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.
Who is this guy to the left and what does he have to do with the Mo Williams trade to Cleveland?
That’s New Jersey Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, who instigated the trade that sent the Nets Richard Jefferson to the Bucks for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.
The two events that dictated the Bucks direction this summer and left Mo Williams the odd man out in the backcourt were the hiring of coach Scott Skiles and the Jefferson trade with the Nets. Those events may also have been two of the luckiest breaks the Cleveland Cavaliers have received in the Lebron James era.
In Skiles, the Bucks hired a coach who preaches defense and ball movement like religion and demands pass-oriented point guard play, that elusive “true point guard” stuff you hear so much about in the NBA. Mo, despite his growth as an offensive player over the last three years, had developed a prolific scoring game not only for himself but for opposing point guards who ripped through the Bucks league-worst defense.
If the writing was on the wall for Mo when Skiles was hired, notice was duly served when Vandeweghe and the New Jersey Nets set out to acquire Yi Jianlian. Just as quickly as Bucks GM John Hammond could say “done deal,” the Bucks course was locked on a double-barreled offense featuring Jefferson and Michael Redd, rendering Mo and his offensive talents expendable. Nobody in Milwaukee was eager to give the troubled Redd-Williams backcourt another go-around anyway.
Many Bucks fans are aware of all the above, but it seems some in national media just can’t get a grasp on why the Bucks made this trade. ESPN’s John Hollinger spent a good chunk of his column Thursday not comprehending it, wondering if “Herb Kohl’s shadow government” forced Bucks GM John Hammond to make the trade. (Wish I’d made that up but I didn’t; Hollinger truly does sound confused).
The Cavaliers had been desperate to find a 2nd scoring option to Lebron James since their season ended in Boston in May, and had been pursuing a trade for Michael Redd. (Who can forget the Paint Cleveland Redd campaign?) With the Jefferson trade June 26th, suddenly the Cavs found their targeted 2nd option off-limits. This development could be called a blessing in disguise were it not so poorly disguised. The smart, simple answer had always been Mo. And Mo was very available without the many high risks and costs involved with acquiring Redd. The Cavs were not a team that should ever have been interested in taking those risks. Despite the disappointing game seven loss to the Celtics, Cleveland had impressed in the playoffs that they were much closer to championship level than many observers had thought. Of course, they needed to to improve. Next season is the first of two more title shots before Lebron becomes an unrestricted free agent, and big men Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas aren’t getting any younger. But no drastic roster change was necessary for the Cavs to contend next season.
For all the talk from Cavs fans that a Redd acquisition would put the Lebrons over the top, there were just as many Bucks fans saying “please, take him.” The Bucks guard would have come with a heavy price, the obvious being his gaudily expensive contract ($51 million over three years). Without Redd’s salary, the Cavs boast the NBA’s second-highest payroll and pay over $10M to the league in luxury tax. Add to those costs the prospect of the Cavs giving up valuable pieces of their contending roster to get Redd — forward-center Anderson Varejao the most rumored player. But perhaps most importantly, Redd’s offensive makeup could have posed some serious challenges to the Cavs on-court chemistry. True, the Cavs have long sought a dangerous 2nd option — and even wooed Redd in 2005 free agency — but Michael Redd hasn’t been a 2nd option since 2003 when he was the 3rd or 4th option for the Bucks, gunning three-pointers in the sixth man’s role. Too much change might have been disastrous for the Cavs; with Redd, big changes would have been required of both player and team.
Contrary to popular belief, Redd in Milwaukee has not primarily been the off-the-ball spot-up shooter type who stretches defenses that the Cavs were looking for. Redd got his points last season lowering his shoulder and driving to the hoop out of isolation, shooting long range jumpers (out of isolation), posting up smaller defenders and converting from the foul line, where he was 13th in the NBA in free throws made and attempted. He’s accustomed to controlling the ball. Let’s look at how Redd scored and compare it to Mo within the context of Lebron James and the Cavs.
Breaking down the shooting stats at 82games.com, no less than 49.34% of Redd’s 22.7 ppg scoring came on “inside shots” and free throws. As a two-point jumpshooter (42% made) and three-point shooter (36.3%) Redd had the kind of 2007-08 season that shatters myths about “great” shooters. He hasn’t been a great shooter for a couple of years. Although the shooting stats bear out the truth of this statement, they won’t stop arguments about it.
Contrast this with Mo, who scored 66.9% of his 17.2 ppg on 3-pointers and 2-point jumpshots. Mo led the Bucks in 3-point shooting and was second in the NBA to Kyle Korver in 2-point jumpshooting, and was easily the teams best shooter last season. Mo added 5.7 ppg on inside shots and free throws. He also led in free throw shooting (85.6%).
Now let’s look at Lebron, who was remarkably not so good shooting from the outside and tallied 64% of his 30 ppg on inside shots and free throws — 19.2 ppg.
