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Friday, February 19, 2010

Jamison Could be Final Championship Piece--If Big Z Rejoins Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers already owned a very deep and talented roster even before the the addition of two-time All-Star Antawn Jamison. I've been saying all along that the Cavs are the best team in the East and that is certainly the case now--especially if the Cavs are able to re-sign center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 30 days, as I discuss in my newest CavsNews article (6/19/15 edit: the link to CavsNews.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

The Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired the proverbial “stretch 4”—i.e., power forward who can shoot jumpers and/or create his own scoring opportunities—that they have been seeking (and their fans have been dreaming about) for quite some time: as part of a three team deal involving the Washington Wizards and L.A. Clippers, Antawn Jamison will join the Cavaliers, while the Cavs will ship center Zydrunas Ilgauskas plus a first round draft pick to Washington.

We live in a society that craves instant reactions and immediate feedback but the truth is that this deal really cannot be completely evaluated until 30 days from now when Ilgauskas will have the option of returning to Cleveland if Washington buys out his contract. It is easy and obvious to say that the Cavs have tremendously upgraded their roster--Jamison (20.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is significantly outperforming Ilgauskas (7.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) this season—but Ilgauskas’ impact on Cleveland’s roster should not be lightly dismissed. Even though Ilgauskas’ per game numbers are hardly impressive and on a per minute basis he is having the least productive season of his career in terms of scoring and blocked shots, he comprised one third of a three headed center monster with Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao. That gave the Cavs tremendous matchup flexibility as well as insurance against injuries and/or foul trouble: the Cavs could go super big with O’Neal and Ilgauskas on the court at the same time or they could go small with Vareajao at center and LeBron James at power forward. Each center could stay fresh because none of them averaged even 30 mpg.

Jamison is a highly skilled player but he is not a center, so it is very important now for O’Neal to stay healthy and out of foul trouble; O’Neal and Varejao will have to combine to fill Ilgauskas’ 20.5 mpg for at least the next month. After that time, according to NBA rules, the Wizards can buy out Ilgauskas, who would then be free to re-sign with the Cavs (if the Wizards buy out Ilgauskas before the 30 day period ends he could immediately sign with any NBA team except the Cavs).

There are good reasons to assume that the Wizards will buy out Ilgauskas and that he will decide to return to Cleveland but none of the involved parties can publicly talk about that scenario. Assuming that Ilgauskas does indeed join the Cavs for the end of the regular season plus the playoffs, the Cavs will be stacked. Since before the season began I have been praising the Cavs' depth but think about the options that Coach Mike Brown could have at his disposal a month from now: the aforementioned three headed monster at center, a power forward rotation consisting of James, Jamison, Varejao and J.J. Hickson, a small forward corps of James, Jamario Moon and Jawad Williams and a backcourt consisting of Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson. The Cavs have shooters, defenders, rebounders and playmakers, plus enough depth to withstand an injury to any one player (other than James, obviously). It could not honestly be said that any team in the NBA poses an unsolvable matchup problem for that roster.

Still, the cautionary note must be sounded that Ilgauskas’ return is not a foregone conclusion: the Wizards may not buy him out or they may buy him out past the deadline when a player who signs with a team is eligible for postseason play. Also, a team like the Dallas Mavericks may step up and offer Ilgauskas a far better contract than the Cavaliers can put forth, plus the potential opportunity to start. If Ilgauskas does not return to Cleveland then the Cavs will still have a very formidable team but their depth at center could become an issue.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:00 PM



At Sunday, February 21, 2010 1:47:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

It will be interesting to see what happens with Big Z, but I think you're right that whether he comes back could wind up determining whether this was a good move or not. Jamison is an excellent player, but the Cavs had a very good thing going with their 3-headed frontcourt rotation of Shaq, Sideshow Varejao, and Big Z.

On another topic, here is a reasonably appropriate and measured use of statistics to discuss the Lakers' play without Kobe recently:


At Monday, February 22, 2010 4:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I indicated in my article, I only like the trade for the Cavs if Z in fact returns to Cleveland. If Z does not come back then the Cavs have improved themselves at power forward but hurt themselves at center and I am not certain that overall this would be a plus, even though Jamison is statistically a much more productive player than Z at this point; the issue is not about individual talent but the functioning of the team as a whole (which is why I have never bought the argument that the Lakers are deeper than the Cavs).

While I can honestly admit that I would not have expected the Lakers to go 4-1 without Kobe, both the numbers and the "eyeball test" of those five games show several things:

1) The Lakers had good fortune in terms of who they played and when they played them (Portland without Roy, G.S. without Ellis, Spurs in state of turmoil defensively).

2) In a small sample size anything can happen; Vujacic has played dreadfully for quite some time but he hit a bit of a hot streak for this small stretch.

3) As Coach Phil Jackson noted several times, even though the Lakers won four games they did not play particularly well overall (but their opponents played even worse).

It is worth mentioning that although the Lakers have a good record overall without Kobe that statistic includes the time period when Shaq was on the team and the offense was built around the Diesel; since Shaq departed, the Lakers are a sub.-500 team without Kobe (they may be exactly .500 thanks to the current 4-1 run; I don't have the exact numbers handy).


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