The 9-11 Cavaliers are 20 games into the 2007-08 NBA season, so it`s time to clear out my notebook, Rick-o-chet style:
Without LeBron James, as they`ve been for the last four games due to a sprained left index finger, the Cavaliers are one of the worst teams in the league. In fact, the only squad they might be better than - and I emphasize might - is Minnesota. --
Put a healthy James back in the lineup and the Cavaliers immediately become a contender in the East. That shows how supremely talented the 22-year-old is. --
General manager Danny Ferry deserves some credit for not caving in to the ridiculous contract demands of power forward Anderson Varejao and agent Dan Fegan. --
That said, the GM also contributed to throwing the team`s salary structure out of whack to begin with. Ferry, after all, is the man who agreed to pay Larry Hughes $12 million this season, Donyell Marshall $5.57 million and Damon Jones $4.2 million. --
During negotiations, Ferry frequently used the logic that he did not want to pay Varejao, who will make $5.3 million this season, more than starter Drew Gooden, who will earn $6.4 million.
That`s all well and good - until you realize Varejao will make less than the washed-up Marshall and seldom-used guard Eric Snow ($6.7 million). --
The point? There are two. One, NBA salaries are always out of whack, and that`s not going to change. Two, Ferry was using an argument that worked in his favor (Gooden) and totally ignoring those that didn`t. --
In the end, the $17.3 million Varejao signed for over three years is about right (the player can opt out of the final year of the deal), but neither side came out a winner in these negotiations. Varejao got a lot less money than he wanted, but the Cavaliers, who preferred a longer deal, risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. --
My guess is Varejao, who at one point during his holdout said he no longer wanted to play in Cleveland, and the fans will make up fairly quickly. The Brazilian is the kind of hustler, diver and, yes, flopper that people in these parts love. --
That said, don`t expect the guy to come in and suddenly cure everything that`s wrong with the Cavaliers. One, it`s going to be awhile before Varejao is in NBA shape. Two, a scrapper who can`t shoot and is frequently out of position on defense can only help so much. But he will help. He has to, given the sorry state of the team`s backup big men. --
Get ready, because coach Mike Brown`s rotations are about to cause you to start scratching your head. Brown hasn`t screwed things up too much this season, simply because he`s had to ride his starters due to injuries and holdouts. But with Varejao joining the fold and Larry Hughes almost ready to come back, Brown is going to have a lot more options. This is not necessarily a good thing. --
Brown is a great man and he`s done a decent job as coach, but I`m still not sure he`s the guy to lead the Cavaliers to a championship. The man`s offense continues to befuddle me, with these last four games providing undisputable proof that James` presence covers up many, many flaws in the system. --
I mean, exactly what are the Cavaliers trying to do offensively? The other night against New Jersey, bricklayers like Snow, Devin Brown and Sasha Pavlovic were running a three-man weave outside the 3-point arc. At the same time, big men Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were floating around 18 feet from the basket. This accomplished exactly what one would expect: Nothing. --
Second-year guard Daniel Gibson is one of the best shooters in the league. His stroke is so pure it`s actually surprising when he misses a 3-pointer after getting his feet set. Of course, Gibson is also one of the weakest defenders, figuratively and literally, in the league. --
I like Marshall, I really do. He`s a nice guy, a good interview and he was a good player for many years. The key word there, though, is "was." The 34-year-old`s legs are so shot it`s painful to watch him run these days. --
For the life of me, I don`t know why the Cavaliers didn`t pick up the very cheap option year on Shannon Brown`s contract. I don`t like Brown`s game, but if the Cavaliers want to trade him, it would be a lot easier if he were under contract for next season, with his new team also having the option of keeping him for another year after that. As it is, Brown will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Why would any team give up so much as a second-round pick for him now? --
Devin Brown has a lot of positive qualities. He plays hard, he gets to the hole and he defends. Unfortunately, he also thinks he can shoot and handle the ball. Here are two simple things to watch: If Brown doesn`t have time to totally set his feet and line up the laces on the ball, he`s going to miss a 3-pointer; if he dribbles the basketball more than twice, the result is usually not a positive one. --
Gooden is one of my favorite Cavaliers. The power forward is a much better player than people realize and the most friendly and cooperative guy on the team. That said, there are still too many games when Gooden`s mind seems to be somewhere in the ozone. Worse, the extremely sensitive power forward is likely to go into a funk more often once his minutes start going to coach`s pet Varejao down the stretch of games. --
I don`t care how much money Hughes is making, I`d bring him off the bench when he`s ready to play again. One, the guy is the only person in Northeast Ohio who thinks he can shoot. Two, he`s probably going to get hurt again in a month or two anyway. Three, on those rare nights when he actually makes a few jumpers, his physical talent might allow him to be the explosive scorer the Cavaliers need off the pine. --
Of course, if Pavlovic, who missed all of training camp due to his holdout, continues to stink up the joint as a starter, the Cavaliers are going to have to change something. With guys like Devin Brown, Shannon Brown, Jones and Snow available, Mike Brown has no shortage of options. Choosing the right one will be the tough part. --
Most of this piece has focused on the negative, which is probably justified given the Cavaliers` record and obvious shortcomings. Remember, though, that when James is healthy, this team is still capable of beating anyone, so another successful postseason run is not out of the question. --
Right now, of course, most fans would be happy if the Cavaliers beat someone, anyone.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.