Cavaliers Season-in-Review: Veteran Forwards

var opponent = "reserve"; //used in image formatting opponent-dateCode-page.jpg var dateCode = "160818"; var pageSelectorTag = "div" var pageSelectorClass = "article-section" var pageTitleTag = "h4"; var pageTitleClass = "key";

Are You Experienced?

Our last group of players – Cleveland’s starting frontline – put up some dizzying numbers in 2015-16. LeBron’s mountain of statistics alone is enough to give one a bout of arithmophobia. Fortunately, those stats added up to the King cradling a pair of gold-plated trophies in each arm on June 19 in Oakland.

But as Cavalier fans witnessed this past year, it takes more than a group of stars to reach the Promised Land. It takes role players contributing all season and finding another gear in the tournament. And it definitely required the trio of veterans whose season we’re reviewing today.

Including this spring’s epic run to the title, the troika of James Jones, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye have logged a combined 305 postseason games between them.

Frye was returning to the Playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. RJ was a postseason staple – appearing with New Jersey, San Antonio, Golden State and Dallas – but hadn’t reached the NBA Finals since his sophomore season, 2002-03. And James Jones, who’s been with LeBron over the past six seasons, playing in late June is as much a part of his schedule as the Christmas Day game or an All-Star Break in mid-February.

Certainly no offense to Mike Miller or potential Hall of Famer, Shawn Marion, but the upgrade and eventual production of Cleveland’s backup forwards was one of the biggest differences between getting close to the finish line in 2015 and getting across one year later.

As we already begin gearing up for the Wine and Gold’s rapidly-approaching title defense, Cavs.com’s final Season-in-Review breaks down the “guys-behind-the-guys” – Cleveland’s veteran backup frontline trifecta.

Learning on the Frye

Channing Frye didn’t exactly have a soft landing in Cleveland – arriving in a deal for one of Cleveland’s longest-tenured and most beloved athletes. But he eased those tensions two nights after arriving from Orlando – going 4-for-8 from long-distance, netting 15 points in just 17 minutes off the bench in his debut at The Q.

After cooling off for a couple weeks, Frye came out firing in Tinseltown – conquering the Staples Center with a pair of big performances.

Against the Lakers, in his first start as a Cavalier, he hit his first five three-pointers and finished 8-of-10 from the floor for 21 points. Two days later, Frye returned to torment the Clippers – coming off the bench to go 5-for-7 from beyond and finishing with 15 points in a 24-point blowout.

A 10-year vet from Arizona – whose career nearly ended after having to sit out the entire 2012-13 season with a heart condition – Frye blended into the squad seamlessly, thanks in part to childhood friend and the team’s relentless quipster, Richard Jefferson.

During that stretch – from March 10-18 – Frye averaged 14.2 points on .667 shooting (26-39), going .643 from long-range (18-28).

In his return to the postseason, after going without an appearance since 2010, Frye got off to a slow start – hitting just one three-pointer (in only two attempts) in Cleveland’s four-game sweep of Detroit. But that changed rapidly when the Cavaliers met the Hawks in the Conference Semis.

After an eight-point outing in Game 1, Frye went 5-of-7 from the floor in Game 2. Those were just warmups for his Game 3 outburst in Atlanta – drilling seven triples, going 7-of-9 from long-distance and 10-of-13 overall to net a game-high 27 points in just 28 minutes of work as the Cavaliers got within a game of sweeping the Hawks for the second straight season.

Frye canned 15 triples in the first four games of the East Finals before finally slowing down in the postseason. When the Wine and Gold wrapped up the series in six games – with Frye going 2-for-3 from long-range in the series-clinching victory in Canada – he had shot 63 percent in the series (20-for-32) – including 58 percent from long-distance (14-for-24).

Frye struggled through the first part of the NBA Finals and got three straight DNP-CDs to end the series – but without his long-range shooting, there’s no telling how the Cavaliers might’ve fared along the way.

Frye shot .581 from deep against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semis (averaging 13.8 ppg) and a blistering .635 against the Raptors in the East Finals.

When the Playoffs wrapped up with the Wine and Gold atop the mountain, Frye’s .565 shooting percentage from beyond the arc led all postseason performers with at least 34 attempts.

During it all – and especially when it was all over – Channing Frye had a smile on his face.

He knew how close his career came to ending overnight. Frye enjoyed every minute of Cleveland’s Championship run, and he brought more than his three-point shooting to town in February; he brought a passion for the game that a mid-season Cavaliers squad was missing.

The People's Champ

An old TV commercial from the ‘70s introduced the line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

The same goes for LeBron James. When the game’s most dominant player makes a statement, it carries some serious weight.

