The other night, with Delonte West and Mo Williams both injured, Danny Green checked into the game for the Cavaliers. Watching Danny Green play, I realized something. Danny Green is pretty good. He makes smart cuts, he knows where his teammates are, and he can knock down threes. He looks like a legitimate NBA rotation player. I would feel comfortable with Danny Green on the floor during an important stretch of an NBA game. Heck, I’d be interested to see what an all-length lineup of Anderson Varejao/LeBron James/Jawad Williams/Danny Green/Delonte West could do, even though four of those players come off the Cavalier bench and two weren’t even in the rotation until recently.
After I realized that Danny Green looks like an NBA rotation player, I realized something else. There are 11 Cavalier players who have gotten more playing time than Danny Green this season. This means that Danny Green occupies the absolute end of the Cavalier rotation, even without Leon Powe playing.There are 11 Cavalier players who have gotten more playing time than Danny Green this season, and that doesn’t even include Leon Powe. This means that Danny Green occupies the absolute back of the Cavalier rotation.
Danny Green is just one example of something most people know by now: The 2009-10 Cavaliers are an incredibly deep basketball team. They seem to have an endless supply of capable rotation players of all shapes and sizes. They can match up with any other team’s style. They can deal with injuries and absences. They can sit somebody if he’s not having a good night. As a Cavs fan, this is a mind-boggling development.
Ever since I can remember, the Cavs have prominently featured players who do not look like they belong in an NBA rotation. In the LeBron era, with the Cavs gaining league-wide respectability and national coverage, this has become even more apparent. While most playoff contenders look like sleek squads of talented professionals who can beat teams in a number of ways, the Cavs have long looked like LeBron and the Island of Misfit Toys.
There is an explanation for this, which is that the Cavs weren’t built like most teams were. Most teams go through rough stretches, accumulate some young, talented players through the draft, and let them mature, eventually forming a “core.” When that happens, they add some pieces, maybe even a major free agent, and then make minor adjustments around their core until those players fade away and it’s time to draft a new core. There are plenty of exceptions to this formula, but most of the time that’s the rough outline of how contenders get built.
After the Cavs won the LeBron lottery, they completely botched their only two chances at a lottery pick. In 2004, they took Luke Jackson, who suffered major injuries and never became an impact player in the NBA. In 2005, the Cavs lost their first-round pick thanks to the Jiri Welsch trade, which took away the lottery protection on the Cavs’ 2005 pick. So the Cavs missed both of their best chances to add a young star through the draft, and the one time they had tons of cap space, they used it on Larry Hughes. Oh, and there was the Boozer thing.
Because of these circumstances and the pressure not to waste years of LeBron James’ prime, the Cavs have been forced to surround LeBron with players who are a bit, well, different. Not all of them have been terrible players, and some of them have even been quite effective. But over the years, I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve thought to myself “Dear God, this man is a rotation player on an NBA playoff team.” Tonight, we celebrate a few of those lovable misfits.
Here are a few of my favorite former Cavs that have taken a few years off of my life, in no particular order:
8. Eric Williams
If you’ll remember, Eric Williams was the most effective one of the three players the Cavaliers acquired in the Ricky Davis trade. The other two were Tony Battie and Kendrick Brown, who both logged significantly less minutes for the 03-04 Cavaliers than Williams did. Despite the fact that Williams shot 36.6% from the field and 25.3% from three-point range with the Cavs, the Cavs played significantly better basketball after his acquisition.
Really, this paragraph isn’t about Eric Williams at all, but how completely strange the Ricky Davis situation was in retrospect. The Cavs traded away an extremely talented young scorer for three players whose chief value was that they were decent human beings who played hard, and they got significantly better. That is how much of a pain in the ass Ricky Davis had become in Cleveland. What makes everything that much more ridiculous is that Davis was being such a pain in the ass because he had a problem with the reins of the team being handed from him to LeBron James. Recent history suggests that Davis was perhaps mistaken in his position on this issue.
On Bill Simmons’ podcast today, he was asked to find the sports equivalent of Angelina leaving the Jersey Shore house on the second episode. She left because of unspecified issues with showing up to work at a store located directly below her home, and in doing so cost herself years of easy money through club appearances and subsequent reality shows. You may think that D-level reality stardom might not be something Angelina aspires to, but this is a woman who described herself as the “Kim Kardashian of Staten Island.” And yet I digress. The point is that I nominate Ricky Davis pouting his way off the 03-04 Cavaliers as the sports world’s answer to Angelina leaving the Jersey Shore house during the second episode.
