November 24, 2014

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A lot to think about: 10 Cavs observations from the CT’s Rick Noland

A week after they traded for Antawn Jamison, here are 10 things I think about the Cavaliers, who play in Boston tonight against the Celtics:

I think Jamison is a good addition, but his presence makes the Cavaliers a much different team: Imagine you’re LeBron James and you’ve played your whole career with power forwards like J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace, who can’t shoot, or Drew Gooden, who had trouble remembering plays.

Now all of a sudden you have Jamison, who has made a living shooting the ball, either from 3-point land, off drives or on one-hand floaters. That’s not just different, it’s night and day from what James experienced for 6½ years.

The Cavaliers have to make Jamison a focal point of their offense; if they don’t, they shouldn’t have traded for him. James is good enough and smart enough to figure things out, but he’s got to maintain his own offensive aggressiveness while also making sure Mo Williams and Shaquille O’Neal do the same.

There will be some nights when it looks like one basketball isn’t enough for all Cleveland’s offensive weapons, but there will also be others when everything is clicking and the Cavaliers are unstoppable.

I think Zydrunas Ilgauskas will re-sign with Cleveland: The latest reports say Z’s buyout with the Washington Wizards may now take until the weekend and that agent Herb Rudoy will talk to other teams, but I don’t think that’s anything to be overly concerned about.

As long as Ilgauskas is bought out by Monday — he can’t re-sign with the Cavaliers until March 21 — he will be eligible for the playoffs. Rudoy, an honorable agent, will simply be doing his job by listening to offers from other teams.

In the end, I think Z’s heart is still in Cleveland and he will re-sign with the Cavaliers, either for a pro-rated portion of the $1.3 million minimum salary for players with at least 10 years of experience (about $315,000) or a pro-rated portion of the team’s unused $1.99 million biannual exception (about $480,000).

I think Mike Brown is a good coach over the long haul, but he struggles to make adjustments on the fly: The reigning NBA Coach of the Year did his best job when Williams and Delonte West were out with injuries, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that his options were limited at that time.

Brown’s gospel that you win with defense is also tried and true, but right now he’s got 12 players who would see action for most teams in the league.

That includes Jamison, who isn’t a lunch-bucket player like Hickson or Varejao, so Brown has a lot of decisions and adjustments to make. I think he’ll eventually make the right ones, but they may have to come through trial and error.
I think Mo Williams has to make sure he gets his: The offensive-minded point guard got off to a slow start this season, when he seemed to defer to James and O’Neal, and he appears to be doing the same thing now that Jamison is in town.

That’s admirable, but Williams is not a good defender — Charles Barkley would probably use the word “turrable” — and he’s not a natural playmaker. His strength is putting the ball in the basket.

Though Williams is coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to miss four weeks and now finds himself as the third or fourth option at times, he’s got to stay aggressive and find a way to put up points.

I think the Cavaliers should go to O’Neal any time he’s being played straight up: This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because with it comes the chance of underutilizing James, Jamison or Williams, but Shaq is 18-of-23 from the field over his last two games.

He was 9-of-13 while putting up 20 points against New Orleans on Tuesday, which was great, but as I watched the game, I found myself wondering why the 7-foot-1, 325-pound center didn’t get the ball a lot more.

I think there are going to be nights when the Cavaliers have too many offensive weapons on the floor: This ties in to several earlier statements, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. It’s only been a week since the Jamison deal, of course, but there have been times the Cavaliers have simply took turns shooting the ball.

James scored just three points in the fourth quarter Sunday in Orlando, when he repeatedly launched 3-pointers, and went more than seven minutes before he took a shot against New Orleans.

O’Neal’s been rock solid and Jamison has been good after an 0-of-12 performance in his first game as a Cavalier, but Williams has been pretty bad — OK, mostly “turrable” — since returning to action.

The four scorers are all extremely talented, but there will be nights when less will be more. That’s when blue-collar guys like West, Varejao, Jamario Moon and even Leon Powe or Hickson will have to come in and do the dirty work for the Cavaliers to win.

I think the only reserves who are going to be part of the rotation in the playoffs are West, Varejao and Ilgauskas, with Moon and perhaps Daniel Gibson seeing spot action: I know the Cavaliers won with Hickson in the starting lineup. I know they signed Powe for what he might be able to do in the playoffs. I know Jawad Williams has made huge strides.

But Jamison’s arrival changes all that, and I also know rotations shorten in the playoffs, when teams generally rely on eight players.

That could be stretched to nine at times, especially if Moon’s length and athleticism are needed to shut down a hot opponent.

Gibson might also play sporadically, but if he does, it will likely mean the Cavaliers are extremely cold from the perimeter and Brown is looking to find a hot hand. “Boobie” has shown he can do that at times, so there may be a game or three where Brown puts him out there and sees what happens.

If for some reason Ilgauskas doesn’t re-sign, Hickson or Powe could get a few minutes, but Ilgauskas will play if he’s in a Cleveland uniform, and justifiably so.

I think West’s trial on weapons charges won’t take place until after the NBA Finals: I don’t know this for a fact, but when the guard’s trial was pushed back to April, a reliable source told me it would likely be pushed back another three months when that date approaches.

I don’t know all the legalities, but it has something to do with only being able to postpone a trial for so long at one time. From what I’ve been told, there’s nothing that will prevent the new date from also being pushed back.
I think everything will work out, because James is too talented for it not to: I’m not guaranteeing a championship, but I think the Cavaliers have to be considered the favorite.

There are kinks that will have to be worked out as they adjust to Jamison, but having another guy who can put the ball in the hole in the playoffs, when everyone plays better defense because every team has memorized the other team’s plays, is never a bad thing.

More than anything, I think it will work out because of the 25-year-old James, who is hands-down the best player in the NBA and a slam-dunk choice to repeat as MVP.

I think James will sign an extension, probably for three years, with the Cavaliers this summer: Despite all the conspiracy theorists and doomsayers, I’ve felt this way all along, and I see no reason to change that view now.

The Cavaliers have done everything in their power to make James happy. On top of that, James is a reasonable and intelligent person who realizes the grass — under all that snow — may be greenest right here in Cleveland.

There’s always the chance something could go catastrophically wrong between now and July, on or off the court, but right now, I don’t see that happening.

Tonight

  • Who: Cleveland at Boston
  • Time: 8 o’clock
  • Where: TD Garden, Boston
  • TV/radio: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.