On paper, it certainly looks like Mo will be the better compliment to Lebron’s penetration and open court game than Redd would have been. A good half of Redd’s typical offense is similar to much of what Lebron does. The overlapping of like-styles isn’t always so complementary, a good example being the Vince Carter-Richard Jefferson pairing that didn’t work out as planned in New Jersey. Whereas Mo is a shot in the arm, a natural and fiscally sane fit, Redd could have been very expensive weird science.
Mo vs. Redd when they’re not shooting:
One advantage to Redd is that he is a superior post up player, something for Skiles to exploit next season. Redd, listed at 6′ 6″, is the better rebounder than Mo, too, but the Cavs, the top rebounding team in the league, were not looking for rebounding in the Bucks backcourt.
The rest of the comparison goes Mo’s way. He shot much better than Redd last season – a result of better shot selection in addition to shotmaking. Mo runs the floor better than Redd, hustles more, is the better passer, handles the ball extremely well and can break a defending point guard down to free himself for a 15-20 foot jumper seemingly at will, much like Sam Cassell used to. Both Redd and Mo can break a defense down, but Mo is more likely to make a pass out of penetration.
“I think playing with LeBron, he’s someone who can help push the tempo a little bit and help LeBron and other guys get easier baskets. I like him. I think he’s a competitive player who can make big shots and one of those guys capable of rising to important times.”
Mo’ money for Cleveland
In addition to the obvious savings with Mo — $8.6 million avg annual salary to Redd’s $17M — the Cavs now have $2 million that they didn’t have before the trade. In dumping the combined salaries of Damon Jones ($4.45M) and Joe Smith ($4.8M) in exchange for Mo’s $8.3M 2008-09 salary, the Cavs shaved their payroll by about $1 million, which in turn reduces the team’s luxury tax payment to the league by about $1M.
The Cavs will save even more if – as the Akron Beacon Journal’s Brian Windhorst expects – acquiring Mo Williams removed any leverage point guard Delonte West may have had in his contract negotiations. The Cavs offered West the minimum $2.8M to play this season, after which he’d become an unrestricted free agent. West, a much better defender than Mo but not as dynamic offensively — would either back Mo up at point or start alongside him. Assuming he takes the offer, which he is expected to do, the Cavs save the bigger raise he might have received and the luxury tax that would have come with it. Cavs Gm Ferry when delivering the corporate report on the immediate fiscal impact of the Mo trade, can say the team saved anywhere from $3-5 million on its 2008-09 books.
The Cleveland end of this deal is so filled with positives, I can’t help but wonder if there are future considerations due the Bucks. Cavs’ forward-center Anderson Varejao would still be a great fit alongside Andrew Bogut in the Bucks frontcourt. Oklahoma City also has a power forward of interest, Chris Wilcox. One would hope that it’s understood at least tacitly that Bucks GM Hammond, when he took on Damon Jones’ contract to close this deal, earned a few chips that he can someday call in. Ferry owes him one.
The Cavs should also be sure to thank Nets GM Vandeweghe for following through on his promise to Yi that he would “come get him” if he ever got another GM job after Denver.
The hits just keep coming for the Cavs. Now Mo is promising to play defense. He said this yesterday in a conference call interview with Journal Sentinel:
“Defense comes with a lot of different things. You’ve got to want to do it; you’ve got to have the mentality to do it. I’ve got away from that the last few years, for whatever reason. We can go on and on for the reasons. I’m excited about the opportunity, and I reiterate I know what it takes to win. There’s no secret it takes defense.”
Cavs fans can’t believe their GM pulled it off. This from Paint Cleveland Redd organizer Dan Labbe at Cavaliers Corner:
“If I told you yesterday that Ferry could get a 17 and 6 point guard without giving up [Wally] Szczerbiak or Anderson Varejao, you’d have called me crazy.”
Szczerbiak and Varejao, of course, were speculated to be the central pieces to the Michael Redd trade buzzing before Vandeweghe and the Nets stepped in with the offer for Yi.
It seems that if it wasn’t for bad luck, Cavs fans feel they wouldn’t have any luck at all. Until now. Cavalier Attitude breaks down the trade. The web editors are downright slaphappy at Cavs central: “Mo Bang from the Cavs” announces the headline of the feature on the team website. I think you get the idea.
Looking for a good elegy to Mo Williams’ last season as a Buck? The Bratwurst wrote an in depth, balanced review of the entire team back in April, and his analysis of Mo was perhaps his the masterwork of the series.
If you don’t have 90-95% faith in my numbers crunching, Brewhoop is the place to go. Frank’s got the fiscal impacts nailed on this trade.
At ESPN.com, John Hollinger concludes that Oklahoma City “won” the trade because the Rawhides (I’m just going to give them a name for now) received two forwards for their rotation, Desmond Mason and Joe Smith, in exchange for two players at the end of the bench, point guard Luke Ridnour and forward Adrian Griffin. I don’t agree. While the Rawhides definitely improved, I think the stakes were much, much higher for the contending Cavaliers who also instigated the trade and had to overcome a potential dealbreaker in Damon Jones’ contract. It was suggested on Sportsbubbler Bucks forum earlier today that the writers at ESPN may be high. It was a just a joke at the time.