October 22, 2008
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Cleveland Cavaliers
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Cavaliers

I thought last year they would build on their trip to the NBA Finals, but they turned out to be a regular-season disappointment with 45 wins. The Cavaliers got better after trading for Ben Wallace, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak in midseason, but the question remains: Has this team done enough to surround LeBron James?

To get Mo Williams this summer was a great move, a move they needed to make. West was a nice injection, but he wasn't the answer at point guard. Williams is a good fit alongside LeBron because Mo shoots the ball. What LeBron needs is guys to make shots around his creativity -- that's the most important skill set. They don't need guys who need the ball in their hands. They need guys to play off LeBron and make shots off his penetration. When he kicks it out, he needs to trust his teammates to make the shot, and Williams is a shooter at the point guard position. You make him and Delonte your two point guards, and you're much better there than you were a year ago.

Though they're both small, I think they can play Williams and Daniel Gibson together at times in the backcourt. Gibson is a stand-still shooting guard, a Steve Kerr type. He can play a little point, but that's really not his position. You can get away with playing two small guys together in stretches. West can play some minutes alongside Williams as well.

Cleveland has been guilty the last couple of years of not establishing Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the low post. I thought last year they went back and rediscovered the importance of establishing him early in games. They can't just rely on LeBron to be the end-all.

Their decision to hold off on signing Anderson Varejao had a negative impact on their season. On the one hand, the Cavs were asking: Why should we bid against ourselves? While that made sense fiscally, they also disrupted their team and their bottom line by not having him in camp. They missed his energy early last season. The one thing that's clear is that he is an important, but limited, player. He brings hustle and work ethic and energy that they sorely lack without him.

They're going to miss what Joe Smith gave them over the second half last year, not only as a veteran with toughness but also as another guy who could score. When Ilgauskas was out of the game, they could throw him the ball. Even if Smith was not scoring, the defense had to contend with him. Defenses don't have to worry about Varejao or Wallace hurting them offensively.

I was surprised last year that LeBron's stats were better across the board, because I felt like he didn't really take a step up. I suppose I judge him in terms of the success of his team. For those to whom much is given, much is expected, and when the Cavs struggled so much during the season -- based in part on contract situations and injuries that were beyond his control -- I kept waiting for him to elevate the team.

That's why I cringe when I hear people criticize LeBron at times for being too unselfish, as if he has lacked the guts to do it all by himself. I would rather have my star trust his teammates. When you compare how far he's come to the seven-year process it took for Michael Jordan to reach the Finals, then you'd have to say that LeBron is ahead of schedule. His greatness will be determined by what his team is able to do. That's the standard we should be holding him to. The question going into this year is whether the Cavs will be the team that struggled to win 45 games in the regular season, or the team that almost knocked off the eventual champions on the road in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.

I would not be surprised at all -- especially considering the moves they made last year -- if the Cavs were to make another midseason trade. Right now, they don't look like a true championship contender. For this roster to make big strides, Williams has got to fit in perfectly, Wallace has to bring more than he showed for Chicago or Cleveland last year, Ilgauskas has to be a threat and LeBron has to show continued growth in his maturity as a leader and decision maker. Even if Boston were to stumble and Cleveland reached the Finals, I don't see how they could win it with this group. They're at a level just below what it takes, and at the moment, Boston looks like the only team in the East capable of winning it all.


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