Archive for the ‘Cameron’s Corner’ Category

Motor City Mediocrity.

Monday, December 6th, 2010

If I would’ve made a post with this exact title a year ago, I’d surely be referring to the Detroit Pistons and their failed roster revamp. The Pistons, who would have just committed $100 million in salary to free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, would boast an 8-12 record, tight-roping the dividing line between the league’s best and worst teams. The Cavaliers on the other hand would draw only the tiniest bit of criticism, sitting a proud 15-5 atop the division.

I would yammer on about how a once great rivalry from the years of 2005-08 is dead, not just because of Joe Dumars’ inability to keep a championship core in tact, but also because of his attempts to keep the remainder of that core on life support. I would repeatedly preach how a team in Detroit’s position needs to blow up it up, forget the Rip Hamilton’s of the past, and suffer the pain of a few seasons with only a handful of wins. Then I would bash them for taking the opposite approach, signing former fan favorite Ben Wallace and issuing a five year $60 million deal to a guard entering his sixth season.

This year? This year I say that the Detroit Pistons have company, at least for the time being.

You see, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been showcasing some mediocrity as well this year, playing uninspiring basketball for stretches at a time. One of those stretches came Sunday night against the Pistons when the Cavaliers allowed Detroit to reel off eleven straight points early in the third quarter to take a 66-55 lead after the game had been tied. Ultimately, a deficit that this team should’ve been able to overcome was never cut to anything more manageable than eight points.

And such has been the case with the Cavaliers this year, particularly as of late. The same team that outworked a superior Boston Celtics squad in their season opener is routinely getting outplayed around the rim now. In their current four game losing skid the Cavs are getting outrebounded 182-147 and outscored in the paint 178-134. The same team that Byron Scott said wouldn’t lose a game because they were in worse shape than their opponent is consistently getting out-hustled. Over their past four games the Cavaliers have been outscored 62-46 in fastbreak points and haven’t won that category since their November 27th victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Such was the case Sunday night, when the Pistons took advantage of Cleveland for 17 fastbreak points, enabling their backcourt tandem of Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton to combine for 51 points, each scoring more points individually than anyone on the Cavaliers’ roster.

Here’s the catch, though; The Cavaliers are playing so bad over this four game stretch that they’ve skipped over mediocrity to just plain bad. While back-to-back home losses by a combined 47 points to the Celtics and Heat are disappointing, they are somewhat understandable considering the talent on the other end of the court. What’s hard to stomach, however, are the most recent losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, two teams with a combined 12 wins, by a total of 44 points.

And it all culminated Sunday night, when two teams responsible for six straight Central division titles met and anchored the bottom two spots in the division with seven wins a piece. The Cavaliers have played so poorly over the last four games that Real Cavs Fans owner Ben asked fans on his twitter account what teams, if any, wouldn’t you trade the Cavaliers’ roster for and received only a handful of teams in the responses. Among those mentioned were Philadelphia, Toronto, Charlotte, and Detroit.

However, there are two sides to the story here. First is the current play, that projects the Cavaliers will never win consecutive games again, struggling to lose by fewer than ten points night in and night out. This is the Cavs team that, believe it or not, provides the most hope for next season and beyond. If the Cavaliers continue to play terribly and it reflects in their record, then they clear the way for a string of top five draft picks.

On the other hand, this can still be the same resilient team that has already responded to a multi-game losing streak with a three game road winning streak earlier in the year. In an 82 game season there are many ups and many downs, and this is the team that should frighten fans for the future. The team that isn’t quite good enough to make the playoffs, but good enough to spoil any hope of a top ten draft pick with fewer flaws than those players on the current roster.

So as I reflect on Sunday night’s loss, I struggle to identify which team is least painful presently. The team that defines mediocrity, responding to three point losses against the Kings with seven point wins against the 76ers, or the team that loses four straight games by 91 points.

While I understand that the latter paves the way for the future, the former is far less painful to watch on a nightly basis. Oh, how I wish I was writing this post exactly one year ago.

Make sure to join the discussion at Real Cavs Fans!

Cavs media day talk sets the tone for guard-centric season.

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

[I’m] excited. Motivated. Any word that explains, that expresses my joy and the way I feel about getting back on the floor, that’s the word I’d use. These past four years I’ve wanted to play, I’ve wanted the opportunity to get out there but it just hasn’t been my time. But I feel like now is my time and I’m ready for it.

Daniel Gibson on Cavs media day.

The last time I posted on Cavs: The Blog, I gave my take on Daniel Gibson’s shot at redemption this season as he enters his fifth year with the Cavaliers. Exactly one week later, several Cavs players, including Gibson himself, echoed similar sentiments in front of dozens of reporters.

For those of you who missed it, yesterday was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ annual media day in Independence, Ohio. The stage was used by a handful of the team’s veterans and new coach Byron Scott to talk about how motivated they are this season, on a mission to prove many of the naysayers wrong.

“We’re gonna come in and work hard and we’re gonna shock some people this year,” J.J. Hickson told reporters at the Cavaliers’ practice facility. Antawn Jamison showed similar determination, telling the media, “We’ve still got enough talent to win and perform at a very high level.”

However, while many of the media day player quotes revolved around the idea of being doubted this season, quite a few Cavaliers touched upon the importance of new coach Byron Scott’s offense. Second year guard Danny Green stressed that he likes Scott’s mentality, stating that he’s “all about running and getting up and down the floor” like he did in college. Similarly, two of Cleveland’s more athletic players, J.J. Hickson and Christian Eyenga, both acknowledged that running is a big part of their game and that they believe Coach Scott’s offense will complement those abilities, which is worth noting since they both got a taste of what to expect this year in Las Vegas Summer League action.

As the quotes about what to expect in a new up-tempo offense kept surfacing, Cleveland’s guards continually mentioned one another and how they thought they could do big things this season. Anthony Parker noted his high expectations for Daniel Gibson this year, telling reporters, “He’s been in an unfortunate circumstance the last couple years, but we all know his talent level and what he can contribute, and I look forward to him really having a big year this year.”

On the other hand, Mo Williams expressed some lofty goals for his old teammate, yet new Cleveland addition, Ramon Sessions. “I expect a lot out of [Ramon],” Williams told the media on Monday. “I expect him to play big minutes, I expect him to play a big part,” he elaborated.

Despite the fact that Daniel Gibson saw very limited action late in the season and in the post-season last year and that Ramon Sessions was with a different team altogether, it seems that last season’s starting backcourt tandem has already warmed up to the idea of playing extended minutes alongside the two guards. And why not? If Cleveland can throw out a team that includes at least two guards capable of pushing the basketball as Byron Scott envisions, the Cavaliers could have many of the league’s more traditional teams on their heels this season.

While it is known that Byron Scott will start Mo Williams, it will be interesting to see how he uses the team's other guards.

With this idea of exploiting potential mismatches in the back of his mind, it will be interesting to see how Coach Scott uses his trio of quick and talented, yet undersized, guards. Perhaps he will spend a small chunk of each game using a three guard set, something common amongst the college ranks yet rarely used in the NBA.

When asked if he had any doubts on whether or not the trio of Mo Williams, Ramon Sessions, and himself could be successful on the court this year, Daniel Gibson told Cavs announcer Fred McLeod, “Not at all… You can think about us having to guard [bigger guards], but at the same token those guys have to come on the other end and guard us.” Gibson followed this up by stating that in a faster offense it will be more difficult for larger guards to chase him around, assuring Fred “I definitely think that we can be successful with us three, because we go hard.”

Ramon Sessions echoed similar sentiments, stating that, “Me, Boobie Gibson, and Mo, we’re three explosive, fast guys, so it’s going to be tough for teams to defend.”

However, just because Cleveland’s guards are all on board with the idea of a smaller offensive front, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Byron Scott will continually look to implement it throughout the course of the season. There’s no doubt that a lineup featuring quick guards in certain moments of the game has the potential to exploit slower teams, but it could come at the expense of the defense. Additionally, Coach Scott has yet to reveal his starting shooting guard, telling media day reporters “I have the starters in my head.”

Regardless, it’s nice to see the current group of guards band together and focus on executing the team’s new offense as they prepare for the new season. After all, as Mo Williams put it yesterday, “This is the hand [we were] dealt, and you’ve got to play the best you can.”

But in the end, it will be up to Byron Scott to show us whether or not his trio of guards is a true three of a kind or simply a trick up his sleeve.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Fifth year senior: Daniel Gibson’s shot at redemption.

