One could argue that the Phoenix Suns, who defeated the Bucks Saturday, may not be title contenders. I wouldn’t, but it could be argued, Shaquille O’Neal’s age being one talking point. However, if you come across arguments that the Cleveland Cavaliers are not contenders, then you know those sources didn’t watch the 2008 playoffs.
While NBA wags all over the country were ready to hand the 2008 NBA title to Kobe, Pau Gasol and the Lakers, the real battle was taking place in the East as the Celtics wrested a grueling semifinals series from the Cavs in the waning minutes of game seven. Once Lebron and his Cavs were dispatched, the Pistons and Lakers were a matter of course for the champion Celtics.
This season, the Cavs are healthy, there are no holdouts to deal with and they’ve improved with the addition of Mo Williams‘ instant offense in the August trade with the Bucks (image at left by Jeremy Janneen) and Sonics-Thunder.
Even without the addition of Mo, the Lebrons of 2008 can’t help but improve: coach Mike Brown has had more time to integrate the new players acquired last February at the trading deadline — Big Ben Wallace, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak.
With Mo and rookie power forward J.J. Hickson joining that group, most of Cleveland’s 9-man rotation is new since they played the Spurs for the NBA title in 2007. The team that Detroit couldn’t beat in the playoffs has been remade. They are younger and quicker at the guard positions; they are stronger inside with Big Ben; and with Mo and a healthy, more experienced Boobie Gibson, they shoot better than ever. The only real question is whether the Cavs’ aging big men, Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can stay healthy into the playoffs. Currently, backup big man Andy Varejao — who’s name surfaced often over the summer as a guy the Bucks may be interested in — is playing more than Wallace.
I’m not expecting the Bucks to escape from the Q in Cleveland with a win. In fact, coach Skiles should let Michael Redd shoot all night in his home state** and play the deep bench players like Joe Alexander, Dan Gadzuric, Tyrone Lue, Malik Allen and Francisco Elson — save some energy for the home crowd tomorrow night against an injury riddled San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs without Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker? It’s a gift, and the Bucks should focus on getting that win. The early schedule is so tough, the more wins they can cherry pick here and there, the better off they’ll be in January when the schedule eases up, obviously.
**Anybody else wondering why coach Skiles seems in no hurry to get Redd back on the court?
How is Mo doing? So far so good with room to improve. Through seven games the Cavs are 5-2 and Mo is playing 34 minutes a game, averaging 14 pts and 5 assists. He and Lebron are doing most of the ballhandling, which is a load off of West – the Cavs best defensive guard – and Gibson, the 3-point gun. Mo has yet to get his shot going but I’m sure he’d love to turn it on against his old teammates.
Are the Bucks in the Antonio McDyess sweepstakes? No. But before I get to that, McDyess would be a perfect fit on the Bucks roster — a power forward who plays within the game and can stick a fifteen footer a la Scott Williams back in the days of The Big Three. McDyess would very likely be the factor that would launch the Bucks into the playoffs.
According to McDyess’ agent, 19 teams have called about acquiring Antonio, who refused to report to the Denver Nuggets, negotiated a buyout of his contract and was waived yesterday. Once he clears waivers Wednesday, McDyess is a free agent and can sign with anyone but Detroit. The rules say he must wait 30 days before he can resign with the Pistons.
I’m assuming that one of the calls to McDyess’ agent was from Bucks GM John Hammond, simply because Hammond is too thorough to NOT make the call. But if McDyess wouldn’t report to the Nuggets (reportedly because the Nuggets are not a title contender), what chance would the Bucks have? They wouldn’t be able to compete with the Celtics, Cavs, Lakers and Pistons, all of whom are very interested in signing McDyess.
It’s difficult to imagine McDyess abandoning his Pistons teammates of the last four years and jumping to Cleveland or Boston, but stranger things have happened in these self-interested times. I wouldn’t bet on McDyess going anywhere but back to Detroit. NBA fans should keep this in mind when reading the wishful thinking in the Cleveland and Boston media, or watching the any-rumor-for-a story channel, ESPN.
In this Boston.com story, Sam Cassell, a friend of McDyess’, figures his pal will wait 30 days and return to Detroit, where they’ve missed him in the paint already.
What’s Damon Jones up to? At the tail end of the Cleveland Morning Journal McDyess story linked above (here ’tis again), the MJ tracks down former Cav Damon Jones:
Former Cavs guard Damon Jones, who was traded to Milwaukee in August but never reported, is working out in California under trainer Joe Abunassar. He’s waiting for another shot at the NBA. The Bucks don’t appear over-anxious to give up on his expiring contract, which is why he’s still on their roster. Jones isn’t interested in a buyout.
So what does “Bucks don’t appear over-anxious to give up on his expiring contract” mean? It means that John Hammond likely views Jones and his $4.5 million contract, which expires at the end of this season, as good to have around when you’ve got to work out a trade. The bigger question is who else on the Bucks roster would Hammond be willing to trade? My speculation is that Bogut and R.J. are safe – and probably Ramon Sessions and the rookies. The rest will likely wait until after some more games are played.