2009 Cavs: Gone, But Not Forgotten (Look Ahead to 2010)
Every year, it’s a seamless transition for me: football to basketball to baseball to football to basketball to baseball. It never ends, and you really can’t distinguish the where it begins (just ask my wife).
It’s been that way since I was a kid. I’ve followed the Redskins as long as I can remember (1982) and somewhere along the line, I picked up the Reds and the Cavaliers. Since college, I’ve also added the University of Oklahoma to my list of teams, but if we’re talking the “big three” for me, it’s the Redskins, Reds, and Cavs (in no particular order).
For argument’s sake, we’ll say I’ve followed all three of those teams “closely” since 1990. That is a total of 58 seasons. Of those 58 seasons, exactly two have ended up in championships (1990 Reds and 1991 Redskins). In addition to those two teams, only the 2007 Cavs won even a conference championship. The Redskins haven’t even appeared in a conference title game since that 1991 season and the Reds haven’t made an appearance in the NLCS since 1995.
These are not good numbers.
Still, a good number of the 58 teams have wrapped me around the collective fingers. Here are my top 5 all-time favorite teams (it has a point).
5. 2007 Cavs: First team in Cavs history to make it to the NBA Finals. They won 50 games that year (16 fewer than they won this year) and they were truly a one-man show in the post-season. They had no answer for the Spurs in the Finals, but they did provide Cavs fans with the greatest season in their history and a thrilling series win over Detroit in the East Finals.
4. 2005 Redskins: A triumphant season for Joe Gibbs in his second year back in the NFL. A gritty team that caught fire late in the season and beat their three NFC East rivals down the stretch to make the playoffs (including a 35-7 drubbing of the Cowboys). They upset the Bucs in the wild card round before bowing out to the eventual NFC champion Seahawks in Seattle. Sean Taylor led the defense and Santana Moss and Clinton Portis had huge years for the offense. A memorable team.
3. 1999 Reds: Had they won one more game that season, they may have found themselves at the top of this list. I LOVED that team and what they brought to Reds fans in the summer of 1999. They won 96 games, but fell to the Mets in a one-game playoff for the wild card. In almost any other year, 96 wins would have easily earned the Reds a playoff berth, but they picked a bad year to be very good. The Reds lost two of three games during the last series of the season in Milwaukee and the details from those losses are forever etched in my memory. An underdog team with huge heart.
2. 1991 Redskins: Undoubtedly the most dominant team I’ve ever followed. The Redskins started 11-0 that season and cruised through the playoffs and the Bills in the Super Bowl. An underrated team on the all-time scale as well—often forgotten because that season was so incredibly easy for them. A very typical Joe Gibbs team that had all the right parts working in unison. Two Hall of Famers in their prime on that team (Art Monk and Darrell Green) and several other players who have HOF arguments (Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Wilbur Marshall). Also boasted a brilliant coaching staff.
2009 Cavs: Yep, my all-time favorite team, despite the fact that they came up short against Orlando. The Cavs had a phenomenal season—out hustling and out working their opponents on a nightly basis. Lebron James earned his MVP award, but he was not alone—his supporting cast was excellent and gave Lebron plenty of time to rest throughout the year. An infectiously fun team that was historically good at home. A very good cast of characters that were unfortunately exposed on the floor in the East Finals by a superior Magic team. You don’t win 66 games by accident and you don’t do it by being a one-man show. They clearly had flaws we didn’t see until the very end, but the reason we didn’t see them was because they played so hard all year to cover them up—and I will never fault a team for that.
As a fan, this Cavs playoff loss will rank as one of my all-time disappointments—quite possibly the most down I’ve ever been following the end of a season. This is a team that deserved to win and a fanbase that deserved a winner. The way this season ended will linger for a long, long time. But on the bright side, I do not feel as if a window has closed on these Cavs—maybe this was needed in order for them to put the final pieces of the puzzle together? But truth be told, it’s hard to focus on bright sides less than 24 hours after your season ends.
Lots of criticism being levied at Mike Brow, Mo Williams, and Delonte West for the loss to the Magic. While it’s fairly obvious that Brown got out-dueled by Stan Van Gundy at least a little bit in the series, I do not think there was a coaching answer to what the Magic presented the Cavs. It’s pretty simple: The Magic had a big man dominate down low (Howard) whenever the Cavs went one-on-one with him. And when the Cavs doubled, his teammates hit shots—they did it all game, every game of the series.
The big problem with the Cavs in this series was their lack of post presence. Not only did Howard own the paint when the Magic had the ball, but the Cavs were completely unable to establish any offense from the post. Their best bet was Lebron driving to the lane or West backing down his man for a turn-around jumper. Zydrunas Illgauskas is still a perimeter threat, but his low post game has dwindled to almost nothing. When the Cavs have the ball, the basically run a four-guard offense (Lebron, West, Mo, and Z). Anderson Varejao is a good garbage man and nuisance for the other team, but he and Z are a poor combo to have on the floor at once. Problem is that Mike Brown had few other options. Ben Wallace provides zero on offense and he is on his last legs due to age and injury anyway.
The Cavs need more size, athleticism, and youth at the 4/5 positions. Lebron, Mo, and West are a fine trio and you can live with the lack of size from the two guards if you have big men who can handle things in the paint.
The Cavs should target two types of players in this off-season:
--A true big man that has merit on BOTH ends of the floor.
--A longer, more athletic 2/3 to help defensively and add an offensive boost off the bench).
The list of unrestricted free agents this summer is somewhat underwhelming. Obviously, the Cavs main priority is to get Lebron to sign an extension. But that is out of their hands. They can (and will) offer him the max, it’s up to Lebron if he wants to sign it or wait until next summer to decide. In the meantime, all the Cavs can do is prepare the roster to entice Lebron to come back. With Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade free agents after next season, the Cavs may not want to lock up much money this coming off-season.
But if they decide to spend the cash, here are some interesting names:
Rasheed Wallace: A fantastic complementary player when he wants to be. But is age catching up with him? Would he be willing to play more in the post?
Chris Anderson: Nuggets will most likely re-sign the Birdman, but he could fill Varejao’s role if he leaves for a big contract elsewhere.
Shawn Marion: Never been a huge fan, but his game might suit the Cavs well. They will not need to rely on him for any sort of perimeter offense—he could play the 3 or 4 position and be a defensive stopper/slasher. I could see him doing well with Lebron.
Ron Artest: Not sure if he’d be the right fit, and you’re always worried about what he might do next, but there is no doubt that he is one of the finest defensive players in the NBA and he is also a bigger guy that can handle the ball and spell Lebron for brief stretches.
Trevor Ariza: Makes perfect sense, but no way the Lakers let him walk after what he’s done for them in the post-season.
Each of the players on the above list have size and versatility—it would stand to reason that the Cavs would improve by signing any of them.
The one name not on this list that intrigues me the most?
Shaquille O’Neal. He looked refreshed and motivated last season and you know he’s dying to win one more title—especially if Kobe gets his this year. And it doesn’t hurt that Shaq seems offended by Dwight Howard’s success. The Suns have no use for Shaq at this point and a team like Cleveland is a logical destination. The Cavs could use Shaq sparingly in the regular season and save him for the stretch run. Depending on the price, I might make Shaq my number one off-season priority if I was Danny Ferry. Shaq gets his last ring while helping Lebron get his first? I can see it now.......