Sunday, December 2, 2007

LeBron's Finger, Varejao's "Surprise," and Kidd's Man-Crush

The Cavs have been an elusive team thus far. Every time they give the fans something to get excited about (like an OT win over Boston), the injury bug finds a way to stifle their cheers. LeBron injured his left index finger against Detroit on Wednesday. The finger was sprained on an innocent looking foul in the second quarter, with James sitting out the second half. According to an ESPN article, “the team says James is day to day, [but] the Cavaliers likely will be overly cautious with the injury so he doesn't make it worse.”

Resting James is a no-brainer at this point in the season. Sprains have a tendency to get worse if you don’t give them enough time to heal, so the injury itself is frustrating. Given James’ aggressive playing style, even if he was able to favor his right hand in shooting and dribbling, his mobility and passing ability would be far from 100%. His aggressive playing style would just lead to a re-injury anyway.

The Cavaliers were coming off a four game winning streak before falling to Detroit and Toronto. Their next game is against Boston on Sunday and James is going to be game-time decision. If his finger isn’t close to a full recovery, I don’t think he should play yet. It’s good that the Cavs think they can beat Boston for the second time in a week, but the outlook doesn’t look good, even with James. Live to fight another day, I say.

On James’ Hot Start

Everybody knows LeBron has been at the top of his game this season. He leads the league in points per game with 30.7 (Kobe is second with 27.6) and is seventh in assists with 8.1. Just how impressive is that? James is currently the only player to be in the top 10 in the league in scoring and assists. Like Kobe Bryant in L.A., James has had to carry his team on his shoulders this season, but unlike Kobe, he has displayed a balanced attack that makes him even scarier to deal with.

Columnist Marc Stein on James:

A trip to the NBA Finals and a Team USA summer spent alongside the maniacally driven Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd appear to have tweaked James' approach. Throw out an Opening Night no-show against Dallas -- "It looked like he didn't want to play that night," one Mavs foe suggested, surmising that James still was upset Cleveland was starting the season with Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic unsigned -- and he has played at the highest possible level.

How high? With four triple-doubles (and two near-misses with nine assists) in a span of 12 games for a depth-challenged team that got no deeper in the offseason, James has put himself on pace to possibly join Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only players in history to average 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a season.

After witnessing the King of Akron decimate Detroit in the Conference Finals, it’s easy to see how James’ maturity and experience have helped him elevate his game lately. It’s almost crazy to think LeBron can get even better at this point, but he seems to be on the brink, if he’s not there already.

I was curious how James’ outstanding start to ’07 compared to past seasons. Below are the splits for the first month of James’ first five NBA seasons:

Year G Min FG% 3PT% FT% R Ast PPG
2003 17 41:00 40.0 22.6 65.6 7 6.4 17.5
2004 14 41:00 51.5 35.7 77.1 7.8 6.1 26.3
2005 14 39:53 48.9 35.1 81.8 6 4.5 28.4
2006 15 40:36 47.0 36.1 71.2 6.8 6.7 27.5
2007 16 39:47 48.6 32.9 70.6 7.6 8.1 30.7

The numbers indicate LeBron really has gotten off to the best start of his career. His overall production in points per game, assists, and rebounds have all taken significant jumps, while his field goal and three point percentages are slightly better than his career averages. Whether James can sustain such outstanding production has yet to be determined with less than a quarter of the season under wraps. I don’t think many people would be surprised if he did post Oscar Robertson numbers though.

It’s interesting that such a spike in production has come this season, on one of the weaker teams James has played on. Has he just been getting more opportunities because some of his teammates (especially the bench) have been doing so poorly? Has the coaching staff reconfigured the offense to allow James more control over the court? Or has his game moved to the next level, as indicated above? It’s too early to tell, but at least the King is giving Cavs fans something to cheer about in what has the makings of a long winter.

On Varejao

Quite frankly, this situation got stupid a long time ago. And then this little gem came out on ESPN:

"I wanted to come back," [Varejao] said. "I love the fans and I really love my teammates. But there are others there that have made it very difficult. It's gotten to the point that I don't want to play there anymore. I'm just hoping for a sign-and-trade at this point."

Really? You don’t want to play in Cleveland anymore? Gee, I never would have guessed.

Based on the information presented, both sides screwed up royally during the negotiating period; trouble is, no one wants to admit they screwed up. The trouble started when the Cavs refused to offer Varejao a midlevel (starting at $5.356 million per season) salary. Varejao proceeded to reject the team’s five year, $32 million offer. That’s $6.4 million per year, which should have been more than enough (the language indicates the first contract year would have been below the requested midlevel salary). That’s just what the article says, I never said it made any sense. To make matters worse, Danny Ferry flew out to Brazil to try and spring a surprise negotiation on Varejao without his agent present. Terrible, terrible idea.

The Cavs can probably swing a sign-and-trade now that the teams that were scared off by Cleveland’s threat to match any offer for their restricted free agent are void. I’d be satisfied if the Cavs picked up a draft pick and a decent bench player. My expectations aren’t very optimistic though, as the whole situation stinks.

On Kidd had an interesting article on Jason Kidd the other day. Apparently, he would be very open to playing in Cleveland with LeBron:

Kidd admits that he and James daydream about contending for championships together in Cleveland.

While Kidd maintained that he won't involve himself in publicly asking for a trade, he had no problem in spelling out his admiration for LeBron.

The article is basically one big love-fest between Kidd and James. Hanging out with a premier veteran player is great for a young superstar like LeBron. Especially if that player churns out points and assists like butter. Hmmm... One would hope the Cavs’ GM at least inquired about Kidd in the offseason. If not, it might not be a bad idea to give New Jersey a call.

There are some obvious problems in trying to trade for Kidd. First off, he’s 34 years old and has a fair share of nagging injuries to worry about. Second, his contract would be difficult to fit under the salary cap. Kidd is owed $19.7 million this year and $21.4 million next season before his current contract is up. He’d be worth the money, in my opinion, but I don’t see how the Cavs make the economics work without moving Larry Hughes first (please?). Finally, what do the Cavs have to offer to the Nets? Well, there’s Varejao. And….draft picks? The article surmises as much, but putting together a package for Jason Kidd would require some tough sacrifices by the Cavs that may not be in the best interests of the team.

The Cavs seem to be constantly walking the fine line between improving the team (and keeping LeBron happy) without crippling the franchise down the road (missing the draft for the second year in a row might not help in that department). The inability of the GM to deal with pressure from both ends of this spectrum may have cost the Cavs some opportunities lately. By the time the Cavs decide to make a move to acquire some heavy-duty help, it may end up as more of a band-aid than anything else.

1 comment:

Wanda said...

You write very well.