With a 43-11 record and riding a 13-game winning streak, there is very little about the Cavaliers to criticize this season. A humdrum 3-3 start had people forecasting certain doom to LeBron's chances of re-signing in the offseason, which would, naturally, doom the franchise, and most of northeast Ohio.
Well, then they figured out how to play with Shaquille O'Neal. Since then? Try 40-8.
Apparently not satisfied with the NBA's best record, nor with their production at the 4, where J.J. Hickson was feasting off the attention paid to LeBron and Shaq, the Cavs acquired all-star power forward Antawn Jamison for Zydrunas Ilguaskas and a draft pick. Considering that Big Z is highly likely to return to the team in 30 days, it's hard to imagine how Danny Ferry pulled this one off. Credit him for involving the Clippers, who sent Al Thornton to Washington, keeping LeBron's protege safely in wine and gold.
The Cavs have coveted Jamison and his 20-point, 9-rebound stat line for a while, but the rumors had been swirling around Phoenix and Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire is a fine player. Here's why Jamison is a better fit:
Jamison puts up numbers nearly identical to Stoudemire's, but will presumably be happy to sacrifice some minutes, points and rebounds to win a title. Amare comes out of Pheonix, where talented athletes gleefully forget how to play basketball in the name of jacking up loads of shots. Anyone who thinks he'd be cool with giving up touches in a year he's in line for a max contract is crazy.
In three consecutive seasons losing to the Cavs in the playoffs as a Wizard, Jamison was a competetive beast. He was also the only guy on a team full of knuckleheads who didn't buy into the 'punch-a-Bron' strategy, including the coach. What I saw was a guy who wanted to win, played like he wanted to win, but refused to play dirty. I'm not saying that Stoudemire is a dirty player, and I'm not saying he's not driven. I'm just not sure he's entirely title driven, and Cleveland has seen quite enough of talented guys who are motivated by other things, like cocaine, or Big Macs or fathering illegitimate children.
I'm a better defender than Stoudemire, and so is Jamison with gout, rickets and seven hernias. Amare, who barely pretends to protect the paint, has never been asked to do so. Mike Brown demands defense, first and foremost. It is a delusion to think that Stoudemire would have been able to erase eight seasons of zero effort on the defensive end and pick up Brown's complicated schemes in time for a title run.
This is not to say Jamison is a great defender. Far from it. What he is, is a much better defender than Hickson, who at this point in his young career resembles Stoudemire. Jamison also has a high b-ball IQ, and should be able to hold his own. Let's face it: both of these guys are gifted athletes. Both should be able to defend in the NBA. It boils down to who is more likely to embrace the role.
And speaking of embracing roles, it's much easier to imagine Jamison sacrificing minutes to Anderson Varejao than Stoudemire, and he will have to. When the game is on the line, Anderson Varejao plays the 4.
Jamison is a better shooter than Stoudemire, at least in terms of long distance (gotta give the nod to Amare on the mid-range jumper). His presence gives the Cavs four starters who can shoot the three competently. The importance of three point shooting really emerges in the playoffs (especially in the Eastern Conference), when the lane is all but shut down and the drive and kick is a critical offensive play.
Also critical is the pick and roll. Amare, coupled with Nash, is a great pick and roll player. Jamison, working off of LeBron, Mo Williams and Delonte West, should thrive there too.
Amare is great finishing around the hoop. So is Jamison, who has a wealth of tricky, unguardable moves in the post and cutting to the hoop.
Jamison is a chemistry guy, a great locker room presence with a small ego. Stoudemire? No.
Steve Nash has made a lot of players appear better than they are. See Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell, etc. Playing in that ludicrous system, who can tell how good Stoudemire really is?
Say the Cavs acquire Stoudemire, sign him to a long-term deal, only to see his once micro-fractured knee implode. In the last three seasons, he's had two major surgeries. He is 27 years old. Do you offer a guy like that 15+ million per for five or six years? Jamison, who is 33 and has a reputation for durability, is expensive, too. However, he continues to earn the big paycheck, and, assuming he plays well next season, should remain an asset. The year after, if his game begins to slip, his expiring contract has big value. If all goes according to plan, a 23-year-old Hickson will then be ready to step in. Contractually, Jamison is the lower risk. With Amare, the Hickson point is moot. A deal with Phoenix would have required giving up J.J.
The more I think about this trade, the more I love it. I guess what it boils down to it that, with Amare, there were serious reservations, at least from this blogger. With Jamison, none. If you can find a negative, please tell me, because I don't see it. Jamison is a fabulous player who should blend in as well as a midseason change to the starting lineup can blend in. The Cavs will enter the playoffs bigger and more talented than they were last season, when lack of size in the paint and on the perimeter vanquished them against Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now they are deeper than any team in the East, and for once they have a full complement of talent around their superstar. This deal also exonerates owner Dan Gilbert and Ferry from any blame should LeBron leave in the offseason. Add it all up and how could I not stamp this trade with the McBone Seal of Approval: McB
My buddy Than, who knows more about that Cavs than just about anybody, had this to add in an email:
I just read online that Jamison could play both the 3 or the 4. I mean, I knew that already, but for some reason the light bulb didn't come on for me. Basically, he could be the first to sit down and come in for LeBron and play the 3. There is a decent log jam of bigs on this team even with no Z with Leon Powe coming back, but there aren't a lot of 3s after LeBron. I guess Jamario Moon plays the 3 and so does Hot Wad Williams, but not to the level Jamison would. This should be very very interesting to see how Mike Brown handles the rotation. He really has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal with this roster. Man, I hope we get Z back soon.