Monday, September 20th, 2010

As you know i was born and raised in Houston, TX. Never once stayed outside the state for more than two weeks and the time I did, that was for basketball. But after two years of college at the University of Texas I decided to make the jump. You can just imagine how fast my mind was racing going to a city so many miles out of my comfort zone not knowing one single person. But I thank God it was Cleveland! Because From day one the city embraced me and made me feel like I was home. My Second HOME. And as time went on I began to see why we connected. Cleveland is a never die city, city of loyalty, hard-workers, passion, desire, and toughness. A lot of the same characteristics I have in me and that inspired me. So I made a promise to myself that every day I stepped foot on that basketball court I would show the world what Cleveland was all about. Leaving everything i had on the court. So no matter what obstacle was placed in front of me, I would bust right through it. No matter how high, I would get over it. Or how wide I would get around it. N I hope I did that and will continue to do that. I said that to say, I know right now emotions are high, and people are confused about the way things went down. But I’m here to say DO NOT FORGET THAT WE STILL HERE. and WE GONE GRIND!!!! The Cavaliers haven’t went anywhere, just lost a piece. Everything in life happens for a reason, Some which we dont understand and never will. Somethings we cant control, But the thing we can control is our passion and our love for city of Cleveland and state of OHIO. And that every single night we take that we floor We Will represent. Blood Sweat and Tears. We will go hard. Just like you. From the bottom to the top, this organization is committed to winning and we wont stop now… Cant stop now. I LOVE you. We Love YOU. And together We gone make it Happen. O H I O. Hang in there…



Daniel Gibson started this off-season on the right foot with the Cleveland fanbase, writing them a letter showing his appreciation for the way the entire city supported him throughout the first four seasons of his professional career. For the Cavalier faithful, who have shouted “shoot, Boobie, shoot!” ever since his rookie year, this only further endeared Gibson to them.

After spending his entire life in Texas, Daniel Gibson’s road to Cleveland was one filled with great opportunity and unfamiliarly low expectations. As a McDonald’s All-American recruit in high school, former Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and AP Honorable Mention All-American in his second and final year of college hoops, Gibson was used to all of the attention. But that would change when he was drafted by the Cavaliers in the second round of the 2006 draft, with less than only 20 players taken in the remainder of the draft. Although Gibson was able to ink a two-year guaranteed deal relatively quickly, he had to be a little nervous knowing that second round picks aren’t guaranteed a contract and that the Cavs already had a first round selection that year in Shannon Brown.

On the court Gibson started out slow, which was likely a mixture of those low expectations and being stuck behind veteran guards Larry Hughes, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and David Wesley. But instead of sulking, he realized that there was a lot to learn from those players:

On and off the court, Eric Snow and David Wesley have helped me out a lot as a young guard. But another guard, Damon Jones, has really been great, too. Our relationship is basketball, but he keeps me relaxed. When I’m out there on the floor, he tells me what I’m doing right and wrong. But he also always keeps me laughing and smiling. Sometimes you can be way too tense out there and he keeps you in a relaxed state of mind. And that’s really when I perform at my best.

And boy did Daniel Gibson look relaxed in his coming out party during game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in Cleveland. When most rookies would look shook, Gibson helped the Cavaliers close out the Detroit Pistons with 31 points on 5-5 three-point shooting, leading Cleveland to their first ever NBA Finals berth.

There was once a time when Daniel Gibson was a large part of the Cavaliers' post-season gameplan.

The following year expectations were raised to a level that Gibson was used to, only on a stage far bigger than anything he experienced in Texas. But, just as he had done everywhere else in his career, Daniel Gibson rose to the challenge and played up to his potential. He averaged 10.4 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game in 30.4 minutes per contest, all of which are current career highs. Gibson also shot a phenomenal 44.0% from three-point range, his second best career percentage, despite taking 4.6 threes per game, a high volume of shots which marks a career-high as well. Ultimately, one of the only things that went wrong for Gibson in his sophomore season was an ankle injury which cost him 24 games.

But it seemed that after his second season in the league, Daniel Gibson found himself shackled to the bench courtesy of head coach Mike Brown, was known to prefer taller, more physical guards. After signing a new contract in 2008, one which made him a millionaire, Gibson suddenly saw less action for the Cavaliers. Seemingly healthy after having ankle surgery, Gibson went from averaging a career-best 30.4 minutes per game in that 2007-08 season to averaging 23.9 minutes per contest in 2008-09 and only 19.1 minutes per game last season.

The worst part of the entire ordeal was the fact that it wasn’t as though Gibson’s skills were diminished and there was a clear cut reason for the dip in minutes. Over the last two seasons he averaged roughly the same amount of points per minute while cutting down on his turnovers and personal fouls per minute. And then there’s the shooting. Last season Daniel Gibson shot a career-best 46.6% from the field and a career-high 47.7% from three, which was only good enough for third best in the NBA.

Fans clamored for “more Boobie,” not just because of the grade school humor, but because they wanted to see the passionate guard in action. They cited his superior shooting, improved post and on-ball defense, and great feel for the game as reasons why he should’ve seen more time. Yet he remained seated, experiencing a steady dip in minutes over the last couple months of last season, seeing only 23 total minutes of action in five of the team’s 11 playoff games. Twenty-three total minutes. In the same amount of team post-season games (11) in the 2008 playoffs Daniel Gibson played a total of 284 minutes, checking into each and every game. His least amount of post-season action came the following year, when he totaled 172 minutes played. Yet somehow he was only useful for 23 minutes in the 2010 playoffs, setting a new dubious post-season low.

Whether it was because of Mike Brown or other circumstances, Daniel Gibson understands that last season’s dip in minutes despite an increase in efficiency wasn’t exactly evenhanded. “I definitely feel like I didn’t get a fair chance,” Gibson explained, speaking of last season. However, with a new coach and offensive system in town, he’s ready to move on. He elaborates, expressing that “as a person and a player I continue to work and have faith in God and the system we’ve put in that it will turn… I’m ready to play and ready to help.”

And it’s this kind of attitude that has new coach Byron Scott taking notice. “Number one, he can shoot. He can make shots. Number two, he’s tough. Boobie’s a little warrior,” Scott raved when speaking of the fifth year guard.

On the other side of things, Daniel Gibson should be very happy with everything that Byron Scott has talked about since becoming the head coach of the Cavaliers. Not only has he stressed a faster paced, up and down fastbreak offense, but he has also mentioned playing two ball-handling guards at once. In addition to Mo Williams and Ramon Sessions, this could mean that Gibson will be one of the focal points of a small backcourt, whereas he was just another undersized guard in Mike Brown’s system. It’s with this notion in mind that Daniel Gibson has a lot of hope for the upcoming season:

We still have a group of guys who have a lot of talent — including myself. I haven’t had the chance to show it the last couple of years but I feel like I can be a key asset in the right situation. I think we have a great group of guys ready to do something big.

And perhaps this is the year that Gibson once again gets to do something big. With a new coach, a new system, and even a new bride and newborn son at home this season, fans of Northeast Ohio can expect new life from one of their favorite players and the second longest tenured Cavalier on the roster.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Scaling the Anger for LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland.

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

For those of you who missed all of the hoopla last night, LeBron James Heat jerseys have already found their way into the city of Cleveland. During an Indians game at Progress Field Wednesday night, one “die hard Cleveland fan” made his way to his seat wearing the newly stitched #6 jersey. Fans reacted as if LeBron James himself had just plopped down in left field, dousing the fan with beer and food. Eventually the fan was escorted out of the ballpark, exiting to chants of expletives by hundreds of angry Clevelanders.

But the incident certainly got me thinking. If this is how Indians fans reacted to the mere site of someone rubbing “The Decision” in their face on their home turf, how can we expect a building full of Cavs fans to respond when Miami makes their first trip to Cleveland this upcoming season?

How many police officers per hundred fans can we anticipate? Will fans have to arrive an hour before tip off just to be properly screened at the doors? Needless to say, this is a game that all Cavaliers fans have their eyes set on. I’m no different, as I will most certainly be at that game, which sadly enough could be the “playoffs” for the rebuilding Cavaliers this season.

Well, with this highly anticipated event in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the things we could expect based on past homecomings. Using lists of the top ten Cleveland sports villains and the ten levels of anger management, these are some of the events I believe could transpire at the Q.

Jim Thome (Level 7)

When Jim Thome left the Cleveland Indians it was a major heartache for Tribe fans. As blogger Len Kehoe puts it, “Thome thought of Cleveland as his second home. He told the fans he didn’t care about the money, he told them that they would have to ‘rip the shirt off my back for me to leave’… [but] Thome went for the money, breaking Cleveland fans’ hearts once again.”

However, since Jim Thome left the Indians for an NL team, it would be four years and another team later before he returned to Cleveland. Upon his return, he was met with a mixture of boos and cheers. In his second game back at Jacobs Field he was even fortunate enough to hit two home runs, perhaps being driven by the abundance of boos outweighing the cheering.

The Los Angeles Times did a good job summarizing Thome’s divided reaction return to Northeast Ohio in 2006.

Indians fans are now split in their sentiments toward the 35-year-old slugger, who was traded to Chicago last winter. Many still cheer him, but there are plenty of resounding boos each time he comes to bat in Cleveland.

Due to the partially softened stance on Thome’s trip back to the place that he used to call home, it’s quite obvious that LeBron James will likely never be this fortunate when playing in Quicken Loans Arena again. We can expect the boos to erupt x10 and the cheers of the 1-2% that claim their loyalty to LeBron will surely be drowned out.

