Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mo’ Better Cavs/Gilbert Rages Against the Media Machine

Double-shot of Cavaliers’ commentary this evening, Constant Reader. First I must share my thoughts on Wednesday’s trade to acquire point guard Mo Williams from Milwaukee for Joe Smith and Damon Jones. This is quite simply a very good deal for the Cavs. Williams’s per-game numbers over the last two years are not spectacular but very solid: 17 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting around 45%. Nor is he a finished product at 25 years old. You can argue that Mo isn’t a “pure” pass-first point guard a team needs to quarterback an offense. As ESPN’s Chris Broussard opines:

I'm sure there will be a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not Mo Williams -- whom I have always thought of as a guy who needs the ball to be productive -- is the best accompaniment to James. In my mind, James would be best with a defender who could also stretch the defense.

However, concedes Broussard, They're trying to get that offense going.

The latter observation is why I’m happy with this trade. Williams is a scorer/playmaker, a quick-to-the-hole creator who can finish a shot and sink a free throw (84% from the stripe for his career) when needed.Maybe we finally have someone in the starting five who can take pressure off LeBron...a guy who can knock it down when LeBron draws the inevitable double team. Ultimately, Williams represents the “half” of the “one-and-a-half” players LeBron asked for following the Game 7 loss to Boston.

Williams is not without his critics. Gery Woelfel of the (Milwaukee) Journal Times, for one, believes Williams was a bad fit with the Bucks: The Bucks have been shopping Williams all summer -- despite the fact he was coming off an outstanding offensive season. But Williams played abysmal defense and some of his teammates quietly complained about his selfishness on the court, often-times neglecting to pass the ball to a teammate and taking a shot himself.

Six assists per game is pretty good for a “selfish” player. Several questions arise, however: Will Williams be content with LeBron running the point-forward spot during critical moments in the game? I assume LeBron will maintain that role in some fashion as he’s so good at creating opportunities for his teammates. Will that be cool with Mo? Or will Brown tweak the offense to include more post-up plays for LeBron with Williams exclusively running the point? Will Williams accept LeBron as the “man” as Larry Hughes could not?

What about the newest Cav’s maligned defense? Let’s see if Mike Brown can coach Mo up in that regard. That leads me to my next inquiry: With people wondering who’s going to replace Joe Smith, I’m more worried about the starting two-guard. I’m of the belief that the Cavs will eventually acquire an SG with some defensive skills to help on the perimeter. (Raja Bell is one name I’ve seen floating on the Internet transom.) Wally and Sasha are not palatable choices to hold that position the whole season. If Delonte stays there’s a possibility he could be slid into the two hole. Again, that’s not going to work all year. Ferry has to know that.

As for getting another big man, that necessity has to be on the docket as well. Wallace is your starting four and Z of course will helm the middle. Then what? Well, there’s everybody’s Most Hated Cavalier (now that Damon’s gone), Andy V. He’s going to be your main man backing up Big Ben and Z until Hickson (or perhaps Darnell Jackson) can contribute solid minutes. Andy of course does not have Smith’s deft shooting touch, but I like to think he’s not as bad as he played last year. The contract holdout and injuries contributed to his poor season. (And of course some fans dislike him on sight for the Finger Roll of Doom in Game 3 of the Finals.) I’m expecting better things from Andy year, as long he doesn’t ever dribble or shoot. Rebound, flop and make Garnett crazy, baby, that’s all we need from you.

There’s also the distinct possibility Andy will be traded after his trade exemption thingee expires in December. More importantly, the Cavs are not going to go into the season with Andy and Hickson as their backup big men. I fully expect them to pick up a big (one possibility-Udonis Haslem) before training camp. It’s just something that has to be done...I think Ferry has to know that, too.
The other item I’d like to discuss is the recent Akron Beacon Journal blurb covering remarks made by Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert, who’s finally had enough of the national media’s obsession with LeBron’s “inevitable” departure from our fair city. Will LeBron end up in New York City? Brooklyn? Greece? Timbuk-sodding-tu? Whatever, Dan’s sick of hearing about it:

"The reason this thing is where it's at," Gilbert said, "is that we've got a bunch of bored, East Coast sports writers who have nothing to do because the offseason is a few months away and the Olympics [hadn't] started yet.

"The undertone to the whole thing that I wonder is, why him?" Gilbert said. "Why not Dwyane Wade? Why not Chris Bosh? Why not whoever else is coming due?

"The only thing you can come up with is there are certain writers, or people who live on the East or West Coast, who think that Cleveland, Ohio, is not a good enough place for a superstar of LeBron's caliber to spend his career. "Despite the quality of the franchise, the quality of life in the Midwest, the fans — it's a complete slap in the face from people who do not live in Cleveland, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio."

"If he were playing for the Lakers or the Knicks or the Nets or Miami, what they consider glamour teams, I don't think there would be any of this talk. And the proof of it is there. Because there's not talk of any of these other stars."

YES! That’s what I call serendipity, or something, because if you comb the archives of this very blog, I’ve been saying the very same thing for months. Gilbert hit several of my talking points, i.e. elitist dirtbag East Coast sports writers and the perception that Cleveland is not good enough for a star of LeBron’s luminescence. Check it out people, it’s all there!

Now Gilbert has to accept an interview request from me. We are so much alike. Not only our distaste for ESPN and other major media markets but also 1) We’re both the same height. 2) We can both bench press 200 lbs. (Seriously, Gilbert has made this claim or one close to it.)

I have changed my stance on Gilbert since he took over ownership of this franchise. I remember his first press conference at The Q. Gilbert cracking lame jokes with Gordon Gund under the steady gaze of new minority owner Usher. (If I’m not mistaken that was also the day the velvet clad R & B star unveiled his “Double C” hand signal. The gesture became so ubiquitous in Cleveland sports’ lore that to this day citizens use it to greet each other on the streets.) I thought our new owner was a bit of a dork. A rich dork, but a dork just the same.

Then he became a meddling dork, blowing out Silas and Paxson midstream. Not that they didn’t deserve to be fired, but both the timing of the move and Gilbert’s involvement were questionable. Then...something changed. Gilbert hired Ferry and Brown and quickly melted into the background and let those two do their jobs. You can argue about the hires, a debate that will go on until You Know Who signs on the dotted line (or not) in 2010, but Gilbert is not the tyrannical micromanager some feared him to be. He is willing to “spend money to make money,” a business practice the Dolans have yet to embrace.

Of course, Gilbert knows that his franchise’s worth will be halved if LeBron exits, but I applaud him for doing all he can to keep a certain #23 in town for the rest of his career. And I bow to him again for telling the snooty big-time media where to stick it.