11 Cleveland Cavaliers The dullest offense in the league is now vowing to run. Thank goodness.

November 01, 1999

When the Clippers are licking their chops at the prospect of
playing you, it might be time for a little self-examination. "We
looked at the Cavs like they had a lot of talent on their team,
but the system they were in didn't really fit the players they
had," says former Clippers small forward Lamond Murray. "We
didn't fear them at all. We were like, O.K., we've got the Cavs,
we know they're going to slow the ball down, and we know we're
going to win if we play it right."

Thanks to an off-season trade, Murray is now a member of the
Cavaliers, and, provided he recovers quickly from a partially
torn ligament in his left knee, he can help make the prospect of
facing Cleveland a little more daunting to the rest of the NBA.
Last year the Cavaliers were next to last in the league in
scoring and dead last in rebounding, and their locker room
resembled a civil war medical tent. The injuries got so bad that
Cleveland's starting five for the 1998-99 finale consisted of
Danny Ferry, Cedric Henderson, Andrew DeClercq, Bob Sura and
Mitchell Butler, a quintet that racked up 33.7 points per game
last year.

The Cavaliers' attack should get a kick start from rookie coach
Randy Wittman, who promises to play at a faster pace. If the
team's tedious offense had devolved any further last year, the
Cavs would have had to install peach baskets at Gund Arena. "If
you have competent players who can make good decisions on the
court, it benefits you to let them make those decisions, to play
freer and not have everything scripted for them," says Wittman,
who replaced Mike Fratello. "Even when teams are set back
defensively, we're going to run and get into our stuff quickly."

When healthy, the team was dangerous. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas
had 22 points and 17 rebounds against the Hawks in last season's
opener, and six nights later the Cavaliers were in the process of
spanking the eventual world champion Spurs 99-89 when the big man
landed awkwardly late in the game and broke the navicular bone in
his left foot. What had the makings of a breakout season was
over.

Ilgauskas says he is 100% now, which gives Cleveland something
few other Eastern Conference teams can boast: a viable center. At
7'3" he has terrific hands, a soft jumper and exceptional
agility. "Is he a sprinter? No," says Wittman. "But what he can
do if he's the trailer is shoot the basketball. I see him getting
a lot of open foul line jump shots. Plus, we'll have the ability
with Z and Shawn Kemp to play a lot of high-low."

The presence of Ilgauskas will make life easier for Kemp, who
after reporting to camp out of shape spent '98-99 with a giant
bull's-eye on his back. Despite being Cleveland's only real
scoring threat, he poured in a career-high 20.5 points a game.
With Kemp (who's still a hefty 280 pounds) and Ilgauskas pounding
the glass, Cleveland will improve its woeful rebounding and, by
extension, its transition game.

A healthy Ilgauskas on the block will also give Cleveland's
perimeter game a lift. Wesley Person hit 37.5% of his
three-point attempts last season; that figure should go up with
defenders having to worry about either Ilgauskas or Kemp down
low. Murray is also a fair threat from behind the arc, and if he
can regain his form from 1997-98, when he scored 15.4 points per
game, he could be the guy who finally puts an end to the
Spinal-Tap-drummer-like run of small forwards employed by the
team over the last two decades.

Murray came to Cleveland with a load of Clippers war stories
(recurring themes include changing for practice in a supply room
and taking showers without hot water) and a genuine appreciation
for his new surroundings. "After my sentence out there was done,
I feel great," he says. "I'm excited that people are excited
about having Lamond Murray on their team. That's a great feeling,
being wanted."

To rescue Murray from the dumps, the Cavaliers parted with
veteran swingman Johnny Newman as well as up-and-coming shooting
guard Derek Anderson. Cleveland could afford to give up Anderson,
who showed flashes of brilliance, because of its surplus in the
backcourt. A month before the trade, first-year general manager
Jim Paxson raised eyebrows when he took Duke two-guard Trajan
Langdon with the 11th pick of the draft, which even Langdon said
left him "real surprised." Utah point guard Andre Miller, a 6'2"
playmaker with limited shooting range, had been snatched up three
slots earlier, which was also a bit of an odd selection when you
consider that Cleveland drafted 5'10" point guard Brevin Knight
in the first round in 1997.