Carlos Boozer (Level 8)

I still remember the game as if it was yesterday. After experiencing a few rowdy St. Patty’s Day parades leading up to 2007, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that the Cavaliers would be hosting the Utah Jazz on March 17th that year. And, for the first time since his betrayal, Carlos Boozer was actually going to play!

Fans made sure to pack the Q with hundreds of signs for the return of Carlos Boozer in 2007.

I quickly secured a couple of club level seats and made the pilgrimage to Quicken Loans Arena with hate in my heart and vengeance on my mind. The atmosphere was fantastic with a wide variety of notables, from duct taped Boozer jerseys, with an “L” over the “B” (“Loozer”) or “BIE” over the “ZER” (“Boobie”), to thousands of drunken fans, hundreds of anti-Boozer signs, and dozens of angry chants.

Every single time Carlos Boozer touched the ball, a sea of boos showered down on him from those sitting courtside all the way up to fans in the aptly named Loudville. The young children in front of me, who probably have no recollection of Boozer other than their father’s bitter complaints since the 2004 off-season, repeatedly screamed “Boozer sucks!” off and on every five minutes throughout the entire game.

With all of that said, electric atmosphere included, the overall level of disdain was slightly less than I had assumed it would be. This was Benedict Boozer, back in Cleveland, playing on one of the most alcoholic holidays in America. Perhaps the time off between Boozer’s bolting and his first game back in uniform softened the blow from what could’ve been battery tossing to merely signs, chants, and self customized jerseys.

In the end, there is one good quote we can take away from the 2007 not-so-St. Patty’s Day massacre. When asked about what he thought the Carlos Boozer homecoming would be like, LeBron James answered “terrible… it’s going to be pretty bad for him.” He followed this up by saying he understood that Boozer did what he had to do, but “whatever [the fans] do, I’m behind them.” It’ll be interesting to see what Cleveland players are behind the fans with “whatever they do” when James is the one visiting the once again scorned fanbase.

Albert Belle (Level 9)

When Albert Belle left Cleveland for the Chicago White Sox, it was a move that greatly angered fans since he chose to play for the team’s main rival. Feeling scorned, fans bottled up all of their animosity and saved it for his return the following season.

Belle wandered back to Cleveland in 1997 and was met with more hate than he could handle. Following the initial return on June 3rd, drastic measures had to be taken for the sake of security. As one Belle dedicated website documented the series in real time, “Angry, taunting fans throw debris at Albert in left field. Team owners add extra security for the last 2 games of the series and keep fans away from the porch overlooking left field.”

While it may seem somewhat harmless, once fans begin to throw anything at a player, all bets are off. Furthermore, the fact that additional security had to be brought in and certain sections of the ballpark were off limits proved that the heightened tension was cause for concern.

For James, this is the best case scenario homecoming he can expect this season. While I’m certainly not condoning it, there will undoubtedly be several stops in play, particularly in the first quarter, due to objects being thrown on the court at his direction. If fans wearing James’ #6 Heat jersey are getting pegged with debris in the very same left field stands that fans used to throw objects at Belle, I can only imagine what objects the actual #6 jersey will attract. Unfortunately for James, avoiding debris throwing fans isn’t as easy as closing off a section of the 360 degree, oval shaped arena.

Art Modell (Level 10)

The only one in the same weight class as James on this list, Art Modell is considered a curse word throughout Northeast Ohio. Unfortunately, for comparison’s sake, Modell has yet to once again step foot on the earth he tried to salt 14 years ago.

What was worse: Art Modell's original sucker punch or LeBron's recent roundhouse?

After stealing an entire sports franchise from the city of Cleveland, Modell had to abandon his Ohio home for fear of what fans may have done. Following several death threats, Modell hired an ex-Marine, Henry Gomez, to protect him down in his Florida home in West Palm Beach. But even though he had a military trained body guard and was over 1,000 miles away, Cleveland fans still lined up outside of the home, harassing Modell any chance they could get. That’s all of the way down in Florida, so take note LeBron.

From firing legendary coach Paul Brown, who the team is named after, to completely uprooting Cleveland’s beloved Browns, Art Modell is the city’s original villain. In a way that only furthers the anger towards him, Modell has internalized a lot of this hate and made it part of his persona. When asked if James would surpass him as Cleveland’s most hated villain, he responded “nonsense… I don’t think there’s any basis for it.”

Ultimately, James may never pass Modell as Cleveland’s number one sports villain, but he has to come back to the city at least twice every year.

So what should we expect?

To be honest, I’m not sure what this night will entail. There will certainly be a lot of anger in the air and the tension within the stadium will be unbelievable. It could be a night that makes the city of Cleveland look bad in the eyes of the nation or it could be a let down for those die hard fans who hope it makes LeBron James regret ever leaving the team.

One thing is certain, however. If the angry fans at Progressive Field on Wednesday night were any indication, you may want to proceed with caution that night. As Cleveland fan and blogger Matt Bowman put it, “Anyone who brings his/her children to the first Cavs/Heat game at the Q this year better not be complaining about crowd rowdiness.”

After all, crowd rowdiness and level 10 anger is to be expected.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

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Cavaliers interview Brian Shaw: A candidate profile.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

The Cavaliers find themselves in a very interesting position regarding their coaching vacancy these days. After Izzo decided to remain at Michigan State, Byron Scott and Brian Shaw surfaced as the top two candidates. However, both Scott and Shaw have been rumored as top candidates for head coach in Los Angeles should Phil Jackson decide to retire this off-season. Theoretically, should Phil Jackson decide to step down, with both Scott and Shaw at the forefront of each team’s coaching search, the Cavs won’t strike out since they are left with one of the two options.

Additionally, with Byron Scott apparently interested in the Cleveland job regardless of what Phil or LeBron do, one can only assume that Shaw will mark the end of the Cavaliers’ coaching search. After tomorrow, Shaw’s second interview in as many days, it’s likely that the Cavs will offer jobs to either Scott, Shaw, or both, as it is rumored that the team is interested in introducing a new coach by Thursday. Therefore, with Brian Shaw surfacing as a serious candidate for the vacancy, here is another coaching candidate profile courtesy of Cavs: The Blog.

The Goods.

No cute Italian themed trio this time. Instead, here is a simplistic look at what Brian Shaw would bring to the table.

First, Shaw has the potential to successfully play what I believe is the most important role of any NBA coach–ego manager. Two weeks ago I claimed that “Phil Jackson may be the best example of successful ego management in NBA history.” If Phil Jackson is unattainable, then Brian Shaw, who coached under Jackson for the past six years after playing for him for four seasons, would be a terrific second option in that regard.

A blogger known as DexterFishmore recently wrote a post highlighting how Shaw would fill in as the Lakers’ head coach. He claims that the potential new coach in L.A. should have the “ability to manage the complex assortment of personalities in the Laker locker room,” like Jackson does. In this area, he feels Shaw “knows which buttons to push and which to avoid.” While he is referring specifically to the personalities of the Lakers, I believe Shaw has a Jackson-like knack for dealing with a player’s ego, a knack he most likely developed by being around Jackson for a decade.

Brian Shaw's ability to walk the line and "push the right buttons" provides Cleveland with a great foundation for re-signing LeBron James.

LeBron has never been described as “uncoachable,” but there is no denying the ego he brings to the table. Additionally, in the past there were parts of crucial games where you could tell that LeBron wasn’t buying whatever Mike Brown was selling and seemingly drowned him out altogether. There’s no way to tell for sure short of hiring him, but I would bet that this wouldn’t happen with Shaw.

In fact, there have been reports that suggest LeBron is interested in playing for a coach that used to play in the league, with the belief that he would respect someone more if they have been in his shoes. This train of thought also helps to explain the void that sometimes arose between him and Brown in games. Additionally, a rumor back in May went as far as to suggest that Shaw was being pitched around the league because LeBron was “intrigued by the triangle offense.”

Bringing in Brian Shaw as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers is a big move in and of itself due to the fact he’ll command respect. Back in 2007 Shaquille O’Neal, who may or may not be back with the team next season, said he respected Shaw more than any other teammate in his career (sorry for the wikipedia link, but the original Miami Herald link is no longer active). More recently, Shaq has shown his support for Shaw as a coaching candidate in Cleveland with some of his tweets.

Ultimately, regardless of whether or not Shaq is in town next season, there is little doubt that Brian Shaw would command respect should he be the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That and his training in ego management under Phil Jackson makes him an attractive coaching candidate.

The Unknown.

As I mentioned earlier, LeBron believes that the triangle offense is one of the things that Brian Shaw can bring to the table. After studying the offense for the past six years under Jackson and experiencing it as a player in four seasons before that, Shaw reportedly has a great understanding of the offensive system.

However, there is no guarantee that the triangle offense would work in Cleveland. Furthermore, many experts believe that the triangle offense would take at least two seasons before it was fully implemented with a new team. Unfortunately, for the Cavaliers and LeBron James, this could be too long of a wait to experience offensive success.

Additionally, while Shaw has the reputation of a respected ego manager, he’s not the most savvy offensive coach. Dexter from Silver Screen and Roll explains that “he isn’t known as an X’s and O’s magician like John Kuester or Tom Thibodeau,” although that doesn’t make him any less appealing in Dexter’s mind.

