Most Cavaliers fans -- heck, most NBA fans -- can remember exactly where they were when LeBron James put on one of the greatest shows on Earth last May. Some of them may have been parked on the couch in front of the TV. Some may have been there in person. Some may have been intertubing (watching TV and surfing the net at the same time).
Yet, regardless of where you were, everyone had pretty much the same reaction when LeBron scored 48 points, including Cleveland's final 25, in the Cavs' 109-107 double-OT win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals: awe.
Two nights later, using the King's preternatural performance as a springboard, the Cavs clinched their first trip to The Finals and the city of Cleveland, which hadn't seen a championship since the 1964 Browns, went wild.
That euphoria didn't last. Just 11 days and four games later, the San Antonio cavaliers swept the Cavs from The Finals. Dejected but not despondent, James summed up the Cavs' 2006-07 season with an eye toward 2007-08: "I really think the team we have now is good enough to win a championship," James said, "and I really stressed that from the beginning. It just shows we went up against a better team, simple as that. We went up against a better team in this series, and everybody has to be better coming into next season."
The obvious question four months later is: Are they? Save Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic, unsigned restricted free agents whom the Cavs will more than likely sign, the roster remains unchanged from last season. ESPN.com's Marc Stein ranked the Cavs 12th in the Eastern Conference in regard to offseason personnel moves. In the much improved Eastern Conference, the Cavs will find their path back to The Finals a bit more arduous.
Then again, this very overview has been pounded out by the same fool who handed the Pistons the Eastern Conference title when the Cavs (among other teams) made no moves at last season's trade deadline.
Offensively, the Cavs' backcourt may be the most limited in the East, and their collective experience borders on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Daniel Gibson and Shannon Brown will enter their second year, while Damon Jones, a nine-year vet, Eric Snow, a 12-year vet and David Wesley, a 14-year vet, have seen better days. The man who bridges that spectrum, Larry Hughes, is a talented but oft-injured two who played in 70 games last season, the second-most in his career.
One positive about the Cavs' backcourt situation was Gibson's breakthrough performance in the postseason. He will need to mature at a rapid pace for the Cavs to maintain their place of prominence in the East. The Cavs will also need to squeeze a little more defense out of Snow and a timely three-pointer (or two) out of Jones. Then again, when it comes to the Cavs' backcourt, they often just need two guys in the backcourt while ...
... LeBron James handles the ball. King James is the closest thing to Magic Johnson since, well, Magic Johnson. He's versatile enough to beat you in different ways: he can score, bring up the ball and distribute, he can crash the glass, crowd passing lanes with the best of them. James is such a statistical monster (27.3 points per, 6.0 dimes per, 6.7 boards per) and a physical presence (6-8, 240 pounds of muscle), he's one of the few players in the NBA strong enough to lift a team onto his shoulders and carry it deep into the postseason.
As for the rest of the front line, the Cavs are in good shape. Cleveland finished second in the league in rebounds with 43.51 boards per game, a mere .16 rebound per game behind the Bulls. The Cavs frontline of Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Drew Gooden, James and Varejao combined to haul in 29.6 rebounds per game. The frontline also smothered opposing offenses in the postseason, limiting teams to a paltry .425 shooting percentage, tops during the playoffs.
-- Rob Peterson
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Larry Hughes is a talented player. He's athletic and can score a little, to
which his career 15.1 points per game average attests. He can play defense
and even led the league in steals in 2005 with 2.89 thefts per game, which
earned him a spot on the 2005 All-Defensive first team. Hughes at two seemed
to be a perfect complement to James at three.
And Hughes is ... when he's healthy. Hughes has never played in more than 73
games in a season. His 70 games played last season represented his second highest
total in his career. But he developed plantar fasciitis during the playoffs and
missed the final two games of The Finals. The Cavs need a healthy Hughes to contend
in the East.
-- Rob Peterson
||Where LeBron James ranks on the all-time Playoffs scoring list with 27.4 ppg.
He's behind Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Jerry West and Tracy McGrady.
Career Record: 100-64 (.610)
Playoff Record: Two times, 19-14 (.576)
Mike Brown knows defense. His teams are stingy with the points, allowing 92.9 points per game during the season and a postseason-best 86.8. His guards get in the opponents' grille, his bigs deny entry to the paint and don't let you get near missed shots. As we noted above, Brown's teams also hit the glass with the best of them.
Also, thanks to their stifling D, the Cavs had the league's seventh-best point
differential last year at +3.82. Brown, however, will need to find a way to incorporate
the other Cavs into the offensive flow. It was great when LeBron scored 48 in
that magical game against the Pistons, but in order to win titles, you need balance
on both ends of the floor. Cleveland's offensive shortcomings were exposed when
the Spurs limited the Cavs to a mere 80.5 points per game in The Finals.
Still, moments after Game 4, Brown had his sights set on 2007-08.
"You know, the direction that we're heading in as a group is something that I'm really excited about," Brown said. "I'm looking forward to seasons to come."
-- Rob Peterson
KNOW YOUR CAVS
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They are a good team. They obviously made the NBA Finals. They are still trying to get Pavlovic and Varejao resigned. Obviously that is a distraction for them right now.
They have one of the best players in the NBA in LeBron. I think top to bottom they have some holes. They are trying to fill them. The biggest hole is that they don't have a true point guard. With LeBron you can get away with it but I know that that hurts them at times.
For them Larry Hughes being healthy all year would be a huge improvement. You have to be a little concerned about him now as far as age and how he is doing health-wise.
I think they are obviously a definite playoff team because they were last year and they will be better. LeBron will be a year older.
I think Shannon Brown, he will probably have a chance to contribute next year. Neither one is a point guard really. Do they fit in with LeBron James? Yes they do to a point.
They will have a chance to repeat in the East. I can't give them the nod though. From top to bottom I do not think they are the best team.
-- Eastern Conference Scout