A King and His (not so) Royal Subjects
Why LeBron James needs a sidekick in Cleveland
I remember reading stories of a child of magnificent Medieval and Renaissance kingdoms ruled by a fantastic king. Full of flair, majesty, and grandeur, the king always took his kingdom to new heights and thus built a dynasty.
For the first time in Cleveland sports history, the city finally has a King to call its own. Although he is only 20 years old, LeBron James has taken the long suffering city under his wing and is trying mightily to create his own renaissance. But even the best kings from medieval lore had a powerful army littered with sharpshooters–those soldiers with deadly accuracy even during the most fierce battles. Unfortunately King James’ army, the Cavaliers, has only a collection of peashooters.
The Cavs rank a miserable 27th out of 30 NBA teams in 3 pt. shooting percentage at a scant 32.6%. The three squads below Cleveland; Atlanta, New Orleans and Denver have a combined record of 39-102. Despite their long-distance shooting flaws, the Cavs remain one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams in terms of wins and losses. With a record of 27-19 as of February 7th, they have spent the months of December and November hovering around 8 games over .500, a feat that few teams in the East can match.
So how have the Cavaliers managed to remain playoff-bound given their lack of consistent shooting from the perimeter? The answer is quite simple really: LeBron James. He is the only player in the league averaging at least 25 ppg, 7 apg, and 7 rpg. Despite being a Small Forward/Shooting Guard hybrid, James scores an average of 12.5 points per game in the paint, a mark not even equaled by Tim Duncan. Combine that figure with his uncanny court vision and ability to get his teammates easy shots with his Magic Johnson-esque passing, you can see why the Cavs rely so much on dunks, fast break layups and mid-range jumpers. Unfortunately for the Cavs, the better teams and coaches in the league have come to a realization: stop the easy buckets and the Cavs struggle. Bottom line.
Of the Cavs’ 27 victories, 8 of those have come against bottom feeders Charlotte, New Orleans, Atlanta and Golden State. With the exception of an early season comeback win against Phoenix, Cleveland has struggled mightily against the NBA’s playoff bound clubs.
There really is only one solution. The Cavs need a veteran shooter who can stretch defenses on the wings. Fans in Cleveland know it, Cavs Head Coach Paul Silas knows, and most importantly, LeBron James knows it. With the trade deadline fast approaching and a number of big-name free agents this summer, now is the time for Cavs GM Jim Paxson to make a move.
The Cavs currently start journeyman Ira Newble at the shooting guard position. No offense to Mr. Newble, but he should not be a starter in the NBA. He can be a valuable bench producer and defender, but the Cavs should expect an early exit in the playoffs if Newble is relegated to going toe-to-toe with the likes of Steve Francis, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce.
So where do the Cavs turn? Seattle SG Ray Allen has looked more like “Jesus Shuttlesworth” recently and will be a free agent following this year, but it appears the Sonics resurgence will keep Allen in Seattle. Phoenix Suns’ swingman Joe Johnson, another three point threat, has also been mentioned. However, speculation and grumblings around Cleveland have placed current Milwaukee Bucks’ star Michael Redd as the ideal sidekick for LeBron.
An unrestricted free agent following this season, Redd owns a career average of over 40% from beyond the 3 pt. arc. As a Columbus, Ohio native and alumnus of Ohio State, it would make sense for Redd to return to the Buckeye State. Given Cleveland’s already strong frontcourt presence with Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron and Redd would be perfect compliments on the wings. However, with Redd eligible for a max deal, an off-season signing or trade has some roadblocks.
First, the Cavs have to worry about two notable free agents of their own, Ilgauskas and point guard Jeff McInnis. If Ilgauskas, who was named an All-Star reserve this week, remains a free agent on July 1, his salary cap “hold” will be 150 percent of his current 2004-2005 salary of $14.6 million. That number, approximately $21 million, is much more than “Z” would sign a possible contract extension for. However, it would tie up nearly all of the team’s cap space, preventing them from chasing other free agents, especially Redd.
The 7’3″ Ilgauskas has battled foot injuries much of his career but he has avoided the injury bug the past two seasons and, in turn, has solidified his place as an elite offensive center. He has been devoted and appreciative of the Cavs front office for their patience during his injuries. He has clearly expressed his desire to remain in Cleveland and may even take a major paycut for the ability to do so. Without Ilgauskas, the Cavs are left with DeSagana Diop, Scott Williams and Robert “Tractor” Traylor to man the middle. Ouch.
McInnis, a player who has thrived in Cleveland since a trade last season from Portland, is perhaps a tad more expendable. He will be looking for a big payday after posting career-best numbers since coming to the Cavaliers. There is no question the Cavs are indeed a better team with McInnis running the point, but who would you rather have on your team: Jeff McInnis or Michael Redd? One cannot argue McInnis’ sieve-like defensive skills and tendency to shoot first, pass second. With veteran Eric Snow as a backup, losing McInnis would not be the end of the world, especially if the Cavs could also land a young, backup point guard via free agency.
It has already been documented that LeBron James has expressed his desire for Ilgauskas to remain a Cavalier. Chances are pretty good that LBJ also wouldn’t mind having the luxury of a Michael Redd on the perimeter. Even if the Cavs were to lose McInnis in free agency, Cleveland would become much more complete team. Former Cavalier Michael Stewart echoed some of the same sentiments. “Once you get into the playoffs and have someone like Redd to shoot outside, Z in the middle and LeBron scoring inside and outside, they could beat anybody.”
Having LeBron has changed free agents’ opinions on Cleveland,” Stewart added. “People want to go to Cleveland now. A few years ago, no one wanted to come to Cleveland, and now anyone would. Guys want to play with the most unselfish player in the NBA. There’s not a lot of superstars like that.”
Time will only tell if the Cavs front office gives LeBron what he rightfully deserves. If the King is given a (Redd) army, the rest of the Eastern Conference may be waving the white flag.