On the other end of the ball, there are questions about how Shaw would restore the once powerful Cavaliers’ defense. I mentioned before that after allowing only 88.9 points per game in Mike Brown’s first three postseasons (2006-08), the team outgrew its elite defensive reputation, allowing 93.4 points per game in the last two playoffs. Could Brian Shaw come in and implement a strong defensive system built on player accountability?

In the six seasons that Shaw studied under Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ defense never ranked better than 9th in opponent points per game, which was just this past season. Granted, this cannot be attributed solely to Shaw, as he was only an assistant, but the fact that Los Angeles ranked behind Cleveland’s defense all six years doesn’t provide much hope that he could restore what was once a defense to be reckoned with.

In the end, however, Brian Shaw’s reputation and respected stature may be exactly what this Cavaliers team needs to whip them back into superior defensive shape.

The Potential Downfalls.

A big concern with Brian Shaw is the fact that he has never been a head coach on any level. It’s very easy for a coach to have a strong reputation for commanding respect and preaching accountability as an assistant, but that could mean next to nothing when he’s the main guy in charge. After all, Mike Brown was a highly touted assistant coach and, while he enjoyed success with the Cavaliers, he was never able to push his team to the next level or completely control the situation, often deferring to assistants in crucial breaks of the game. While rookie head coaches often go to much worse situations than the Cleveland Cavaliers (assuming LeBron James is re-signed), having to wait while a guy like Shaw learns the ropes as a head coach does present a substantial risk.

Taking the time to teach the Cavaliers the triangle offense could be a waste of a season or two, even if it is what LeBron James wants out of his next coach.

Also, not to beat a dead horse, but the implementation of the triangle offense may not be what’s best for the Cavaliers, even if it is what intrigues LeBron James. Aside from taking significant time to learn the system and terminology of the offense, it’s not known as a superior system that works everywhere. Blogger Michael Young explains that “the triangle should not be a factor regarding whether Brian Shaw should get the job. It’s not like it is the best offensive system in league and there is reason why only Phil Jackson’s teams have been successful with it.”

Additionally, Dexter adds that “the Lakers have won back-to-back titles running the Triangle offense and the strong-side trap on defense, so you want someone who knows that playbook and will continue to run it,” when considering Shaw as a Phil Jackson replacement. This makes perfect sense for the Lakers, but having the Cavaliers switch to the triangle offense could be just as confusing of a concept as weaning Los Angeles off of it. Ultimately, there is no doubt that Cleveland’s offense needs to change from the stagnant LeBron James-based isolation that it has reverted to over the years, but I’m not so sure that Shaw’s version of the triangle offense is the direction they should take.

In the end, Brian Shaw seems like a very solid candidate for the Cavaliers’ head coaching job. Additionally, the fact that the team has set what appears to be a Thursday deadline for the coaching position and has pitted Shaw against Scott, Cleveland looks to be in a position to force a decision out of him by the end of June. It’s looking more and more like whoever doesn’t wait for the Los Angeles job gets the Cavaliers’ position thrown at them.

Whether it’s Scott or Shaw, both look like good candidates. Well, at least good enough to be seriously considered as the next head coach of the back-to-back NBA champions.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Awaiting the Izzo decision: A candidate profile.

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Last time we spoke, I mentioned the emergence of Byron Scott as a candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ vacant head coach position. Two weeks later, Scott has climbed the ranks and is a legitimate contender for the job. However, Dan Gilbert has recently made a strong push for a longtime friend, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, leaving Scott as what is believed to be option 1b.

Lately the Izzo news has been around-the-clock, with fans doing everything from tracking his flight on his visit to Cleveland to holding rallies on the Michigan State campus persuading him to stay. But the interest remains and Izzo is expected to make his decision any day now.

Therefore, without further ado, here is a look at how Tom Izzo would mesh with the Cavaliers, Divine Comedy style.


“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” — Paulo Coelho.

While Tom Izzo is literally a living legend on the college basketball scene, he has never coached in any capacity on the professional level. However, this is not my greatest concern. The argument that “a college coach has never had success in his first NBA gig” is a biased assessment and one that looks at less experienced coaches that went to lottery teams. Never before has a coach of Izzo’s stature made the jump to a 60+ win team.

No, that doesn’t seem to bother me. What really concerns me is that quote above and how it applies to Izzo’s start, should he accept the gig. Even though I’m not worried about his eventual transition into the NBA and winning on the professional level over the course of a few years, the problem is the risks, and ultimately losses, he’ll have to take in order to reach that success. In other words, for Izzo to learn how to fight on the NBA level, it may take a few good whippings first.

Having to sell LeBron James on the future of Cleveland’s coaching position may not be a walk in the park when you explain that the guy coming in has been coaching teenagers that made absolutely no money off of basketball for the past 15 years. Add in the fact that expectations will be sky high and the first year under Izzo could be a difficult one for the Cavaliers, much like his 16-16 season his first year with the Spartans. The good news? That was his worst year coaching, holding a 348-130 record (.728) in the 14 seasons since.

While Izzo's teams have a reputation for getting out and running, their offense doesn't exactly blow opponents away.

One of my biggest stat-based fears deals with Izzo’s history on the offensive end of the ball. Despite having several great athletes throughout the years and a reputation for playing an up-tempo brand of basketball, his teams have never put an overwhelming amount of points on the board. Over his career, his Spartan teams have averaged only 71 points per game, an average that is less than that of Coach K’s by double digits. This past season Michigan State ranked 92nd in NCAA Div. 1 basketball for points per game with an average of 72.6 points per contest.

That ranking put them well behind schools such as Villanova (82.5), Kansas (81.8), Syracuse (81.5), and even teams stereotypically known for running a slower pace, like Duke (78.4). Granted, in the Big 10 teams are relegated to a half court tempo, methodically running plays aimed at ticking the seconds off of the shotclock. However, Michigan State still only placed third in the Big 10 in points per game, and edging out schools such as Illinois, Northwestern, and Penn State isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for one’s offense.

Perhaps the biggest complaint during the Mike Brown era was his reluctance to get out and run on the fastbreak. Locked into a half court system, fans and even some players felt that the athleticism of LeBron James was being wasted away in crucial breaks of the game. Who knows if Tom Izzo would be able to implement a fastbreak system better than Mike Brown’s Cavaliers, who ranked 18th in fastbreak points per game (13.9) and 25th in pace (93.5) this season. However, after having some success in the past with fastbreak offense, it’s hard to imagine he could be any worse.

Lastly, Izzo’s teams aren’t known for efficient shooting from either behind the three-point arc or free throw line. Last season the Spartans shot 68.1% from the free throw line, which was dead last in the Big 10 and tied for 201st in Div. 1 hoops. If Tom Izzo were to take over the Cavaliers, who were last in the NBA in free throw percentage at 72.0% this season, don’t expect the free throw woes to improve short of Mark Price divine intervention.

Michigan State’s three-point shooting was also below average, despite boasting deep threats such as Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen. In the regular season, the Spartans shot 33.3% from three, which was tied for 213th in NCAA basketball. Granted, shooting figures typically have more to do with the players than the coach, but it’s never refreshing to see shooting struggles under such a historic head coach.

In the end, I don’t see Tom Izzo’s “inferno” stage presenting that large of a challenge to the Cavaliers. Under Mike Brown the team was far from an offensive juggernaut, so Izzo would have his work cut out for him. Furthermore, who knows what he would be capable of given world class athleticism and talent.


By far the biggest learning point for an NBA coach is managing your team. Sometimes, in the case of high profile gigs such as Los Angeles in the early 2000’s, it means helping Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal coexist for as long as possible. In this regard, Phil Jackson may be the best example of successful ego management in NBA history.

If Tom Izzo can sell Cleveland on his passion and defense, much like Scott Skiles did in Milwaukee, the Cavaliers will have a great future ahead.

However, it’s also very important for any coach, especially a coach new to the NBA ranks, to keep his ego in check. Izzo is known for getting in the face of his players, looking to get the most out of them. While a passionate coach that stays on you is a great blessing in the NBA, particularly after five years of Mike Brown’s smiles and blank stares, Izzo will have to learn how to tone it down a notch or two before having success with it. After having a conversation with tough minded NBA head coach and former Spartan Scott Skiles, Izzo appears to be on the right track in learning how to manage his fieriness.

That reported conversation brings up another issue as well. Skiles told Izzo “you play so many games [that] the losses pile up,” explaining the up and down nature of the league. This is one of the main concerns experts have anytime a coach goes from the college ranks to the NBA. Sure, you can have a decent record and manage a team in a 30 game season where the postseason involves playing a team you likely haven’t seen in a few years, but how will you fare when 90+ games is expected of you each season and not every three? And no one but Tom Izzo, who doesn’t even know yet and would only find out halfway into his first season, can answer that question.

That’s why these issues are filed under the “purgatory” phase. These concerns aren’t as troublesome as those found in the inferno, but it could cause some sort of temporary punishment for the Cavaliers if Izzo takes over next season.


