So close, yet so far
Finals illustrate Cavs' need to get busy this summer
Posted: Friday June 15, 2007 12:00PM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 1:00PM
By almost any conventional NBA scale, the Cavaliers' journey to the NBA Finals came ahead of schedule. At an age when Michael Jordan had won one playoff game, 22-year-old LeBron James dragged his offensively challenged team to the championship round. But Cleveland runs on LeBron standard time, and that doesn't allow for much, if any, market corrections, not with the potential that a player who helped increase the value of the franchise by $158 million opts out of his contract in three years.
Though Cleveland proved capable of sliding through a weak East, the Spurs offered a sobering lesson in how far this club has to go before it can legitimately contend for the title James may need to convince him to stay.
First, the good news. As Cleveland demonstrated throughout the postseason, coach Mike Brown has transformed a defense that was lackluster, at best, when he took over before the 2005-06 season into an elite unit. The Cavs' big men hold their ground in the low post and rebound well while the perimeter players clog passing lanes and, generally, close out on outside threats.
With Brown reportedly set to receive a contract extension this summer, and considering the body of evidence he now has to illustrate his defensive philosophy's effectiveness, it's safe to assume Cleveland will maintain a similar level of defensive play next year.
Unfortunately for Brown, fans and opponents alike also have a body of evidence to illustrate the dysfunction of his offense. Though installed at the beginning of the season with the best of intentions -- to generate enough space and movement to provide James and Larry Hughes some freedom -- Cleveland's offense soon devolved into a steady diet of pick-and-rolls or "stand and watch LeBron." That leads to 42 percent shooting as a team in the playoffs. That leads to abysmal TV ratings. That leads to Finals sweeps.
Fixing the problems -- improving the talent pool around James, finding an eventual replacement for an aging Zydrunas Ilgauskas, installing some semblance of an offense -- will require some introspection on the part of the Cavs' front office and coaching staff. The task likely can't be completed in a single summer, but there are a few steps Cleveland can, and should, explore in the ensuing offseason.
1. Keep Andy, deal Sasha
Anderson Varejao's energy is an asset on defense and the glass; it's a killer on offense (see: Game 3, 2007 NBA Finals). While the soon-to-be restricted free agent is too hyper with the ball in his hands, his dirty-work skills remain a necessary commodity.
Meanwhile, another restricted free agent, Sasha Pavlovic, emerged this season as a more willing defender and an aggressive offensive player. But the 23-year-old swingman also proved wildly inconsistent, and often appeared in clutch situations as if he'd rather be catching a scorpion than a pass.
For the right (i.e. reasonable) price, Pavlovic is young enough to keep around in hopes that he can smooth out his rough edges. But given the penchant of more than a few teams to overpay, the Cavs -- who likely will have to pony up $7 million-plus to keep Varejao -- may find Pavlovic a useful sign-and-trade chip to fill the team's glaring need at point guard.
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