Marty Burns
Thursday January 20th, 2005

Jeff McInnis' absence. That's the single biggest reason for the Cavs' recent tailspin. They just haven't been the same since the 6-foot-4 veteran point guard went down March 16 with a right shoulder bruise suffered when he ran into Bulls center Eddy Curry.

Before McInnis got hurt, the Cavs were on a roll. They'd won seven straight games to climb into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Without McInnis, the Cavs had lost six of seven through Thursday to fall 1 1/2 games behind the Celtics for the No. 8 spot. LeBron James has tried to step it up, but there's only so much the 19-year-old rookie can do. Kevin Ollie isn't the answer. Cleveland needs McInnis to set up the offense, knock down open three-pointers and provide a defensive presence at the top.

In the 26 games McInnis has played since coming over in a trade with the Blazers, the Cavs were 17-9 and their scoring increased from 91.1 to 97.1 points per game. Carlos Boozer went from averaging 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds to averaging 17.6 and 12.5, respectively. Zydrunas Ilgauskas went from 14.1 and 7.6, to 17.4 and 9.2. LeBron saw his turnovers decrease from 3.9 to 2.8 per game.

McInnis' absence also has put further pressure on the Cavs' weak bench. With Ollie forced into the starting lineup, Cleveland has virtually no punch among its reserve corps. Cavs GM Jim Paxson has brought in Lee Nailon and Mateen Cleaves, but they haven't been enough. Meanwhile, coach Paul Silas has been forced to shuffle lineups.

McInnis is currently on the injured list and can't return until April 6 against the Raptors. By then, it might be too late for the Cavs to make a playoff push. Cleveland's remaining schedule isn't easy, with road dates at Milwaukee (Fri.), Memphis, Miami and New York. Boston has an easier schedule and owns the tiebreaker. For Cavs fans, losing out to Ricky Davis and the Celtics would certainly be ironic. Cleveland's turnaround this season began when it acquired veterans Eric Williams and Tony Battie in a midseason deal with Boston. Now, thanks in large part to McInnis' injury, the Celtics might get the last laugh.

It sure looks that way. Speculation around the league is that there might be as many as 10 head coach openings after the season. Among the gigs likely to be vacant are the Hawks, Celtics, 76ers, Nuggets and Warriors. The Raptors, Magic, Hornets, Blazers and possibly even the Mavs and Lakers also could find themselves looking for a new leader on the bench.

It's hard to believe there could be so much turnover given all the coaching changes already this year. But for a variety of reasons, the carousel appears greased to spin again.

Chris Ford (76ers) and John Carroll (Celtics) were interim coaches all along. Jeff Bzdelik (Nuggets) and Eric Musselman (Warriors) may be viewed as not experienced enough to take their teams to the next level. Terry Stotts (Hawks) could be a victim of new ownership in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Johnny Davis (Magic) could still go as part of a clean-up in Orlando. Tim Floyd (Hornets) and Kevin O'Neill (Raptors) are feeling heat for late-season collapses. Maurice Cheeks (Blazers) could end up in Philly. Don Nelson (Mavs) appears to be tiring of Mark Cuban, and Phil Jackson (Lakers) has yet to sign a contract for next year.

The expected turnover would be good news, of course, for those out-of-work coaches waiting on the sidelines. Mike Fratello, Jim O'Brien, George Karl, Doc Rivers and Paul Westphal are some of the bigger names likely to be mentioned. Already there has been speculation linking Fratello (76ers), O'Brien (Portland), Rivers (Hawks) and Westphal (Celtics) to soon-to-be-open gigs.

It's far too early to tell, of course, which of these rumored openings will come to pass. Financially, some teams might be reluctant to fire a coach with multiple years left on his contract. Also, a strong showing down the stretch (and perhaps in the playoffs) might enable some of the guys on the hot seat to save their jobs. But make no mistake, several changes are coming again in the NBA coaching ranks.

The news that Allen Iverson would have to shut it down the rest of the season because of cartilage damage in his sore right knee was good in one way for the Sixers guard. At least now everybody knows he really is hurt. Some fans and media had speculated that the petulant superstar might have been sitting out because he didn't like coach Chris Ford.

Still, Iverson probably won't be getting much sympathy from Sixers fans. From his many injuries to his publicized feuds with Ford, his season has basically been a disaster. Iverson will finish the season having played in a career-low 48 games. He will have missed 20 of his team's final 26. He finishes with a scoring average of 26.4 points (lowest since the '97-98 season) while shooting a career-low 38.7 percent from the floor. He also end up leading the NBA in turnovers (4.35 per game).

Sixers fans don't blame Iverson for his injuries or lack of a supporting cast. But there seems to be a growing sentiment that the team needs to be blown up this summer, even if it means trading the 6-foot scoring machine. It hasn't helped that the 76ers have actually played better without him of late. Iverson has heard the talk about a trade, and is said to be sensitive to it. One of the reasons he got a second opinion from a doctor about his knee was to prove to the public that he really was injured. He apparently didn't feel Sixers management was doing enough to get the word out.

There's still time for the Sixers and Iverson to repair their relationship. With $90 million left on a contract that runs through 2008-09 (he'll get $22 million that final season, when he will be 33 years old), he won't be easy to trade. Unless the Sixers get a great offer, they might have to keep him and try again to fill in the pieces around him. At least now, though, Philly fans and media know he wasn't quitting on them.

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