There’s no other way to say this, but Tom Izzo is a flat out winner. He has consistently overachieved with his teams despite injuries and often times lesser talent. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Cavaliers were able to hire this former NCAA coach of the year, champion, and future hall of famer, that it would catch the eyes of LeBron James more so than a candidate like Tom Thibodeau or if Mike Brown were retained.

Tom Izzo has appeared in 13 straight NCAA tournaments and has been in six of the last 12 Final Fours. That’s six times that Izzo’s team was considered to be one of the top four teams in the country without the benefit of having a top four recruiting class. Since Rivals started ranking recruiting classes in 2003, Michigan State’s highest class ranking has been 11th (’03 – 13th, ’04 – 11th, ’05 – NA, ’06 – 18th, ’07 – 14th, ’08 – 22nd, ’09 – NA, ’10 – 11th). Since 2007, John Calipari’s recruiting classes have been ranked higher than Izzo’s each year (’07 – 10th, ’08 – 4th, ’09 – 1st, ’10 – 1st), yet Izzo has edged out Calipari in the NCAA tournament over that span, boasting an 11-3 record. In fact, Izzo has the third best postseason record among active coaches, 35-12 (.745), behind only Coach K (.778) and Roy Williams (.753). That’s the difference between a coach and a salesman who has exploited an NBA rule in his favor for recruiting purposes.

But more important than winning, it’s how Tom Izzo wins that would best benefit the Cavaliers. In five tournament games this past season, Izzo’s Spartans allowed only 64.6 points per game, limiting their opponents to 108-263 (41.1%) shooting. Most of this is due to the man-to-man pressure, stay in front of your guy, accountability defense that he preaches. As blogger “Sparty” explains, “State doesn’t shoot gaps to try and create turnovers, they are more concerned about protecting the basket and grabbing rebounds, reducing teams 2nd chance opportunities.”

Many of you Cavs fans remember there was once a time when playing for Mike Brown’s Cavaliers meant you protected the basket first and always put in the effort. Excuses like “my defense is my offense” landed Sasha Pavlovic on the bench for a season and a half. Unfortunately, once the talent-hungry Cavs got their hands on some offensive help, sacrifices were made. In Brown’s first three postseasons (2006-08), the Cavaliers allowed only 88.9 points per game in 46 games. In the last two postseasons, Cleveland has allowed 93.4 points per game in 25 playoff games, despite having much better regular season records and far more talented teams. This time span not-so coincidentally syncs up with the arrivals of Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and Shaquille O’Neal, all players who Brown had a hard time integrating into his defensive concept. However, one can only wonder how hard he tried to integrate them after watching Mo Williams play matador defense and Shaq lazily show on every pick and roll possession after possession. Brown almost seemed content sacrificing this horrendous defensive show for the off chance that either player would provide an uplifting offensive spark, like Mo’s scoring tear after his dunk on Paul Pierce in game one of the semifinals.

Some fear Izzo's "fiery nature" will upset or scare off LeBron, but it sure beats bewilderedness.

Therefore, this is what I believe would be Tom Izzo’s biggest asset to the franchise, should he be able to perfect it as I mentioned above. His full contact, football pad practices certainly wouldn’t fly, but his in your face nature would demand accountability on the defensive end of the basketball.

There is a misconception floating around that LeBron James wouldn’t and doesn’t respond well to fiery coaches that openly correct their players. However, in the documentary More Than a Game, viewers are met with several clips of current University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot scolding his players, which included LeBron. LeBron talks about how he first reacted to the style of Dambrot and went on to mention his demanding nature and how he was the first coach to actually teach him a lot about the game.

Similarly, while playing for Coach Mike Krzyzewski in the 2008 Olympics, LeBron said “he wants us to be perfect and that’s what he’s about, and we like that, we like that kind of challenge… you see how fiery he is during the course of a game.” He went on to claim “I have never played for a collegiate coach, but I didn’t come into it saying ‘well we have a collegiate coach, how are we gonna adjust to him?’ He’s one of the greatest coaches, no matter what level it’s on.”

As a collegiate coach seemingly on the same level as Coach K, considered a top 3 NCAA head coach, Cavs fans could only hope that LeBron would have a similar outlook on Tom Izzo if he were to accept the job. As with Mike Krzyzewski, Izzo is very fiery and demanding and would want only the best from LeBron James and his teammates. I believe this mentality is needed from the new head coach no matter who it is, as it became evident that Mike Brown lost his team in the playoffs.

In the end, with all of the intangibles that Tom Izzo brings, including the “big name splash,” I feel that he is the best option for the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. Furthermore, if Dan Gilbert and the front office can convince him to commit to the team without a firm commitment in place from LeBron James, as they are trying to do now, then the move becomes a great success. However, if Izzo were to decline the job, then as you found out in my last Italian trio themed head coach profile, Byron Scott would be a buono number two option.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Cavaliers show interest in Byron Scott: A candidate profile.

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Yesterday I reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers are interested in former Hornets coach Byron Scott as a candidate for the vacant head coaching position. Scott was fired only nine games into this season after a disappointing 2009 postseason and start to the 2009-10 season.

But what would it mean if Scott were to take over as head coach in Cleveland? Well, in the first of what will be a couple of free agent coach profiles, we’ll take a look at Byron Scott, analyzing his past gigs, coaching style, strengths, and, most importantly, weaknesses.

First, Byron Scott has a career 352-355 (.498) record with a 33-24 (.579) record in the playoffs. His first gig was with the New Jersey, inheriting a 31-51 Nets team and taking them to two straight NBA Finals appearances in his second and third season. He would be fired halfway through his fourth season and relocate to New Orleans to coach the Hornets the following year. In five full seasons with the Hornets, Scott would win 200 regular season games, including a 56-26 (.683) 2007-08 campaign that netted him Coach of the Year honors.

Without further ado, here is a look at what Byron Scott would mean to the Cavaliers, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly style.

Il Buono

In his two previous coaching gigs, Byron Scott entered the arena like Clint Eastwood, commanding respect while shooting the hats off of any players unwilling to buy into his philosophy. Prior to Scott’s arrival in New Jersey, the Nets had one winning season in the previous six seasons and hadn’t had a 50 win season since 1976, when they were still part of the ABA. However, it took Scott only two years to churn out a 50 win season and he compiled a 101-63 (.616) record in his second and third years combined.

Byron Scott has had great success forging teams in both New Jersey and New Orleans.

It’s a process that Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 calls “forging a team.” Last season he claimed that “I don’t think there is a lot of question that Byron Scott has been successful at building team identity and cohesiveness.” He went on to state that “the players who got time were the players that would buy into what he was selling.  Knuckleheads were not tolerated.  That’s Byron Scott.  Even during the struggles this season, did anyone see real cracks in the teams facade?”

Over the years, it has been this trait, Scott’s seemingly effortless ability to mend a broken team and set them on the right path, that has stood out as his best quality. Furthermore, we as fans can only speculate how he would do if he inherited a good situation, such as a 61 win team and title contender, assuming LeBron James re-signs. Such a great opportunity could give Scott the boost he needs to lead a team back to the Finals, much like he did in 2002 and 2003.

Additionally, Scott has a reputation for being a good “player’s coach.” He is able to command respect while maintaining a good report with his best players. Chris Paul had a great relationship with Scott and was reportedly upset when he was fired, citing his great communication and claiming “he was always straight-forward with you from Day One.”

If Paul believed in Byron Scott even after he was fired, then Scott may be a coach that can command the respect of LeBron James. One thing’s for certain; whether or not he would be successful in Cleveland, Byron Scott would not tolerate his team ignoring his pleas to foul the opponent in the final minutes of an elimination game.

Lastly, Byron Scott has a good history of offensive efficiency while coaching ball-dominant players such as Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Granted those players are legitimate point guards, whereas LeBron operates the offense in a point forward capacity, but Scott would likely be able to achieve offensive efficiency with James dominating the ball while making sure not to revert to 20 second isolation plays down the stretch.

During the 2007-08 season, when Scott was crowned Coach of the Year, the Hornets were tied for 2nd in terms of offensive efficiency, whereas the Cavaliers were tied for 17th. The Hornets were also 1st in offensive efficiency that postseason, while the Cavs finished 14th out of 16 teams.

Both Kidd and Paul thrived offensively under Byron Scott, averaging more points and assists per game with Scott as their head coach than in the following seasons with their team. One would only hope that if Scott were to take over the LeBron-led Cavaliers that he would be able to gain his respect, smooth out any issues, and correct the bad offensive habits that the team has practiced over the past few seasons, namely relying solely on LeBron’s isolation during crucial stretches of the game.

Il Cattivo

However, while Byron Scott’s offensive efficiency has been good for the most part, particularly in the 2007-08 season, his pace is cause for concern. After watching Cleveland’s offense struggle in a slow, halfcourt set over the past few postseasons, fans have been clamoring for a quicker pace. This growing ideology of breaking LeBron and his teammates free from the chains of a slow offensive pace isn’t exactly new, as even LeBron himself has complained about it in the past. “We don’t get easy buckets… easy buckets can always help, it doesn’t hurt,” James expressed back in early 2007. Even Larry Hughes chimed in, adding “I definitely think we should run more, it suits our team.”

