introductions at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday were both uplifting
and symbolic for the Cavaliers, the latest contenders to undergo a midseason
makeover. An Obamaesque roar of hope rose when center Ben Wallace was
announced, and as the 33-year-old danced onto the court, he looked younger than
he had for much of this season with the Bulls, who unloaded him in a
three-team, 11-player blockbuster last Thursday.
Wallace to elevated applause came LeBron James, like a tailback following his
new fullback. The image of Big Ben clearing a path for King James was not lost
on the Cavaliers, who hope they have finally provided LeBron with a charismatic
complement; in his first 4 1/2 seasons his second-best teammate has been center
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a quiet former All-Star who has taken a backseat (13.6
points per game this season) to James's domineering presence.
In the deadline
deal Cleveland essentially swapped two rotation players (forward Drew Gooden
and guard Larry Hughes) for four: Wallace and forward Joe Smith from the Bulls,
swingman Wally Szczerbiak and guard Delonte West from the Sonics. The Cavs
believe the new pieces will space the floor to give James (30.1 points, 8.2
rebounds and 7.5 assists at week's end) more room to attack the basket and—when
the defense overloads on him—more shooters who can exploit his ability to
But the key to
the deal was Wallace, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, who must help
reestablish Cleveland's suffocating D and provide the toughness that was
lacking last June, when the Spurs swept the Finals. Because of preseason
holdouts and a yearlong plague of injuries, the Cavs had been permitting
opponents to shoot 46.0% from the floor (22nd in the league)—their most porous
performance in coach Mike Brown's three years.
eight-year lows in rebounds (8.8), blocks (1.6) and shooting (37.3%) in 50
games with lackluster Chicago, leading to criticism that he was deteriorating
fast. But moving to a contender and embracing the role of all-around stopper
will rejuvenate him. Listed at 6'9" though closer to 6'6" without
shoes, Wallace remains nimble enough to chase smaller players, as he did the
Grizzlies' 6-foot point guard Kyle Lowry in the backcourt on Sunday, forcing a
five-second inbounds violation in Cleveland's 109--89 win. "Get out,
pressure the ball, deny the backcourt," said Wallace, who produced 12
points and 10 rebounds in his Cavs debut. "Those are my strengths, those
are things that I'm used to doing."
When Cleveland is
back at full health—guard Daniel Gibson (sprained left ankle), swingman Sasha
Pavlovic (sprained left foot) and forward Anderson Varej�o (sprained left
ankle) were all sidelined on Sunday—James will have more options than ever in
anticipation of a second-round series against the Celtics or the Pistons.
"It's almost like a brand-new team for us, like the start of training camp
when we got new guys coming in," says James. "I know we'll be good.
Just give us a few weeks."