The Cavaliers, however, see nothing problematic about their guard
glut. "Andre is going to complement Brevin, because Andre's got
some size," says Paxson, who really wanted 6'7" Miami of Ohio
swingman Wally Sczerbiak but couldn't move up in the draft to get
him. "We still had a need at the small forward, but we also
wanted to get another shooter, and Trajan was the best shooter in
the draft."

The newcomers give the Cavaliers a bevy of decent players to
complement one All-Star (Kemp) and another in the making
(Ilgauskas). Of course, you could have said much the same thing
about them last year, and they finished 22-28. So identifying the
key to Cleveland's season is simple. Says Ilgauskas, "Stay
healthy. Stay healthy. Stay healthy."

In a conference loaded with so-so teams, the Cavaliers aren't a
lock to make the playoffs, but if they heed Ilgauskas's words
they'll at least strike more fear than they did last year. How
much more? Well, one thing is certain: They'll be better than the
Clippers.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA PHOTOS Cleared for takeoff Kemp will enjoy the airspace opened up by the return of Ilgauskus.

FAST BREAKDOWN

STARTING FIVE [3 stars]
BENCH [2 stars]
COACH [2 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [2 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 1/2 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 22-28 (11th in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Randy Wittman (first season with Cavaliers)

1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG% REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

CAVALIERS 86.4 (26) 43.9 (15) 35.8 (29) 15.7 (17)
OPPONENTS 88.2 (9) 43.6 (14) 39.9 (5) 16.4 (6)

In Fact

The Cavs' NBA-low 35.8 boards per game was 4.3 fewer than they
averaged in '97-98 and 3.0 worse than second-to-last
Milwaukee's. The return of a healthy Zydrunas Ilgauskas (career
8.8 rpg) should help.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

SF Lamond Murray[#] 138 12.2 ppg 3.9 rpg 1.2 apg 39.1 FG%
Three-point percentage declined from 35.3 to 33.0 after three
years of improvement

PF Shawn Kemp 23 20.5 ppg 9.2 rpg 2.4 apg 48.2 FG%
Shares NBA record for most seasons leading the league in fouling
out (four)

C Zydrunas Ilgauskas 66 15.2 ppg 8.8 rpg 0.8 apg 50.9 FG%
All-Rookie first-teamer and MVP of rookie all-star game in '98

SG Wesley Person 100 11.2 ppg 3.2 rpg 1.8 apg 37.5 3FG%
Sixth among active players (minimum 250 threes) with 40.9 3FG%

PG Brevin Knight 122 9.6 ppg 3.7 rpg 7.7 apg 40.8 FG%
Has never made more than eight field goals in 119 career NBA games

BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

G Andre Miller (R)[#] 93 15.8 ppg 5.4 rpg 5.6 apg 49.1 FG%
Shot 51.3% from the floor over his four-year career at Utah

C Andrew DeClercq 214 7.9 ppg 5.4 rpg 0.7 apg 50.0 FG%
As fill-in for Ilgauskas, he set career highs in scoring and
rebounding

F Cedric Henderson 229 9.1 ppg 3.9 rpg 2.3 apg 41.7 FG%
Defensive stopper has yet to miss a game in his two NBA seasons

G Trajan Langdon (R)[#] 246 17.3 ppg 3.4 rpg 1.9 apg 46.2 FG%
Anchorage native is only Alaskan ever to play in NBA

F Danny Ferry 290 7.0 ppg 2.0 rpg 1.1 apg 47.6 FG%
Third on Cavs' games-played list behind Bingo Smith and Hot Rod
Williams

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics from final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)