Byron Scott's slow offensive pace should be cause for concern.

That was during the 2006-07 season, when the Cavaliers were tied for tied for 21st in the offensive pace rankings. In the three seasons that followed, the Cavs were ranked 23rd25th, and 25th in pace, a measure of a team’s possessions per game. Under Byron Scott, the Hornets didn’t fare much better. The last full season that Scott coached, 2008-09, the Hornets were ranked 28th in offensive pace, only a two spot improvement from the season before, when the Cavaliers were ranked 23rd and LeBron James still wasn’t too pleased with the pace of the offense.

While it hasn’t hurt Cleveland’s regular season success, such a slow pace has hindered the Cavaliers in the postseason. For instance, after averaging 102.1 points per game in the regular season this year, the Cavs scored only 95.2 points per game in the six game series versus the Boston Celtics. Typically a slower pace aids the defense, which explains why the Cavaliers let up only 95.6 points per game in the regular season, but the Celtics were able to score 100.5 points per game in the eastern conference semifinals. Ultimately, the Celtics, unlike the Cavaliers, were able to get out and run the last three games of the series, outscoring Cleveland 53-25 in fastbreak points, overcoming a 2-1 series deficit with three straight victories.

Ultimately, a faster pace isn’t absolutely necessary, as the Spurs were ranked 27th in offensive pace the year they beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, but there is a public perception amongst the fans, analysts, writers, and even the players that the Cavaliers need to push the tempo offensively. In fact, many fans and analysts, such as Charles Barkley, wanted Mike Brown out of Cleveland because he slowed down the offense. With this perception in mind, welcoming Byron Scott to Cleveland would be setting him up for failure in the eyes of fans with lofty offensive expectations. If everything doesn’t go smooth right off of the bat, fans could turn on him quickly.

Il Brutto

These are the very ugly concerns I have when it comes to the prospect of Byron Scott manning the Cavaliers. The first one deals with Scott’s game-planning. Many fans know that one of Mike Brown’s biggest weaknesses was his inability to make in-game adjustments. However, in that regard, Byron Scott makes Mike Brown look like an impromptu genius.

I think the aforementioned Ryan Schwan explained it best when he said that Scott’s ego “allows [him] to be certain his way is best.  It makes him certain that what he is doing is right.  That may allow him to sleep well at night and control the team, but it also makes him stubborn and inflexible.  That inflexibility shows up in his gameplanning – and has in every year he’s been with the Hornets.  Byron installs a gameplan during training camp, and from that moment on, it will not change.”

There were rumors in New Jersey that Scott very rarely focused on game film or pre-game adjustments and instead opted to hammer away at his pre-season gameplan. Part of this inability to properly adjust his gameplan includes the snubbing of younger players. As Kevin Pelton put it, “ultimately, though, Scott sealed his own fate with his reluctance to trust young players.”

This is another shortcoming that mirrors those of Mike Brown, who refused to insert J.J. Hickson into a more serious role until general manager Danny Ferry forced him to. Unfortunately, even then, Hickson became an afterthought in those final three losses against Boston, averaging only 3.0 minutes per game, despite playing 15.7 minutes per contest in the first three games of that series.

Keeping with the Mike Brown theme, Scott’s first and only two exits from coaching have come because his team had seemingly quit on him. In fact, charting Byron Scott’s progression with each of the two teams he has coached is quite interesting. Both times he inherited an average to below average team and took them to new heights within a matter of a few seasons. However, in each instance, Scott peaked in a matter of a couple seasons and then it wasn’t long before he was out of a job. Charting Byron Scott’s rise and fall as a coach is like drawing a rough outline of the Laffer Curve on a napkin.

The "Scott Curve."

While a declining record is typical for most coaching gigs that end in a coach losing their job (excluding Mike Brown), for it to happen so quickly suggests that teams have quit on Scott. And many agree that’s exactly what happened in New Jersey. Bill Simmons believes the Hornets lost faith in Scott as well, citing that New Jersey incident first, claiming “the Nets practically revolted against Byron Scott four years ago. So there is a precedent.”

Simmons watched a game at the start of the 2008-09 season in which he felt that the Hornets players didn’t particularly like Coach Scott. He explained that there are several nonverbal communication signs present when a player respects his coach and looks hungry to learn. And, even though Chris Paul respected Scott and backed him publicly as I mentioned earlier, Simmons felt that he didn’t truly buy into what Scott was teaching on the court. Bill Simmons summarized by claiming that he “mistakenly believed that Chris Paul and Scott had an ‘A’ relationship [total respect] but in the second half of Monday’s game, it was revealed that they were a ‘C’ [‘I’ve just had it with this freaking guy’].”

Ultimately, while the revolt wasn’t immediate in either case, I’m not so sure that the Cavaliers should hire a coach that LeBron James could show even the slightest disdain for in three to four years. What makes this especially risky is that if James does re-sign, it’s very likely that he would sign another three year deal in order to maximize his contract flexibility. If Scott eventually lost his players like he has with other teams, this would leave the Cavaliers in the same situation they’re in now, with a head coaching vacancy synced up with LeBron’s free agency. Believe it or not, it’s not an attractive situation for the team to find themselves in.

In the end, Byron Scott offers many good qualities and may be the best realistic option out there for the Cavaliers. However, if he cannot capture the respect and attention of LeBron James while restructuring the nature of Cleveland’s postseason offensive stagnation, then the Cavaliers wouldn’t be any better off with Byron Scott at the helm.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

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Headed to Chicago, LeBron James looks to escape the shadow of Michael Jordan with a championship title run.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

A simple Google search for “LeBron James Michael Jordan” returns about 2,390,000 results. In fact, Google is so impatient that once you get to “LeBron James Mich,” autocomplete suggests a variety of searches including “LeBron James Michael Jordan dunk,” “imitation,” and, of course, “comparison.” Online you’re bombarded by websites comparing their first 300 games and career stats, while the television offers similar conjecture, with breakdowns of their first seven seasons becoming a weekly display on SportsCenter. But when do these comparisons stop, if ever?

Ask Kobe Bryant, a 14 year veteran, who still hears these associations, especially come playoff time. And that’s a player that starts at the same position Jordan did and has won four NBA championships, yet has failed to measure up to MJ in the eyes of many.

Last year Chris Broussard wrote “everything they [Kobe and LeBron] do on the basketball court is compared to Jordan… that’s a compliment to their great skills, but it’s also a near-impossible standard that often clouds the judgment of their critics.” Broussard then furthered this notion by asking LeBron about the comparisons, who responded by saying “there’ll never be another Michael Jordan… you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to be the next Michael Jordan.”

Yet the parallels continue. Even as I write this, I can’t escape the similarities, analyzing Michael Jordan’s stats from his first championship run. With 31.1 points per game, tied for the third lowest average in his 13 postseasons, Jordan deferred to his supporting cast, averaging 8.4 assists in the 1991 playoffs, the second highest postseason average of his career. This season LeBron James averaged 29.7 points and a career high 8.6 assists per game, setting an NBA record for most assists by a forward in a season.

The Bulls don't properly measure Cleveland's title potential, but it's only fitting that Chicago is the first stop on LeBron's quest for his first ring.

So how can LeBron avoid this disease, this plague knowing that no matter what he does it will always be stacked up against the accolades of arguably the greatest basketball player of all time? Well, I feel there are two things, both of which may very well be in motion. The first is the number change from #23 to #6, a simple, yet significant reminder that LeBron is his own persona. Secondly, James, who is in his seventh NBA season, needs to secure his first NBA championship, much like Jordan did in his seventh season. While conventional wisdom would suggest that this may only fuel the comparisons, a championship gives James a claim of his own.

And even though these Bulls aren’t even be a distant cousin of Jordan’s Bulls, defeating his favorite childhood team which his hero won sixth titles with is the picture perfect way for LeBron James to kick start a championship drive in order to distance himself from the Michael Jordan measuring stick. This step would set the stage for James to win his next three series and hoist two separate trophies, one that proclaims his name should begin a reign of originality devoid of comparisons and another that, well… also proclaims his name, but literally. This isn’t even factoring in what a potential Bulls victory en route to a championship would mean for the Cavaliers organization, which was demoralized by the Bulls all five times they met in the playoffs. Unfortunately, I can’t help but get the feeling that regardless of any success this postseason, those initiating the comparisons, and especially those insulted by such analogies, won’t stop. Jordan historians and Lakers fans alike will mumble “well, that’s one” in unison.

But that’s not the point. No one, including LeBron James himself, is looking at the prospect of an NBA championship as a means of establishing a career that will immediately rival Jordan’s. There’s no guarantee that even six championships would put him in a distinct category. LeBron James may never eclipse the legacy of Michael Jordan and even if he is to, it most definitely won’t be after this season. But a championship offers him a chance to take one step outside of the shadow that is Air Jordan.

