Monday, February 25, 2008

The Reviews are In

Looks like the Cavaliers first night with "the new family" was a smashing success. Lebron and his new crew jumped all over the Memphis Grizzlies early and often, and won going away 109-89. Though my man Billy Thomas got just one minute of play, the other four contributed in their own way. Take a look at the numbers:

*Ben Wallace: 34 Minutes, 5-6 from the field, 12 points, 10 rebounds
*Joe Smith: 25 Minutes, 6-8 from the field, 14 points, 6 rebounds
*Delonte West: 31 Minutes, 2-12 from the field, 5 points, 6 assists
*Wally Szczerbiak: 32 Minutes, 4-10, 2-4 from three, 10 points

For those who were there, you saw it with your own eyes live. This looked like a team full of energy on both ends of the floor. Here are some articles from the beat writers with what they saw.

Cavaliers Defeat Grizzlies With New Lineup - Branson "Wrong" - Cleveland Plain Dealer

It only took one practice for James to find out that Wallace is not the player whose numbers dipped in Chicago.

Instead, James found Wallace closer to the defensive player who helped lead the Detroit Pistons to a title in 2004.

"He showed [he has something left]," James said. "His ability to get up and rebound and his ability to throw down some dunks, and he made two free throws. He's rejuvenated."
Wallace's rejuvenation was on display when he forced a five-second call late in the fourth quarter on the Grizzlies. Memphis couldn't get the ball inbounds as Wallace was draped over guard Kyle Lowry.

Wallace was proud of his defensive moment.

"It felt good," he said. "I was out there working. I thought it might have been eight seconds, but I got [the call] and it felt good."

New James Gang Rocking With Sytlish New Look - Bill Livingston, Cleveland Plain Dealer

It is to be expected that the new players would report with eyes a-light at the chance to play on a contender with James. Still, Cleveland fans watched for most of three seasons as Larry Hughes wrestled with the indignity of trying -- and failing -- to be the Cavs' second banana. Before that, Carlos Boozer left town as a free agent after swearing he never would. Seeing new guys who were deliriously happy to be here made the fans feel better.

It also put a bounce in James' step. This is big. No matter how fully James has tried to invoke such Churchillian qualities as resolution in battle and defiance in defeat, it had to be getting old as a lone voice, raised in a filibuster. Now there is a chorus of voices.

Full cry for the new era came early, with the fans screaming and the roar for Wallace as the next-to-last starter to be introduced almost rivaling that for James. After taking a 19-point lead in the first quarter, the Cavs coasted, allowing the new players to play over half the game.

Wallace wound up with 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 109-89 victory over a Memphis team that is playing out the string. He had made 101 field goals in 50 games in Chicago and was shooting 37.3 percent. He was 5-for-6 Sunday. But the plays that showed why he was acquired came without the ball.

Good First Impression - Brian Windhorst, Akron Beacon-Journal

The fresh four of Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West all made significant contributions, which fed the frenzy. LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had good games as well, leading to the blowout.

''This might have been the first time in a long time I got chills when I took the court,'' said Smith, who had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and six rebounds off the bench.

''When we ran out on the court for warm-ups, the crowd reaction and how they accepted us, I kind of got goose bumps.''

No one, though, was treated better than Wallace. The crowd was dotted with homemade signs with some connotation of ''Big Ben'' in them. He responded with a series of energy plays, from getting a steal on the Cavs' firstdefensive possession to forcing a five-second call with pressure defense in the fourth quarter.

He also showed some hints of how he might fit into the Cavs' (32-24) offense, taking advantage of double-teams on James and Ilgauskas to get five dunks. Wallace finished with 12 points, which tied his season high, 10 rebounds and two steals.

Owner Says Money Not #1 Concern When Making Deal - Windhorst

Gilbert doesn't speak with the media often, but he did before Sunday's game to explain his thinking about giving the green light to expand his payroll and luxury tax bill to bring aboard the four new players, including Wally Szczerbiak and Ben Wallace, who make a combined $27 million this season.

''I thought it was pretty important to do something,'' Gilbert said. ''We got to the Finals with this team, but the competition got harder and it was going to be a bigger challenge than last year.''
Gilbert said that he's not spending as much as people think. Because the Cavs are just responsible for paying the new players for the final 27 games of the season, he's only actually paying about $1.2 million more in the prorated salaries than he would have before the trade.

However, the Cavs will have to pay luxury tax on the entire additional $4.7 million added to their total payroll and that is a dollar-for-dollar penalty. The Cavs payroll is currently about $80.85 million — third in the NBA. The NBA's ''soft'' salary cap is $57.63 million and the luxury tax threshold is $67.865 million. That puts the current tax bill, the first-ever in franchise history, at a shade under $13 million.

''We are trying to build something here,'' Gilbert said. ''You pay $375 million for a franchise and then break even for a couple years. You can't start getting cheap now. It's a big commitment, but before we even look at money, we look at what is right basketball-wise first. If you do it money first, you may start getting (the front office) gun-shy even thinking of ideas.''

Daily Dime -

There were also signs of the possibly tough adjustment Wallace is going to be asked to make. Spending time guarding Hakim Warrick on the perimeter instead of Kwame Brown or Darko Milicic inside, Wallace was often pulled far from the hoop. It caused him to be out of position when it came to defending the basket on help defense at times. Though he got 10 rebounds, he missed some that came his way, too, as he got late position.

But that is nitpicking to some degree. Wallace's effort helped the Cavs dominate as that aforementioned frontline combined for 59 points and 30 rebounds.

And that doesn't count Joe Smith, who came off the bench and kept getting open shots off feeds from James, scoring 14 points with six rebounds.

Meanwhile Anderson Varejao, sidelined a month with a sprained ankle, is due back this week as the front line gains even more depth.

"Our interior is stronger than ever right now," James said. "Rebounding has always been our strength, but now it is even better."

Szczberiak hit a pair of 3-pointers on his way to 10 points. West had the roughest start of the newbies, making just 2-of-12 shots but he had six assists and three steals. Those six assists represented previous point guard Larry Hughes' season high as West is showing signs he may be a better fit at point than Hughes playing out of position.

Jay Z's Relationship With Lebron Should Worry Cavs - Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports

What’s unnerving to Cleveland is that Jay-Z happens to be a part owner of the New Jersey Nets with unlimited access to James’ heart, mind and ambitions. Of course, the Nets are plotting a move to a sparkling new arena in Brooklyn, perhaps as soon as the 2011-2012 season. They’re clearing cap space and planning a pursuit of James when he can opt out of his contract in the summer of 2010.

Cleveland officials won’t talk about James and Jay-Z, but if you were wondering about the franchise’s fear of losing him to the brighter lights and bigger city, understand that the trade owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Danny Ferry made had everything to do with winning now and crushing James’ concerns that Cleveland is unable to surround him with a championship cast.

LeBron doesn’t want to just win titles. His stated wants include becoming sport’s first billionaire athlete. Among his advisors, he counts Warren Buffet. Jay-Z has helped James focus his mind on chasing something bigger than basketball. The question will be this: For the kid out of Akron, will his hometown &ndash will even winning – be enough to hold onto LeBron James?

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