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How The Cavaliers Spent Their Summer Vacation (Take 3)

In the 2007-2008 NBA season, an up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers team defied expectations by winning the Eastern Conference. They were swept in the Finals by a far superior San Antonio Spurs team. The summer of 2010, when young superstar LeBron James was to become a free agent, seemed a long way away.

The following season ended in a more disappointing fashion, as the Cavs were beaten in seven games by eventual champion Boston. With their star trio of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Boston Celtics seemed poised to dominate the Eastern Conference for years. The Cavaliers added Mo Williams to the roster in the summer of 2008 in order to compete with Boston.

It made perfect sense at the time, but things haven’t worked out exactly as planned.

The Celtics had their title hopes derailed by injuries, and were eliminated in seven games by the upstart Magic, who had the size at every position to create matchup nightmares while winning the Eastern Conference. Without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, the Celtics couldn’t keep up.

The Cavaliers, their roster designed to compete with the Celtics, didn’t have the size or the length to guard big men like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on the perimeter. Once the Cavalier’s weaknesses were exposed, not even LeBron James’s game-winning heroics could salvage the season. It was partially a question of strategy, but primarily a question of talent and depth.

Cleveland had he pieces in place to beat Boston, not to beat Orlando. With Kevin Garnett returning for the Celtics, the Cavaliers will have to have a roster than can beat Orlando AND Boston, and this is to say nothing about defeating the defending champion Lakers.

You can make the case that the worst thing to happen to the Cavaliers all last season was the Kevin Garnett injury. If Garnett is healthy, the Celtics probably beat the Magic and meet Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. They had split the season series 2-2, each team having won both of the home meetings. Considering that the Cavaliers had home court advantage, that trend would have led to a Cleveland victory in a seven game series.

But the past is gone. Now we look to the future.

First order of business: Get a big man that can occupy Dwight Howard (and hopefully Andrew Bynum) in the paint. Enter Shaquille O’Neal.

You can make the argument that Shaq is too far past his prime to play the role that Cleveland needs him to play. However, when you consider what the Cavaliers gave up in the Shaq trade (Ben Wallace and the perpetually inconsistent Sasha Pavlovic), it’s a good move.

I hear many people saying that Shaq is too slow, and he will only slow down the Cavalier offense. That argument would make sense if the Cavs were a running team, but they aren’t. They play a nice, slow brand of half-court basketball and I can’t imagine Shaq slowing down a team that NEVER shoots with more than 15 seconds on the shot clock.

Whether Shaq can be a solid contributor on defense remains to be seen. The re-signing of Anderson Varejao was motivated mostly by the need for a scrappy defender in the paint, someone who can guard the quicker big men that Shaq can’t keep up with.

Second order of business: Get a tall guard/swingman that can defend players like Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Pierce.

It’s nothing against Delonte West. He’s an excellent defender, solid shooter, and an all-around threat on offense. But he’s 6’3, and he can’t effectively guard a 6’10 guy like Turkoglu who lives at the three point line. The Turkoglu/West matchup was exposed in the ECF by Orlando early and often. It would have made sense to put LeBron on Turkoglu more often, but it’s too late now.

The acquisitions of SG Anthony Parker and SF Jamario Moon are intended to shore up the perimeter deficiencies that haunted Cleveland against Orlando. Moon’s long arms and athleticism make him a respected defender (1.05 steals, 1.06 blocks in his career) but his rebounding (5.4 pg) and respectable three point shooting (36% last season) should help him to find a niche as LeBron James backup. For the first time, LeBron might be able to sit for a few minutes without his backup being a defensive liability.

Anthony Parker is an intriguing pickup, considered by many to be a free agent steal. His career NBA numbers (10.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.2 apg) don’t jump out at you, and at 34 years of age, he’s on the downside of his career. Parker is a veteran that brings a solid all-around game, can defend, and knows how to play above the rim (We'll see if he still does). His ability to mesh with LeBron could lead to some spectacular plays. Neither Parker nor Moon will be expected to do much more than play solid defense and make open jump shots. With LeBron James on the floor, there will be many open jump shots. That being said, I think Parker should start at shooting guard for the coming season.

A quick aside about current starting SG Delonte West:
I love Delonte. He plays with a reckless abandon that few players do. I want him to get as many minutes as he can handle, but I think those minutes would be better served leading the charge off of the bench with Moon and big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas. West can play both guard positions, and his presence as a sixth man could solidify the bench strength. I would rather see Delonte getting bench minutes before Daniel Gibson. When Delonte is on the floor, this team is better.

They could still use a big man that can shoot from the outside and guard Rasheed Wallace/Rashard Lewis types, but it’s looking as if they will have to make do with the pieces they have now. Signing the injured Leon Powe also seems like a possibility that could pay off come playoff time, although he is strictly a low post player. I imagine that a rejuvenated Leon Powe should have no shortage of motivation to beat a Boston team that jettisoned him.

This is the third off-season since LeBron and the Cavs lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals. Each off-season has seen roster changes around LeBron that have yet to deliver a title. This summer they took a roster that finished #1 in defensive efficiency, and made it even better on that side of the ball.

This could be the last off-season that LeBron James spends on the Cavaliers roster, which has made this one off-season where nobody in the Cavaliers front office could afford to take a summer break.

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