|James, Cavaliers come up short of title|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 19 May 2008 11:47|
In between, the Cleveland Cavaliers endured contract holdouts, overcame key injuries and were transformed by an extreme roster makeover general manager Danny Ferry believed would bring superstar LeBron James the necessary help to win it all.
However, the turbulence proved to be too much.
The Cavaliers' bumpy ride ended short of an NBA title.
``This is not a fun day,'' Ferry said Monday, less than 24 hours after the Cavaliers lost Game 7 in Boston. ``It's a tough end to the season.''
One year after making the finals for the first time, the Cavaliers got through only one round of this postseason. They ran into the revived Celtics, who won just 24 games a season ago but acquired stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in trades last summer and are eight more victories from a 17th championship.
James, who in his fifth season as a pro won the scoring title, a second All-Star MVP and raised his game to unimagined levels, didn't speak with reporters as the Cavaliers gathered for the final time as a team before parting ways for the summer.
While a few of his teammates assessed Cleveland's strange season for the media, James remained on the other side of the team's practice facility.
He made his final statement Sunday.
James scored 45 points, matching Boston's Paul Pierce (41 points) in a basket-for-basket game of ``H-O-R-S-E'' that rekindled 20-year-old memories of the spring day when Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins one-upped each other inside the Boston Garden.
Afterward, James, who is always politically correct when asked about issues related to Cleveland's roster, made it clear he wants Ferry to improve the Cavaliers - now.
``I think what we have is very good, but we need to continue to get better, we know that,'' James said. ``If that means some personnel changes that need to happen, then so be it. The teams around us in the league are continuing to get better.''
James then rattled off a roll call of teams, including Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit, Boston and New Orleans, who have improved over the past year. Not surprisingly, four of those teams are still alive in the playoffs. And it's not shocking that all four have more stars than Cleveland, which still lacks a proven offensive complement for James.
Although he has tried, the 23-year-old can't do it alone.
The Cavaliers are over the salary cap, which will prohibit Ferry from being active during free agency. However, Cleveland does have nearly $30 million in expiring contracts - Wally Szczerbiak's $13 million and Damon Jones $4.5 million among them - to dangle. The club might elect to buy out guard Eric Snow's $7 million contract for next season.
Also, the Cavs have a first-round pick (No. 19 overall) and the two exceptions ($5.5 million midlevel and $1.8 million biannual) to improve their talent pool.
Last year, Celtics GM Danny Ainge figured out a way to get Allen on draft day before shocking the hoops world when he lured Garnett away from Minnesota.
Ferry may have a similar blockbuster in mind. Over the next few weeks, Cleveland's GM plans to evaluate the Cavs from top to bottom.
``We'll do a deep dive with my staff, the coaching staff, to figure out how we can get better,'' he said. ``That's what this is about now at this time of year, finding ways to get better and find ways to improve your team and your roster. Those are the things we'll start to dig into in a more objective way now that the season's over.''
At the top of Ferry's to-do list will be the futures of guards Delonte West and Daniel Gibson, both restricted free agents.
The club's most reliable outside shooting threat, Gibson missed the final two games of the Boston series with a separated left shoulder. West, who came over in the 11-player superswap at the trading deadline, was Cleveland's second-best player in Game 7 against the Celtics, scoring 15 points with five assists. At times, he showed potential to be the traditional point guard who could take some pressure off James.
Ferry praised both players and seems content with his club's current makeup, although he's likely to soon alter it.
``I like this team,'' he said. ``I like the guys we have. I like the skill sets. I think we have toughness. We had a defensive edge at the end of the year at a pretty high level. We're a better shooting team overall, but we've got to still find ways to get better. I don't think by any means can we be satisfied with this year and how things are now.''
Ferry has shown he isn't afraid to tweak things. When the Cavs were stumbling along in February, Ferry dealt half of his active roster to get West, Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace and Joe Smith, all of whom gave Cleveland productive minutes, just not enough of them.
A quick glance at Sunday's Game 7 final box underscores the Cavs' tumultuous season. Of the nine players who faced the Celtics, only three - James, Jones and Zydrunas Ilgauskas - played for coach Mike Brown in the Oct. 31 opener against Dallas.
``I never had to go through a year like this whether it's as a scout, coach, assistant coach anything,'' Brown said. ``This was an unusual year.''
Ilgauskas has never experienced one like it. The 7-foot-3 center, who still hopes to play for Lithuania in this summer's Olympics, said that beginning with a fall trip to China, followed by Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic's contract holdouts, it was a season of endless hurdles for the Cavs.
As much as losing stings, the 10-year veteran and lone player left from a Cleveland team that won just 17 games five seasons ago, can handle the pain.
Tough as it was, this season can help.
``That's the good thing about being here now, if you don't win a championship it's considered a failure,'' he said. ``That's how we look at it. Making the playoffs or just winning a series is not good enough for us anymore.''