When it’s all said and done, the mere mention of the name LeBron James could never be complete without the whispers of “Jordan” in the background. However, he has a chance to start his own legacy with a title this postseason, a journey that will continue on Thursday at the United Center, where a bronzed statue awaits him outside of the arena.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Cleveland Bracketology: A Look at the Road to the Finals.

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Thanks to the blend of March Madness and June weather, lately I’ve been thinking about Cleveland’s journey through the east this postseason. Anxious for the playoffs to begin, only a dozen games remain before the Cavaliers begin one of the most anticipated postseasons in franchise history. But who are the biggest threats to this dangerous Cavs team that already clinched another Central Division title and hold a six game cushion as the big dogs of the east?

Well, in the spirit of March Madness, I decided to break down the eastern conference playoff teams and their threat level as it pertains to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cinderella’s.

Dwyane Wade, who once led a Cinderella Marquette team to the Final Four, needs a lot of help before making the NBA's final four with this Heat team.

Toronto (currently the 8th seed)

Toronto is one of those teams that could give the Cavaliers a run for their money based on some matchup issues. The key for Cleveland is to attack Toronto’s porous transition defense, which ranks 27th in the league allowing 17.4 fastbreak points per game. Cleveland, known for favoring a slower halfcourt tempo, is 17th in the league in fastbreak offense, averaging 13.9 points per game. In their only loss against Toronto, the Cavaliers were outscored in fastbreak points 12 to 9. However, in their two wins combined, the Cavs averaged 27.5 fastbreak points per game compared to just 16.0 points per game from Toronto (+11.5 points per game and +13.6 more than their average).

While the Raptors have played the Cavaliers tight this season, winning the first matchup by 10 points and losing the other two games by 8 points each, they don’t present that great of a threat. The Cavaliers are notorious for starting out the year slow, opening up the past three seasons 1-2, explaining the early loss in Toronto. Also, Mike Brown experimenting with his twin tower lineup of Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas against very good jumpshooters in Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani didn’t help out much either. In the end, with the Raptors dropping 10 of their last 12 games, they may lose their playoff spot to a bubble team like the Chicago Bulls.

Miami (currently the 7th seed)

Miami was always one of those teams that you just didn’t want to see the Cavaliers play in critical moments of the season. With great duels between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Miami was 10-5 against Cleveland in the first four seasons of those superstars. Now, only the great duels remain, as the Cavaliers have won 9 out of the last 10 matchups dating back to the start of the 2007-08 season. Simply put, the Heat are not a threat. Even if you go beyond the fact that LeBron’s supporting cast is light years ahead of Wade’s, Miami has no one to watch James, who has averaged 31.6 points per game in 18 games against the Heat since the 2005-06 season.

If the Cavaliers were to meet the Heat, Dwyane Wade could easily average 33-35 points per game. But, I’d also be willing to bet that Cleveland’s margin of victory would be at least 10 points per game. The biggest threat in this potential matchup would be the lure of those South Beach weekends.

Milwaukee (currently the 5th seed)

The Young Bucks in Milwaukee, led by Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, have surprised quite a few people this year. They’ve overcome some injuries and Scott Skiles has turned them into a top 10 NBA defensive team. But should this revitalization in Bucks land trouble Cavaliers fans? I wouldn’t go that far. Going 1-2 against the Cavs so far this season, this is the same Bucks team that allowed Cleveland to go on a 29-0 run… in Milwaukee. Their sole win against the Cavaliers was a 7 point victory in which the road team suited up without LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. For some perspective, in the two wins against Milwaukee, those three players combined for 36.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per game.

Granted, the Cavaliers could be without Shaquille O’Neal for most of the series should they meet Milwaukee in the early rounds, but Ilgauskas will certainly be back in action. The key is having a true center to slow down Andrew Bogut. In Milwaukee’s win against the centerless Cavaliers, Bogut scored 15 points on 55.6% shooting. On the other hand, in the two games that featured Z, Shaq, and Bucks losses, Bogut averaged only 5.5 points on 27.8% shooting. Ultimately, the youth of the Bucks should prove no match for the experience of the Cavaliers, who have never lost to a playoff team seeded worse than 3rd in the LeBron James era. I think that makes almost all of the Cinderella teams non-threats.

The Mid-Majors.

Stephen Jackson averaged 22.7 points per game in three games versus the Cavaliers this season, winning all three of those matchups with the Bobcats.

Charlotte (currently the 6th seed)

Now Charlotte is 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, yet they’re considered a mid-major? Against the Cavaliers they certainly are. One of only two teams to win the season series against the Cavaliers (the Nuggets being the other one) and the only team to beat Cleveland three times this season, the Charlotte Bobcats match up extremely well against the Cavs. But how are the Bobcats managing to pick apart the best team in the NBA?

Well, not only does Larry Brown have the Bobcats playing inspired defense, but they’re also winning the battle of easy buckets. In the first game of the season series in Cleveland, Charlotte was outscored in points in the paint 32-24 and shot only 42.6% from the floor compared to Cleveland’s 58.1% field goal percentage. In the three games following that loss, Charlotte out scored Cleveland in the paint 130-106 and shot 50.5% from the field, compared to just 44.0% shooting by the Cavaliers. Considering the Cavaliers are number one in opponent’s points in the paint allowed (36.0) and second overall in opponent’s field goal percentage (43.8%), I’d say allowing the Bobcats to average 43.3 points in the paint per game on 50.5% shooting in three straight games is an issue of focus and desire.

Charlotte is one of those teams that I convince myself is not a threat because the Cavaliers can turn it on whenever they want to beat them. But as hard as I try, I don’t completely buy it. While I think the Bobcats would take only 2 games in a 7 game series versus the Cavaliers, they’re still a viable threat. And don’t forget that new addition Stephen Jackson was a huge part of the Golden State team that knocked off #1 Dallas back in 2007. This team can be scary.

Atlanta (currently the 4th seed)

Tied with the Boston Celtics for the third best record in the east, the Atlanta Hawks are more major than mid-major. But it’s hard to favor a Hawks team that is 5-23 against the Cavaliers during the LeBron James era, having lost eight straight games against Cleveland including a second round sweep last postseason. While this Hawks squad is certainly different than past teams, it’s hard to picture them as a legitimate threat given the back to back collapses against Cleveland this season, the four double digit losses in the playoffs last season, and the fact that they haven’t won in Cleveland since November of 2006.

On area of concern, however, should be the addition of Jamal Crawford. In the two games against Cleveland this season, Crawford averaged 18.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and shot 5-7 (71.4%) from three. Crawford, a notorious Cavs killer originally drafted by Cleveland, has averaged 21.1 points per game against the Cavaliers in his last 18 games dating back to the start of the 2003-04 season, making at least one three-pointer in all 18 games (2.3 3pm per game).

With this new cast I could see the Cavaliers struggling with the Hawks, should they meet in the playoffs. Then again, it’s hard for Atlanta to put up less of a fight than they did last postseason. Regardless, I still believe that the Hawks aren’t as big of a threat as a team like the Bobcats, which match up fairly well against Cleveland. While I feel the Cavaliers have bigger threats, Jamal Crawford could make the Hawks a tough team to square off against in the playoffs.

The Top Seeds.

Once reliant upon LeBron James and countless others to help defend Dwight Howard, the Cavs will need Shaquille O'Neal to make good on his "no more double teams" offseason promise in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston (currently the 3rd seed)

One of the two most recent teams to knock the Cavaliers out of the playoffs, the Boston Celtics have seemingly gotten the best of Cleveland since the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. That is, up until now. From that 2007-08 season to last season the Cavs and Celtics squared off 15 times, including 7 postseason games, in one of the most stubborn duels you’ll ever witness. On all 15 occasions the home team came away with the victory, giving the number one seed Boston Celtics the edge in game 7 of the 2008 playoffs.

This season, however, gave way to those past trends. The Boston Celtics opened up the season strong, winning their first game in Cleveland and holding onto the eastern conference number one seed for quite some time. But the Cavaliers eventually rebounded, winning in Boston by 20 points, at home by 11 points, all while distancing themselves from the rest of the pack as the leaders of the east.

In the meanwhile, the Celtics have been trying to find their identity and return to that defensive prowess that netted them a championship two seasons ago. In that 2007-08 season, Boston’s defense allowed only 90.3 points per game on 41.9% shooting. Against the Cavaliers that year they allowed 95.0 points per game on 42.5% shooting. Last season, the Celtics allowed 93.4 points per game on 43.1% in the regular season and 96.0 points per game on 48.5% against Cleveland. And so far this season, those averages have continued to worsen, with Boston allowing 94.3 points per game on 44.7% shooting. Furthermore, those numbers have become unjustifiable against the Cavaliers, who have averaged 100.3 points per game on 45.1% shooting through 3 games.

The Celtics have many problems to juggle, from an aging trio and injuries to new role players and inconsistent play. However, their biggest concern is the collapse of their defense, especially in regards to the Cavaliers, who have averaged 106.0 points per game their last two meetings with the Celtics, including a 108-88 trouncing in Boston. With all of these issues and a large question mark next to the health of the team come May, I have a hard time believing that Boston is as big of a concern as they were two years ago.

