Cavs Remix Trading blunder-prone Ricky Davis gives Cleveland a new, winning look

December 29, 2003

Contrary to reports, it wasn't his selfish play or jealousy of
LeBron James that prompted the Cavaliers to trade gifted swingman
Ricky Davis. No, the reason for the Dec. 15 deal--which shipped
Davis along with Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart and a second-round
pick to Boston for Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick
Brown--was even more compelling. "You simply cannot win with
Ricky," said a high-ranking Cleveland official, who ticked off a
long list of missed assignments and bonehead fouls by Davis that
contributed to the team's 6-17 start. "He cost us at least eight
games."

That's also why Celtics coach Jim O'Brien was distressed by the
trade: He acquired a player who loses games for two players, the
6'8" Williams and the 6'11" Battie, who learned how to win during
Boston's playoff runs of the last two years. After the Cavs bowed
to the Rockets 89-85 on Dec. 17 in their Cleveland debut, Battie
and Williams talked about inspiring a defense that ranked 29th in
opponents' turnovers. "We need to find a way to get the guys as
excited about defense as they are about dunking," Battie said.

Williams, 31, set the perfect example in Philadelphia two nights
later, forcing seven Glenn Robinson turnovers in the Cavs' 88-81
victory. Not only did Cleveland end a 34-game road losing streak
but it also held the 76ers to 52 points over the final three
quarters, with Battie calling out rotations under the basket down
the stretch.

None of this surprised Cavaliers coach Paul Silas, who during a
film session last Thursday had been elated to hear Williams
pointing out to James that he could play better team D by laying
off his man on the weak side. "Then at the next shootaround I saw
LeBron doing what Eric suggested," Silas says. "We've been
telling him all year, but it doesn't mean as much until it comes
from another player."

The Davis trade also provided a sense of urgency to a team that
was accepting losing "as a way of life," says Silas. "I've told
our guys that we'll move anybody to improve the club." Anybody
does not include James or power forward Carlos Boozer, but it
could mean All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 28, who over the
last two years has overcome huge odds by merely staying healthy
after stress fractures in his feet had threatened his career.
"He's trying to find himself right now," Silas says. "But these
guys from Boston are aggressive, and Z has to fall in line."

Though the Cavs average just 3.1 years of experience, Silas
believes that they are close to a winning combination. There
remains the question of whether James should stay at point guard
or play off the ball at small forward, though he has flourished
in both capacities since Davis's departure. James finished with
36 points against Philly, then poured in 32 points and had a
career-high 10 assists the following night in a 95-87 win at
Chicago.

"The media said I couldn't shoot," said LeBron, who had been
practicing to extend his range. Now he may be surrounded by a
cast that will help him win games as well.

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL SUGRUE (WILLIAMS) With hard-driving newcomer Williams, James (inset) halted the Cavs' road woes. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above]

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