Moving Forward(s)

A few weeks ago, after the Cavaliers put the finishing touches on the deal that brought Ramon Sessions to Cleveland from Minnesota, took a look at the Wine and Gold’s revamped backcourt.

Sessions will join former teammate and close friend, Mo Williams, in Cleveland’s new-look backcourt. Daniel Gibson will get a shot at redemption under a new regime, Danny Green will try to make a sophomore splash, Anthony Parker will provide veteran leadership and Christian Eyenga will try to learn a new language and stay out of the D-League as a 21-year-old kid.

Almost all of the aforementioned guards will likely find a new gear this year – part of Byron Scott’s vow to run. It won’t exactly resemble “Showtime East” – (at least not yet) – but if Summer League was any indication, these guards will be asked to go hammer-down.

But what about the Cavaliers frontcourt? In the course of a single offseason, the squad saw the departure of two future Hall of Famers and the franchise’s all-time games-played leader.

Two of those departed players – Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas – were a combined 36 years of age and definitely in the twilight of their careers. The big men Cleveland acquired to help replace them the post – Ryan Hollins and Samardo Samuels – are mere NBA pups by comparison.

Like the changing of the guard, the Cavaliers will be focused on rebuilding and reshaping their frontcourt this fall. Here’s a look at the Wine and Gold’s bigs and what effect they might have this year …

Anderson Varejao – Three years ago, the Wild Thing was known as a “flopper” – considered so egregious that the NBA was planning to fine and/or suspend players for doing so. Last season was a different story, however, as Anderson was recognized as one of the game’s top 10 defenders – earning Second Team All-Defensive Team honors.

But Andy was more than a defensive force last season. The Cavaliers were 10-1 when Varejao registered a double-double, he led the league by shooting .692 from the floor in March and Cleveland was a whopping +514 when the Wild Thing was on the floor, third-best in the NBA.

This year will be vastly different for Varejao – maybe more so than any other Cavalier. As the presumptive starting center, Anderson won’t have Shaq to take attention or Big Z to step out and give him space. And of course, he won’t be slipping off a screen to receive as perfect pass from Number 23.

But Andy’s been hearing about what he can’t do in this league since his arrival as an unknown in 2004, and not much has stopped him since.

J.J. Hickson – If Andy’s ascension took the better part of six years, J.J. Hickson’s transformation seemed to take a single offseason.

After missing the end of his rookie season with a bad back – (and failing to crack Mike Brown’s lineup before that) – the team was unsure about what would become of their 2008 first rounder. But after cracking the starting lineup against the Knicks early last year, Hickson didn’t look back until his minutes dried up in the postseason.

In his 73 starts, the Cavaliers were 55-18, including 25-5 when he notched double-figures. He played in all but one game for Cleveland last year, but after averaging almost 21 minutes per contest during the regular season, logged just over seven minutes per contest in the playoffs, despite shooting 14-of-22 (.636) in those appearances.

Hickson could have taken the offseason off, but instead returned to play in Vegas Summer League, where he excelled – leading Cleveland at 19.3 ppg and showing off the makings of mid-range jumper. If he finds it, the Atlanta native could be in for another big leap.

Antawn Jamison – It’s hard to imagine someone taking last year’s playoff exodus tougher than consummate professional, Antawn Jamison. After watching the Wizards implosion, Jamison was traded to a title contender. Of course, we know how it turned out.

Despite the unhappy ending, Jamison came to Cleveland as advertised. The Wine and Gold went 16-2 in his first 18 games as a starter and in the Cavs first round series against Chicago, averaged 19.4 ppg.

At 34, Jamison finds himself back in a familiar role. The Cavaliers are reshaping their squad and getting younger with every transaction. And this season, along with carrying a good deal of the scoring load, Jamison will be looked to as one of the team’s leaders. Coach Scott has also broached the topic of bringing the former Tar Heel off the bench this season.

Ryan Hollins – An NBA endangered species, there is just a handful of back-to-the-basket, straight-post-up centers remaining – and last year’s Cavaliers squad had two of them.

Replacing Shaq and Z is no easy task, but with Coach Scott’s vow to run, neither player would have been the right fit. But, as the saying goes, ‘you can’t teach seven feet.’ So, earlier this summer, the Wine and Gold dealt Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair for Sessions and athletic seven-footer, Ryan Hollins.

A fourth-year pro from UCLA, Hollins played all four years with the Bruins and was also an accomplished high-jumper at Westwood. The athletic 7-0, 230-pounder talked about his ability to run the floor when he was introduced at the Cleveland Clinic Courts. He’ll likely get that chance as the first or second big off Byron Scott’s bench.

Samardo Samuels – Another member of the Cavaliers offseason youth movement, the rugged forward comes to Cleveland after leading Louisville in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore. He went undrafted, but played well in Vegas Summer League and earned a contract with the Cavaliers.

Only 21 years of age, Samuels hopes to succeed in the steps of undersized, overachieving forwards like Paul Milsap and Carl Landry.

The young man knows how to carve out space for himself around the basket and could provide some muscle to a frontcourt that – aside from Leon Powe – could desperately use some.

Leon Powe – Last summer, Cleveland inked Cavalier-killer, Leon Powe, hoping to shore up an already formidable frontline. But knee surgery forced Powe to miss the first 57 games of the season. He played fairly well when he returned, but was never close to the player who went 18-for-23 from the field against Cleveland one year earlier.

But an entire offseason of further rest and rehab can do nothing but help the former Cal Bear.

Last year, Powe was a luxury item for the Wine and Gold – anything he gave Cleveland after knee surgery was gravy. This year, he’ll be counted on to revive the player who helped Boston win the NBA title in 2007.

Joey Graham – Nobody will confuse the Cavaliers new tandem at the 3 to what’s come before them. But Joey Graham has been a solid swingman in the league through his first five years in the league, and will get a wide-open opportunity with the Cavaliers in 2010-11.

Graham, whose twin brother Stephen played for Cleveland in 2005, played in 63 games for Denver last year – starting 18 – and posting his highest career FG percentage at .520. Graham averaged 7.7 ppg one year earlier in Toronto. Graham is nothing if not consistent, averaging 6.0 ppg for his career – in both the regular season and playoffs.

The former Oklahoma State star has been a durable, consistent player who may not fill up the boxscore, but will give the Wine and Gold steady effort every night.

Jamario Moon – Towards the end of the 2009-10 regular season, Jamario Moon seemed to be slipping out of Mike Brown’s rotation. As the season wound down, Moon accepted the Austin Carr “Good Guy Award” – then proceeded to show both Brown and the media that he’s more than just a pretty face.

In the final week of the season, Moon started a pair of games, averaging 13.5 ppg and looking good on both ends of the floor. When the postseason tipped off, Moon stayed strong, shooting an even 50 percent (8-for-16) from beyond the arc. Moon shot .625 from the floor against Chicago, but – like J.J. Hickson – fell off Mike Brown’s radar in the ensuing round and had his minutes halved.

This season, like many of his teammates, the former Globetrotter will attempt to re-establish himself and take his game to another level under a new regime.