November 28, 2014

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Cavs’ future looks bright

It’s now been almost a week since the Cavaliers lost to the San Antonio Spurs in four games in the NBA Finals, so I think it’s safe to air a few closing comments without making any emotional “sweeping” statements.
The Cavs deserved to be in the NBA Finals: Granted, Cleveland had a fairly easy path to the Eastern Conference finals, but that’s not its fault. It beat the teams that were put in front of it, and it got to play those teams by earning the No. 2 seed.
Let’s hope LeBron James, who repeatedly said he didn’t care what seed the Cavs were going to be down the stretch of the regular season, now realizes how vital that was.
The Cavs used fairly easy wins over Washington and New Jersey to get to the East finals, then cleared an extremely big hurdle by getting past Detroit. In doing so, the Cavs may have zoomed past the aging Pistons for good in the battle for Eastern Conference supremacy, which means they should have a decent shot at reaching the NBA Finals for years to come.
That being said, the Cavs are still a ways from being a championship-caliber team. They will have a chance to win a championship, yes, because they have a good chance of coming out of the East, but they are not ready to beat teams like San Antonio, Phoenix or Dallas in a seven-game series. For that matter, they probably would struggle against the likes of Houston and Utah, because the West is so much stronger.
However, it’s not the Cavs’ fault they are playing in the East, and it’s not their fault they can only beat the teams put in front of them. Add it all up and it means the 2006-07 Cavs deserved to be in the NBA Finals, but reaching the NBA Finals does not mean they were the second-best team in the league overall.
James is scary good: For the first few days after the finals were over, I focused on all the medium-range jumpers James missed against the Spurs and how uncomfortable he often looked in the low post.
Then it dawned on me: That’s actually good news for the Cavs. I mean, as great as the young man is at 22, imagine how good he’ll be when he improves in those areas.
And James will improve. He doesn’t want to be great, he wants to be legendary. To be legendary, he knows he must win multiple championships. To win multiple championships, he knows he must continue to improve his weaknesses.
James will do that, but look how far he brought the Cavs this season while surrounded by what were basically average players. I mean, put Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on the Cavs and give Tim Duncan and the Spurs, say, Larry Hughes and Daniel Gibson. Who wins that series?
Mike Brown needs help on the bench: I like Brown, I really do, but sometimes I wonder what the man is thinking. Or if he’s thinking at all.
Why Donyell Marshall and Anderson Varejao were on the floor down the stretch of Game 4 while Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden sat will always be a mystery to me, regardless of how Brown tries to explain it.
Why Damon Jones fell into such disfavor for such a long stretch of the regular season is also puzzling. Why David Wesley ever played and Daniel Gibson didn’t play more early in the season are troubling as well.
Then there’s the Cavs’ half-court offense, which, near as I can tell, has exactly two plays: Throw the ball into “Z” and “Here, LeBron, create something.”
It seems clear to everyone but the Cavs that Brown could really use a top-notch assistant to help him with offensive sets and substitutions. Whether that person will be added is another story entirely, but such a move would certainly benefit the organization.
That said, Brown deserves huge kudos for never wavering from his theory that defense wins championships. The Cavs improved by leaps and (re)bounds in that area this season, and the success they had in the postseason because of that should keep them committed at that end of the floor in 2007-08.
Being a good defensive team and a good offensive team, however, are not mutually exclusive. Think how much better the Cavs could be next season if they played the same great defense, but also picked things up a notch or two at the offensive end.
The future looks very bright: As long as James is in Cleveland — and he’s under contract for at least three more years — the Cavs will continue to have a legitimate chance of reaching the finals. Add a piece or two more and they will then have a chance of winning the finals.
Here’s a rundown of what I would and wouldn’t do to increase the chances of both those things happening:
Keep James happy. Employ every one of his childhood friends and youth league coaches if you have to, but keep him happy.
Sign restricted free agents Sasha Pavlovic and Varejao, even if one of the few teams under the salary cap offers them more than the mid-level exception.
Continue to start Gooden and Ilgauskas, and don’t forget about them down the stretch of games.
Use the mid-level exception to sign a quality guard. It can be a combo guard or a swingman type, as long as the guy can create, shoot and put points on the board. In other words, he has to be what Hughes was supposed to be, but is not.
Speaking of Hughes, try to trade him for something, anything, nothing. If that fails — and it probably will because he has three years and $38 million left on his contract — bring him off the bench next season. So what if he doesn’t like it. James needs shooters around him, not guys who think they can shoot.
Make it a goal to win 60 games in the regular season. Even if you fall a bit short, it increases your chances of getting the No. 1 seed in the East. Win enough and there’s also a chance you could have home-court advantage in the NBA Finals.
San Antonio was definitely the better team, but think how different this year’s series might have been had the first two games been played at Quicken Loans Arena instead of the AT&T Center. Maybe the Cavs win one of those. Maybe they win both. Who knows what might have happened from there.
And who knows what might happen next year.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.