Orlando (currently the 2nd seed)

From Boston to the other team responsible for one of Cleveland’s last two playoff exits, Orlando still presents the largest threat to the Cavaliers in the eastern conference. Fans all remembered what happened last year (if you know how to forget that series, please email me the trick). After the most successful season in Cavaliers history, the postseason ended abruptly, when Cleveland failed to defeat the Orlando Magic, a team that was a matchup nightmare.

But how do they look against the Magic this year? Well, first off, instead of being 1-2 against the Magic as they were last season, the Cavaliers are 2-1 so far this season, winning their first game in Orlando since February 2008 after going 0-6 in between that time frame. And while last season saw the Cavaliers completely embarrass themselves in Orlando, losing both regular season games by a combined 40 points (-20 points per game), this season they were +3 in their season split in Orlando (+1.5 points per game). Furthermore, the Cavs were able to flip the script in regard to three-point shooting this season. In the playoffs, the Orlando Magic shot 62-152 (40.8%) from three compared to just 42-130 (32.3%) from the Cavaliers. So far this season the Cavaliers are 22-50 (44.0%) from three-point range, while limiting the Magic to 22-64 (34.4%) from deep. Just to reiterate, last postseason the Magic made 20 more threes than the Cavs (+3.3 per game) and shot 8.5% better from beyond the arc. In three games this season, the two teams have made an equal number of three-pointers and the Cavs are shooting 9.6% better from three.

But limiting the Magic to a human three-point percentage is just one of the ways in which the Cavaliers have improved against Orlando from last season to this season. The other would be their defense on Dwight Howard. In the conference finals Howard averaged 25.8 points per game on 54-83 (65.1%) shooting. Thanks to the assistance of Shaquille O’Neal, Howard has averaged only 17.3 points per game on 16-27 (59.3%) shooting in the three games this season. O’Neal has also forced the Magic center to defend as well, averaging 13.3 points per game on 18-27 (66.7%) shooting, leading to an average of 4.7 fouls per game for Howard.

The Magic still present some matchup problems for the Cavaliers, but not nearly to the degree as last season. The Cavs have also implemented some new pieces as well, such as a more-than-capable scorer at the power forward position in Antawn Jamison, who will make Rashard Lewis defend unlike either Ben Wallace or Anderson Varejao could last postseason. Should the Cavaliers and Magic meet once again in the eastern conference finals, which everyone is expecting, it will make for yet another great series. In the end, however, with a healthy Shaquille O’Neal and several new pieces in place to limit the Magic’s three-point shooters and big men, the Cavaliers should be more than ready for redemption.

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Worse Record, Better Basketball.

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Season 40 marks a year of XL expectations, but this Cavs team appears ready to deliver.

Thanks to the Orlando Magic, a foe that Cavs fans are more than familiar with, the Cleveland Cavaliers have experienced their first three game losing streak since March 29th, 2008. With losses against Denver, Charlotte, and Orlando, the Cavs are -25 over this three game span, coming up short by an average of 8.3 points per game. In March of 2008, the Cavs lost to the Bucks, Hornets, and Pistons by a combined 25 points as well, mirroring their current three game losing streak. But I think every fan knows that these Cavaliers, at 43-14, are better than that 2007-08 team that finished the season with only 45 wins.

However, I also believe that this Cavaliers team is better than last season’s Cavs, a team that held a 45-12 record after its first 57 games. In fact, even after losing to the Magic yesterday, Orlando is a great stepping stone to prove why this team is better.

For instance, last season the Cavaliers were 0-2 in the regular season at Orlando, losing those two games by a combined 40 points (-20 points per game), setting up a disappointing 0-3 record in the playoffs at Amway Arena (-8.3 points per game). So far this season the Cavaliers are 1-1 in Orlando (+1.5 points per game) and lead the season series 2-1 after losing it 1-2 last season.

And what can be seen against Orlando can be seen against the top teams around the league. Last season there were nine teams that finished at least 15 games above .500. The Cavaliers were 13-8 (61.9%) against these top teams, posting a sub-.500 mark on the road (5-6). So far this season there are currently nine teams that are at least ten games above .500. Even after the loss to Orlando, which is one of these teams, the Cavs are 12-6 (66.7%) when facing these skilled opponents, going 5-4 on the road against them.

Similarly, the Cavs have done a great job matching up against the best teams in the eastern conference so far this season. Just as it was last season, the top four teams in the east this year are the Cavaliers, Celtics, Magic, and Hawks. While the positioning has changed slightly (Orlando is ahead of Boston and Atlanta is much closer to the top three), Cleveland’s record against these three teams is the big difference between the two seasons. After going 6-5 (54.5%) against Atlanta, Boston, and Orlando last season, the Cavaliers are 4-2 (66.7%) against that trio so far this season. In addition to posting a better record, the losses are much closer games as well. In those six games this season the Cavaliers are +22 (+3.7 points per game), compared to just +10 (+0.9 points per game) in their eleven games last season. Lastly, Cleveland is now 2-1 (66.7%) on the road against these three eastern conference teams after Sunday, already trumping their mark of 1-5 (16.7%) in away games last season. That means that even if the Cavaliers lose both games in Boston and their remaining game in Atlanta, they’ll still post a better record on the road against teams seeded 2-4 in the eastern conference this season.

Additionally, don’t overlook how the Cavs have played against the teams that went the distance last year. Currently the Cavaliers are a  combined 4-1 (80%) against the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic, the two teams from last season’s NBA Finals. Even if the Cavs were to drop their final game against the Magic, this is easily their best record against the reigning conference champs in the regular season. Last season the Cavs were 2-4 (33.3%) against the previous year’s Finals tandem (Celtics and Lakers) and were 10-21 (32.2%) against reigning Finals teams through LeBron’s first six regular seasons.

The Cavs are 4-1 against the Lakers and Magic this season. Previously their best record against the reigning conference champs in the LeBron era was 3-3 against the Lakers and Pistons in the 2004-05 season.

But playing well against the league’s elite teams isn’t the only area in which this year’s Cavaliers have out performed last year’s team, as this season they have exhibited tremendous consistency in the face of massive role changes and multiple injuries. During the 2008-09 season, the Cavaliers had a seemingly human stretch where they went 9-5 from January 15th to February 20th. Over this span they were without Delonte West and lost Ben Wallace for a couple of games. This season the Cavaliers have been without Delonte West for several stretches and various reasons and have spent significant time without Mo Williams or Shaquille O’Neal in the lineup. Regardless, their worst stretch over a 14 game span has been 10-4 and they recently went 9-0 over a nine game stretch that saw them compete without either member from their starting backcourt tandem of Mo Williams and Delonte West from last season’s 66 win team.

And those numbers are a testament to how deep the Cavaliers are this year. With a diverse cast of offensively skilled players, one that now boasts the skillset of Antawn Jamison, the Cavs have several players who can expand their role when called upon. One of these players is Shaquille O’Neal, who is averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over his last ten games after seeing in increase in minutes. O’Neal’s efficiency over this span, making 61.9% of his field goal attempts, is not only refreshing, but essential to a well balanced offensive attack.

Furthermore, despite being criticized as a “lane clogging” presence, O’Neal has revitalized Cleveland’s approach to attacking the paint. Last season the Cavaliers averaged only 35.5 points in the paint per game, which was good enough for 26th in the league. One season later, the Cavs are 8th in the league in points per game, scoring 43.5 points per contest in the painted area. That’s an increase of 8.0 points per game in the paint and an improvement of +18 in the league rankings. Additionally, the Cavaliers are now number one in the league in opponent’s points in the paint, allowing only 35.4 points per game. Last season they were ranked 4th and allowed 36.0 points per game in the paint.

Shaquille O'Neal has provided an interior presence that the Cavs have been lacking for quite some time. And, as the spike in points per game in the painted area would suggest, he has been very efficient lately.

Sure there are some things the Cavs don’t do better this year, such as limiting turnovers (14.4 to’s per game this season compared to 12.7 last season) and opponent’s points per game (08/09 – 91.4, 09/10 – 95.0), which has really been troublesome as of late (Cavs allowing 106.3 points per game over their last six games), but this year’s team is much better as a whole. The team is playing more consistently on the road, particularly against the elite teams, and is matching up much better against the top tier teams around the league. Also, there is enough depth on this season’s Cavaliers team that would give even Hubie Brown trouble fairly allocating minutes to everyone. With several new scorers and a new sense of dominating the paint, it’s no surprise that this season’s Cleveland team trumps last season’s in both points per game and field goal percentage.

The final 25 games of the season will prove to be very interesting as the Cavs will reintegrate several new pieces such as Antawn Jamison and Leon Powe, have their injured guards, Mo Williams and Delonte West, reclaim their full rotation minutes, and hopefully return to their intense style of defensive play. Ultimately, even if the Cavs go on to lose their next three games, I’d still make the argument that they’re better than last year’s club. But let’s just hope I don’t have to.

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