t seen it in a while … Oh, yes.  Talent.

Do the Kings make that trade? Right now, I doubt we get much more from them than Thompson, if DeMarcus Cousins head-caseness hasn’t made them less likely to get rid of one of their bigs.  And I don’t see much reason for them, sitting at 4-14 to see Mo as their ticket to the playoffs.  Deals with teams who end up not being as good as they think they will be happen during the summer (when they still think they’re going to be good).  The mid-season deals are usually with contenders and, therefore, usually mean you’re getting less for your players, especially where picks are concerned.

Mo remains an important piece to the Cavaliers.  Everything being equal, I’d love to see Mo stay.  I like watching him play.  I like rooting for him.  But Mo also remains a very flawed important piece to the Cavaliers, one who can clearly be shut down by good teams with good players.  He has offensive talent, but he needs space to be effective.  That space used to be provided by LeBron James.  It could be provided by other players either here or elsewhere, but the Cavaliers are no longer a team that allows Mo Williams to look as good as he should.  He also has two more player option years after this one at roughly $8.5 million each.  Very reasonable, given the right trade partner.

I still don’t think you trade Varejao. I think that, as long as he doesn’t run himself into the ground while we remain not good, you keep a 28 year old, 6’10” guy who every other team in the league would want.  Come the trading deadline, I’d guarantee (but won’t because I have no way of validating this claim) that Grant gets besieged by calls about Varejao.  Even if you do decide to trade him, you don’t have to hurry.  Barring injury, people will continue to want Andy for the duration of his (again) very tradable contract (thank you, Danny Ferry).  And I think he’s worth at least a first rounder and some type of player (now, I’m not saying good) to the right team.

But then, see, we have Antawn Jamison.  I pushed so long for us to trade for Jamison that it really hurts me that we’ve ended up at this point.  I don’t see his deal as unmovable, but let’s at least say it’s very selectively movable. Based on his combination of age, bad knees and $15 million salary next year, the fit for Jamison will have to be (as we thought it was for us last year) perfect.  And we shouldn’t hold our breaths about what we might be able to get back.  That $15 million makes him more tradable next year as an expiring deal (and those deals happen – especially as part of a package – no matter how much a players skills have deteriorated), but I can see a few teams out there who we might get to bite this year.

I’m going to throw three names out: the Dallas Mavericks, the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks.

Do I think he’ll go to Dallas?  No, not really.  But I could see him fitting back into that team as frontcourt scoring off the bench and Mark Cuban doesn’t shy away from taking on contracts.  I’m dangling the Bulls out there – again, thinking of Jamison as being a bench option, but I could see him working really well with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.  But he’d probably work in a way very similar to Carlos Boozer.

The team I’d be keeping on speed-dial is the Knicks. If they continue to play well – and their recent play suggests that they should be in the mix for the 5-8 seed in the East.  But the Knicks are, by no means, a finished product.  They could use Jamison’s veteran presence (his good veteran presence … not the bad part of it that we’re trying to dump) on a team that hasn’t experienced much success yet.  Again, he’d probably be coming off the bench, but he’s a good enough scorer and rebounder (and a poor enough defender) to possibly make a very good showing in Mike D’Antoni’s offense.  The problem is that the Knicks want to sign Carmelo Anthony this summer and Antawn’s deal might make that tough for them to do – unless they’re able to deal him to a team that wants the eventual cap relief after the season.

Or maybe I’m just used to the Knicks making moves that help out other teams more than them.

Come on, Donnie Walsh, call up your inner-Isiah and help the Cavaliers out.  You know you want to.