7. Drew Gooden
Gooden was an excellent rebounder, had a decent touch from mid-range, could occasionally score in the post, and could attack off the dribble. On paper, Drew Gooden was and is a very passable NBA power forward. However, Drew was always far worse than his package of skills would suggest he was. He was never a very efficient scorer, wasn’t very tough around the basket, would settle for too many midrange jumpers, and would often start dribbling towards the basket without any sort of plan. Defensively, he never had any clue what was going on, and would regularly miss rotations. He was a tentative finisher around the basket, often pivoting a few times and tossing up an oddly angled hook instead of just catching the ball and dunking.
Despite the fact the Cavs played significantly better with Anderson Varejao at the power forward, Drew started at the power forward for years. Even though he played terrible defense on a team built on defense and wasn’t a very good pick-and-roll player on a team that mainly ran pick-and-rolls, Drew stayed. The team was never really happy with Drew starting at power forwards, shopping him a few times and not offering him a huge contract when he became a free agent, but they never could quite bring themselves to let go of Drew’s rebounding, scoring ability, and all-around semi-acceptability.
Drew was also a bit flighty, and wore a his hair in a duck-tail for most of a season and engaged in a beard-growing contest with DeShawn Stevenson for most of another. Drew truly saw his own head as a canvas.
Around the beginning of my Sophomore year, I realized that the magnetizing strip on my student ID card had worn out. This meant that it wouldn’t work sometimes in some places, and would never work in other places. It was often a hassle, but it would work just often enough so that I didn’t feel the need to replace it. It wasn’t making my life impossible, and I had too many other things to do to worry about replacing the card. You know when I ended up replaced that card? Yesterday. It took me just over a year and a half to get sufficiently fed up with my barely adequate card. That story is how I would explain the Drew Gooden era for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s hard to realize that something that works needs replacing, even when it doesn’t work very well.
6. Donyell Marshall
Donyell was a “stretch four” whose love of shooting threes was always greater than his ability to make threes. He would set a lazy pick, pop out behind the three-point line, and fire up a three whether or not he was closed out or not. Donyell Marshall was corpulent and taking bad threes on a contending team long before Rasheed Wallace made it cool.
In fact, here are Donyell Marshall’s numbers in his last year in the Cavs’ rotation, 2006-07 against Rasheed Wallace’s current numbers:
Marshall: 53.6% TS, 7.2% AST, 10.4 TO%, 18.2 USG%, 13.8 REB %
Wallace: 51.2% TS, 8.2% AST, 6.9 TO%, 19.0 USG%, 11.7 REB %
Now that’s just fun. Other interesting facts about Donyell Marshall include the time he missed a wide-open short corner three in game one of the Cleveland-Detroit Eastern Conference Finals in 2007, which may have led to LeBron deciding to take a more active role in his takeover of game five. (Interestingly, Rasheed Wallace inexplicably stuck to Marshall like a sponge during James’ entire game five takeover.)
Donyell was eventually traded to Seattle, where he accelerated Kevin Durant’s ascent to greatness by showing Durant a horrifying vision of what he could someday become if he didn’t work hard enough. This story has not been confirmed, but I still think that’s why the Sonics agreed to that trade. I mean, they traded for him after this happened:
5. Sasha Pavlovic
Up until the second half of the 2007 season, Sasha was a garbage-time player. He would come in, play badly, and go back to the bench for a long time. When told to play harder on the defensive end by Mike Brown, Sasha supposedly said “My offense is my defense,” which is such a ridiculous and ballsy thing to say that it’s kind of awesome.
Then, near the end of the 2007 season, Sasha inexplicably became a very solid starting shooting guard. He played fabulous man-to-man defense, could handle the ball and slash to the rim effectively, and could knock down the open three. There was a chunk of time in there where I honestly would have told you that Sasha Pavlovic was the second-best offensive player on the Cavaliers. He never found his offensive game in the playoffs, although he did play some great defense, particularly on Vince Carter.
Then Sasha held out for the beginning of the 2007-08 season, and during his holdout was apparently forced to forget everything he had ever learned about basketball. I’m telling you, in 2007 Sasha Pavlovic was an effective slasher. I saw it. This really happened. But whenever Sasha Pavlovic put the ball on the floor after his holdout, terrible, terrible things would happen. He would crash into defenders, try to go behind his back, have no idea where any of his teammates were, and throw up wild shots in traffic. Sasha could still play solid defense, and would have good stretches shooting the ball. But Sasha’s sheer horrifying ineptitude whenever he tried to make a play kept him from ever making the kind of impact he had in 2007 again.
Alright, this has gone on longer than I thought, so I’ll have to split in into two parts. See you guys tommorrow, and I’ll complete this list as soon as possible.