Saturday, November 17, 2007

Name That Injured Cavalier!

I'm starting to feel like a broken record talking about the Cavaliers, but yet another player has succumbed to injury. Larry Hughes will be sidelined four to six weeks with a deep bone bruise in his left knee, according to the Plain Dealer. Hughes sustained the injury from a collision with Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa on November 4.

Hughes was averaging 27.3 minutes, 6.8 points, and 2.3 assists per game with a miserable .293 FG% on the season. I'm torn in my opinion on Larry Hughes right now. On one hand, he's been a major disappointment; on the other, he's almost been set up to fail expectations with that ridiculous contract he was given. Everybody knew Hughes' body was fragile before he signed a 5 year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in 2005. Ferry had to have realized this guy had some serious health risks involved, but he overpaid for him anyway. After Hughes missed 46 games in '05-'06, 12 games (including Games 3 and 4 of the Finals) in '06-'07, and now up to 13 games to kick off this season, I'm beginning to sense a pattern. I didn't include Hughes' time away for family reasons, as those events were beyond anyone's control and don't belong in this argument.

I know it's a little hypocritical of me, since I took a soft stance on Ferry's lack of off-season acquisitions this year, but what are the Cavs going to do now? Well, not much except tough it out and hope for the best. There's no Plan C; even if Hughes was healthy, he was a non-factor so far this season. Cleveland needs help in multiple areas right now, some of which could have been fixed only in hindsight, but Ferry's fragile investment at point guard took a bad time to make its presence known again.

Terry Pluto suggested the Cavs talk to guard Earl Boykins about a one year deal (before Hughes went down). Boykins played 33 Min/G for Milwaukee last season, averaging 14 points with a .427 FG%. Pluto said Boykins did not fit well into Coach Brown's defensive big-man scheme, so Cleveland passed on him before. A player that may not be a good fit for the team shouldn't be forced on the head coach, but I hope Cleveland is at least exploring their options.

Sasha Pavlovic will be the one to pick up Hughes' minutes, starting alongside Daniel Gibson in the backcourt. Gibson has been one of Cleveland's best players so far, averaging 32.3 Min/G and posting a .567 FG%, .585 3P%, and a .833 FT%. I don't think anyone's worrying about Gibson (except for opposing teams).

Pavlovic on the other hand, has struggled since returning to the team after his holdout. Since signing his new contract, Sasha has sunk only 28% of his field goals and made minimal contributions off the bench. He's actually averaging more turnovers (1.50) per game than assists (1.3). It seems unlikely that Sasha is still trying to get back into playing form after jumping into the season sans-training camp (could he really be that out of shape?). The culprit for his poor play is, at least in part, an injured back. Pavlovic has been having back spasms and had to sit out the November 12 game against Denver. If he's playing with a cold shot and a bad back, don't expect any major contributions from Sasha on offense until he's healthy again.

Despite the team's injury woes, it's still fairly early in the season. If the team had been playing better than it had before Hughes went down and Pavlovic's back started acting up, I wouldn't be nearly as concerned about the current situation. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but the Cavs are going to need to step up as a team to make it through such a rough start.

It's curious that the Cavs have endured all this negative press and analysis, but have yet to field a team at full strength. They're currently own a 5-5 record and sit 1.5 games below Detroit and hold the seventh best record in the East above 4-5 Washington. If all the injured players return and the team is still playing poorly, then there's obviously a bigger problem, but that time hasn't come yet. How can this team not improve once the injuries heal (the injury to Varejao's brain not withstanding)? The trick is holding on long enough until they do.

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