It's become quite obvious over the first month of the season, that the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers will not be able to duplicate the smooth waters of a year ago. There are too many moving parts. Too many aspects of what they want to do that seem susceptible to combustion. And too consistent a struggle to fit everything together. From the Plain Dealer regarding this game:
"It was as if Shaquille O'Neal came back and the Cavaliers hit the reset button on their season, which was not a good thing considering how the season actually started." - BWNail. Head. Brian Windhorst. This was ugly, and did indeed conjure memories of the Toronto game in particular. Only it's a little more disconcerting because we're 16 games into the season. I know a season should be treated as a marathon, but at some point it physically takes a toll on a team to constantly be fighting to straighten the ship. And thus, you're not actually saving energy by not storming out of the gate (See: Cavs 2007-08). Against the Bobcats, the Cavs struggled to re-incorporate Shaq, while Z looked uncomfortable again. LeBron struggled to maintain his aggressiveness, and therefore J.J. didn't get any good opportunities to affect the game. Anthony Parker was invisible, and Jamario Moon treated Gerald Wallace like he was Marquis Daniels. After showing signs in the prior weeks of breaking through to a new level of consistency, the Cavaliers majorly regressed by looking disheveled and disoriented as they basically slept walked through the majority of the game.
Let's hope it's only a temporary step back.
- LeBron played one of his worst games in a while. And this time, there is no addendum. I know the refs went a ways to sap LeBron of his aggressiveness by hitting him with some pretty weak foul calls, while not even coming close to reciprocating on the other end (the latter seems to be recurring to a concerning degree), but LeBron never really looked like he was bringing it tonight anyway. When you have a guy like Gerald Wallace, really the only way he is going to dominate a game is through physicality, with hustle and aggression, and with his slashes to the hoop. I know he hit a very uncharacteristic 3-7 from beyond the arc last night (GW doesn't shoot threes), but it was in penetration and transition that he proved demoralizing. There is no way he should have been able to do those things as well as he did them against a monstrously strong athlete like LeBron. Which is a sign that, for whatever reason, LBJ wasn't competing at the highest level tonight. I'll give him a slight pass in that early in the game, when LeBron picked up a quick foul, it was apparent he was reluctant to get to physical with G-Force for fear of being whistled for another. But by backing off early, it allowed the tone of the game to be set in Charlotte's favor. The Cavs never recovered.
No one could stop Gerald Wallace (not even Daniel Gibson, who is pictured here making what I assume is the wrong rotation)
- In a situation like LeBron's early foul trouble, the Cavs will find themselves searching for a secondary-lanky defender to play the likes of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. That guy is supposed to be Jamario Moon. We now know what he does well offensively (finish, run the break, occasionally spot up) and defensively (rebound, and use his length and athleticism to disrupt lengthy and athletic perimeter players). It is now apparent one thing he cannot do, and it does not bode well for a few key match-ups down the line. Jamario does not do well with physical small forwards. It was just painfully evident in the preseason when he was matched up with Marquis Daniels and subsequently roasted to a mammoth degree. Jamario had since hit his stride and I was kind of hoping that that early glimpse of trouble was more about J-Moon feeling out his role on the team vs. a legitimate physical shortcoming. But tonight confirmed the latter. Jamario is just too skinny to be able to deal with that type of player. Both Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson had their respective ways with him, bodying him right out of the way and getting straight into the paint for high percentage shots. That's not something he's going to be able to overcome, which means that as we look toward the Lakers (as I have been wont to do)...we have one defender currently playing substantial minutes capable of guarding Kobe Bryant or Ron Artest. And that's LeBron. Not a situation we want to put LBJ in over the course of a 48 minute game. I know this sounds a little trivial...but it's a little trivial in the same way that last year we had only LeBron capable of guarding either Hedo or Rashard Lewis.
- I didn't think J.J. Hickson was bad tonight. I just think he never had an opportunity to contribute. And under that light...perhaps tonight was a little bit of a positive for him in that when he was out there, he looked focused and in tune with the game in spite of not being a big part of it. He was patient, and didn't force the issue just because his chance to contribute was taking a while to arrive (and ultimately, never did).
