Thursday, June 14, 2007

Congratulations, Cavaliers

First, I'd just like to congratulate the 2007 Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the best season in franchise history and bringing the excitement of the playoffs to Cleveland for the second straight year.

Now, not to take anything away from the team's performance, but I've been almost as aggravated with the lack of respect Cleveland received during the playoffs as I was with the team's shooting troubles.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are a flawed basketball team. While the defense was rock-solid, their struggle to score points in the NBA Finals has become a showcase for what the team lacks and what it still needs to perform better in the future.

The operative term here is future.

At this stage in LeBron James and Mike Brown’s basketball careers, I think it is fair to say that winning a championship would still be considered a rather lofty goal. What they have accomplished (along with the rest of the Cavs players and coaches), is go from a 35-47 team to the Eastern Conference Champions in four years, after taking LeBron James with the first overall pick in 2003. LeBron James has been in the league four years and is still only 23 years old. Coach Mike Brown has only been with Cleveland since the 2005-2006 season, his first ever as an NBA head coach. The average age of the team in 2007 was only 27.8, which takes a noticeable dip when 32 year old veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas is removed from the equation. These are the statistics people should look at before they start heaping on the criticism of the ’07 Cavaliers.

My point is, as well as the Cavs played this season, they are still inexperienced and have a long way to go. Just how far did people expect them to go?

I honestly don’t know anyone outside of Cleveland who picked them to make it to the Finals. So if very few basketball experts thought the Cavs were worthy of playing in the Finals in the first place, why is there such a strong backlash against the team? I’ve heard just about every adjective under the sun used to describe this series, especially “worst ever.” Is it really fair to call the Cavs the worst Finals team of all-time? Has anyone bothered asking how any of the other Eastern Conference teams may have fared against a powerhouse Spurs team? Detroit may have taken a game, but it’s pretty safe to say any Eastern Conference challenger would have gotten their tails kicked. Is the real issue with the Cavs or with the terrible television ratings and lack of competition between the two conferences in general?

The Cleveland Cavaliers should have taken at least two games against the Spurs, but they lost four straight. Do LeBron James and Mike Brown deserve to be crucified for this by the media? No, because James can not make his teammates hit wide-open shots, or absorb playoff experience from the Spurs through osmosis, or shelter his teammates from the expectations of a championship starved city (most of which already rests on his shoulders).

It’s a flawed team, but that does not change the fact that they are the Eastern Conference Champions. Rather than look at what they haven't done, how about looking at what they have done.

The team's defense (only the second full year the players have been running under such a game plan) was excellent for most of the playoffs, but the team's offensive short-comings were exposed time and again in the playoffs this year. The defense won games, but the offense usually lost them. The Spurs were more than ready for the Cavs; Popovich knew exactly what he was doing against his old protégé and had plenty of time to prepare his team ahead of time. It doesn't take an expert to see that the Cavs had been struggling with their shooting most of the postseason and the Spurs knew how to exploit this to their advantage.

The Cavaliers were obviously in over their head. While the Cavs proved they were fully capable of handling Detroit, the Spurs are arguably the best defensive team, have several premier offensive players, and possess a colossal (but often overlooked) advantage in experience over the Cavs. Matched up against that, the Cavs are now the "worst finals team of all time." How does that work?

Analysts are quick to confuse being overmatched and inexperienced with being just flat out bad.

As I’ve said before, experience is a crucial element to any championship team. This Cavs team had only been to the playoffs once before making the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance. Each year the team’s young players have matured and each year they have advanced a step farther in the playoffs. This year’s experience should help the team address several issues such as isolating the team’s major weaknesses, finding a balance between offense and defense, and learning how to handle key situations late in a playoff game.

GM Danny Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert are going to face some tough decisions in trying to retain part of the team’s young core (Varejeo and Pavlovic are restricted free agents this off-season), while addressing needs for now (a true wingman for LeBron) and the future (replacing an aging Ilgauskas). The Cavaliers are already facing salary cap issues, making things that much more challenging. There have been rumors that Ferry is going to try and acquire a first round draft pick to bring in some help.


The audacity of the media during the Finals was amazing. If you don't believe me about the media hyping everything up to add drama to a "boring" series, just look at the opening sequence for Game 3. It’s the first game with championship implications to be played in Cleveland in 10 years and they go right to the city's history of losing in the playoffs. Why? It's not enough that two of the top teams in the league, with two of the best players in the world today (James and Duncan) are playing for a championship?

Apparently not.

First, we have to throw the crowd a hook, like Cleveland’s championship drought (oh, well I'll just have to root for them and watch to see if they break it!). I'm tired of my city being used as a doormat by the rest of the American sports scene, enough already. It's like kicking a kid in a wheelchair at this point, what are Cleveland fans going to do but sit there and suffer through.

It's the middle of the finals, an Akron native is making history with the hometown team, and all everyone else wants to do is bring Cleveland fans down by dredging up the painful past. At this point it's cruel, they weren't even talking about basketball for most of the time, just failures in general.

Criticism of the team’s inability to hit the open shot or make any kind of stand on offense are certainly valid, but I’ve heard almost as many complaints about the quality of the games and the television ratings as I have about the teams themselves.

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