After going 4-for-8 from long-range – netting a season-high 15 points in just 18 minutes off the bench in a 35-point blowout over Orlando, LeBron made this postgame statement: "I told (Jones): As long as I'm playing, he's going to be around. He's not allowed to stop playing basketball. So, I'm going to make sure I got a roster spot for him. I love him. He's the greatest teammate I've ever had."

LeBron James and Jones have gone to the last six consecutive NBA Finals and together, they’ve taken three titles.

There’s a certain confidence that comes with reaching the money round as often as they both have – a confidence that allowed Jones to say this when asked about pressure before Game 6 of the Finals and the Wine and Gold still trailing, 3-2 …

”All the pundits are trying to figure out which team the pressure is on,” deadpanned Champ. “I think the real pressure’s on those who are picking us to lose.”

Drafted 48 spots after James in the legendary 2003 Draft, Jones’ contributions can’t be calculated by his statistics. He’s a relentless perfectionist in practice, a sage sounding board for the squad’s youngsters and a consummate pro whether his number is called or not.

This season, the former Academic All-American from “The U” averaged 3.8 points on 41 percent shooting, notching double-digits on four occasions, including a lights-out run early in the season – netting 12 points in 15 minutes of play in a November 2 victory in Philly.

And while Richard Jefferson (and his midseason sidekick, Channing Frye) kept the atmosphere light and loose around the squad, Jones did his veteran best as the voice of reason. The expression – “coach on the floor” is usually reserved for point guards. But Jones is very much like an assistant coach in uniform. There’s very little he hasn’t seen over his 13-year career.

As it turned out, the combination of Cleveland’s vets and youngsters spelled the ultimate success – and a third Championship ring in James Jones’ case.

Moving Forward

Who could’ve imagined that the byproduct of the DeAndre Jordan drama last summer between Dallas and Los Angeles would eventually lead to the Cavaliers winning the first Championship in franchise history?

When Jordan decided to return to L.A., the Mavericks allowed Richard Jefferson to become a free agent – signing with the Wine and Gold in early August and immediately bolstering a position (backup small forward) that was in desperate need of a veteran upgrade.

Jefferson – who was the 13th overall pick back in 2001 and actually played half a season in Milwaukee with Tyronn Lue back in 2009-10 – had plenty in the tank when he arrived in Cleveland. A 15-year veteran, Jefferson had reached the postseason in 11 of them. But after reaching the NBA Finals in his first two seasons out of Arizona, he had yet to return.

In the regular season, Jefferson was rock-solid in relief of James – playing in 74 games, starting five, and averaging 5.5 points on 46 percent shooting. The squad’s resident comedian – who made “Lil Kev” a Snapchat sensation over the second half of the season -- notched double-figures on 15 occasions, led the team in steals nine times, blocks four times and once in scoring – a 20-point effort in Miami.

Overall, Jefferson had his two best regular season performances in a pair of losses against the Heat. But he was especially good in a big inter-Conference win in Oklahoma City – coming off the bench to net 15 points, going 4-of-5 from the floor, 3-of-4 from long-distance.

But the Cavaliers didn’t sign Jefferson for his regular season exploits. He showed the reason why when the tournament tipped off in late April.

Jefferson was good against Detroit, canning a couple big shots in the opening round. But when the Second Round tipped off against the Hawks, the longtime vet began finding his rhythm – hitting his first six shots from the floor (including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc) over the first two victories over Atlanta.

As the Wine and Gold bombarded the Hawks from the perimeter in the East Semis, Jefferson got right in on the act – finishing the four-game sweep 9-of-12 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from deep.

Jefferson kept climbing the ladder as the Cavaliers did. After a slow start to the Eastern Conference Finals, Jefferson bounced back to go 9-for-13 from the floor – including an 11-point, six-rebound performance in the critical Game 5 – in the final three games of the six-game series against Toronto.

By the time the Finals rolled around, Jefferson was an indispensable part of the rotation. And after scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting in Cleveland’s Game 2 loss – and with Kevin Love on the shelf with a concussion – Jefferson got the next two starts for the Cavaliers.

In his first start – a crucial Game 3 matchup in Cleveland with the Cavs trailing the series, 0-2 – Jefferson answered the bell, finishing with nine points, eight boards, two assists and a pair of steals.

Jefferson returned to his reserve role when the series shifted back to Oakland for Game 5 and once again, Jefferson came up big – going 4-of-6 from the floor in 14 action-packed minutes off the bench.

When it was all said and done and the Cavaliers had made history, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the 2016 title, Jefferson – who shot .516 from the floor in the Finals – flashed one of the most iconic poses of that unforgettable night: quietly savoring a victory cigar amidst the madness and mayhem of the winning locker room.

It took Jefferson 15 seasons to reach that point. He was going to enjoy every puff off that signature stogie.