- Shaq. On a positive note, with Shaquille O'Neal returning the Cavs were finally able to out-rebound an opponent. More negatively, the big man's return was a flop in every other way. Shaq struggled to impact the game in any meaningful fashion other then he seemed to act as a back hole into which the Cavs ball movement was sucked. LBJ and Co. were making a concerted effort to get Shaq the ball in the post, which clearly became a detriment as getting Shaq post touches became the focus in and of itself, rather using it as a means to collapse the defense and attack off that. Shaq should've killed the Bobcats big men tonight, but was unable to. Larry Brown (wisely sensing a mismatch is weight class) got Tyson Chandler away from The Diesel quickly, and replaced him with Nazr Mohammed. On this night, Shaq was unable to outplay Nazr Mohammed.
Rather then focus on anything involving chemistry (which seems to be the usual comparison made to last year's squad), I want to focus on talent, and subsequently, the recourse we have to improve it. Right now, and who knows if this is going to change...we've essentially traded Delonte West, Ben Wallace, and Sasha Szczerbiak...for Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon. Had you asked me to do that trade last year, I probably would have declined. From a net talent perspective, the loss at the shooting guard position, I would have argued, is not as great as the gain at the center position (I would have been making that argument before we played Orlando, but go with me here). In fact, I think the Cavs declined to include Delonte in the first incarnation of the trade for that very reason. So fast forward to today, Anthony Parker at shooting guard, and coming off a loss to the Bobcats...I feel it appropriate to analyze the questions asked by revisiting the thought of Stephen Jackson, and then moving on for good.
A few weeks ago, I felt like one of the few not in favor of his acquisition. And the reason for that seemed, to me, obvious. We already had Delonte West. Who was, to me, a better player, a better fit for this team, and a more integral part of the core moving forward. What hit me last night (and believe me, I'm still trying to fight these thoughts away), was this: Even Delonte West isn't Delonte West right now (it took me five minutes to decide whether to type 'right now' or 'anymore'). Brian Windhorst touched on it, but in the few minutes Delonte got into last night's game, he looked completely out of sorts. I spent much of the first half wondering why, in this type of game, getting torched by the Bobcats transition offense, was Delonte not able to contribute. To form a more palatable lineup to counteract what the Bobcats were doing. And then he finally comes into the game, and you see him run up the court a few times, and just think, "Oh. That's why." I found myself consistently wondering last year, how a guy as talented as Delonte could slip through the NBA cracks and find his way to us. A key piece to a championship contender apparently of no use throughout the rest of the league. Last night it hit me that in his current condition, I could see Delonte not getting off the bench in Seattle. I understand how that could happen.
The second aspect to the dilemma at the SG spot has to do with the somewhat unexpected end to the Stephen Jackson saga. I saw a player last night who was everything his detractors said him to be, but in no way, shape or form did he resemble a negative because of his said faults. He is a high volume shooter. But he is a lanky defender, a versatile wing, and a capable scorer. He is resourceful, and he would have worked well with LeBron.
The crux of the anti-Jax argument seemed to revolve around the future. His albatross contract combined with his advancing age rendering him a poor investment. I would now argue that as we move forward we will not build this team through free agency, nor have we in the past...therfore albatross contracts aren't that much of a price to pay to land an important player. The only person that really affects is Dan Gilbert (you're the man, Dan!), and we're building him some casinos to thank him for his investments.
So with all that in mind (Delonte, and the acceptability of an overpriced, but contributing player), the Cavs now find themselves with two holes to fill for the long term health of the franchise. At the beginning of the season, it appeared as if there was only one. Now, should Andre Iguodala or Rudy Gay, or even Kevin Martin (not quite as big of a fan of him because of his injury history), miraculously become available...they would have to be had at the expense of adding a young big man to the core. It would still be a MAJOR coupe (especially because the aforementioned are really the home-run guys), but in essence we're filling a position that wasn't supposed to be a hole. Going into this season, adding a young big man seemed to me to be the major trade priority. A must for the health of the core going forward. With the way this season has so far unfolded...Stephen Jackson, because of his circumstances, may have been the only way to adequately allow us to patch both holes.
It always did, but so much of this season still relies on Delonte West. With Stephen Jackson in Charlotte, that has never been more evident.
The Cavaliers get a quick chance for redemption tomorrow night at the Q. The Mavericks come to town at 7:30 as the Cavs begin a three game home-stand.