Will LeBron James be to Cleveland what Barry Bonds was to Pittsburgh?

Tonight might just be the night in which the Cavaliers fall off the cliff.  Why?  Let’s consider the Pittsburgh Pirates following the 1992 season.

Barry Bonds spent his first 7 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and during that time he amassed a very impressive list of personal achievements.  The list includes:

  • Voted an NL All-Star – 1990 & 1992
  • NL Golden Glove – 1990, 1991 & 1992
  • NL Silver Slugger – 1990, 1991 & 1992
  • NL MVP – Finished 1st in 1990 & 1992 and 2nd in 1991

This was also before the team became the laughing stock that it is now.  It was a team with a proud history.  It had won 5 World Series since 1903 – the last in 1979.  The team had been to the post season many more times throughout its history.  Ok, enough of a trip down memory lane.

So while Bonds was hitting his stride as a player, he was also playing on a very solid team.  It was a team that made it to, but ultimately lost, three consecutive NLCS (1990, 1991 and 1992).  Following the 92 season, Bonds left the Pirates for the San Francisco Giants, a team that had just finished two back-to-back sub-500 seasons.  However, the issue here is not where he ultimately went to play.  The issue is what happened to his previous team after he decided to leave.

In the case of the Pirates, the team went into the toilet.  The very next season the Pirates began a streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons – which they have yet to break.  Now, to be fair, I will not blame all of that on Bonds departure.  Bonds left at a time when all of the Pirates talent departed (players and management) and the team has yet to figure out how to build a successful team.  It is clear though, that a small market team, like the Pirates, can easily fall off a cliff when its biggest star leaves.

LeBron James has spent his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  And much like Barry Bonds, James has amassed some great personal honors.  He and his team have also had some post season success – making it to one NBA finals and two Eastern Conference finals during this period.  James and Bonds careers, in two completely different sports, seem to parallel.

If LeBron James leaves the Cavaliers, as many experts suspect, is it not reasonable to expect that the Cavaliers would fall into a multi-year funk?  If they do, I doubt that it would be nearly a generation like the Pirates – as the Cavaliers appear to have better management and ownership than the Pirates.  However, a departure of a player of his stature, much like Barry Bonds, appears very likely to have a devastating, multi-season impact on his former team.  And as a smaller market city, that no longer can offer the draw of “playing with LeBron,” nor does it present the opportunities of the larger cities, nor is it a destination city – it will be increasingly more difficult to attract free agent talent.  This could easily create a situation in which the Cavaliers become a (best case) middle of the pack team or (worst case) routinely in the draft lottery for the next three to four seasons.

So here we are only a few hours from 9:00 EDT on July 8, 2010, it will be interesting to see if today marks the day that the “Pirates-like” downward spiral began for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Not so fast with the praise on Jamison’s defense

Earlier today I came across John Schumann’s article on NBA.com titled, “Jamison fitting in quite nicely with Cavaliers.”  The article largely focuses on Antawn’s overall adjustment to playing with the Cavs.

Reading the article there were a few comments that I felt did not tell the full story.  I have pulled a few of those comments out and added my own responses.

“They’ve done it [decreased opponents scoring] with Jamison, the guy who’s never been on a good defensive team before, playing 37 minutes a game. The competition hasn’t been great and the defense isn’t quite at the level it needs to be, but it seems the new guy has acquainted himself well to defending at a high level.”

It is true that Jamison has not previously been a part of a team that can be considered a good defensive team, so it is likely to believe that over his 11 year career, he has likely picked up some poor defensive habits.  Schumann also points out that this mini-resurgence in Cavs defensive prowess has come during a stretch when they weren’t playing the most talented teams.

“As with any good defensive team, it’s about all five guys on the floor, a collective effort. Jamison’s a better defender when you surround him with better defenders and a coach who gets them to play the right way.”

This statement is likely true of any solid (or better) NBA vet and does not uniquely apply to Jamison.  If you surround that player with teammates who are willing to play defense, a coaching staff that teaches defense, and more importantly requires you to play defense, then one would not be surprised that the team generally plays good sound defense.  While there will be peaks and valleys in the team’s defensive performance throughout the year, in general it would be a safe bet that that team will be regarded as a solid defensive team.

“The biggest difference is the trust factor,” Jamison said. “You know where you’re supposed to be in certain spots. You know where your teammates are supposed to be.  Just knowing that you have help, that’s something that I’ve never experienced before, as far as being part of a good defensive team.”

Jamison is likely comforted by the fact that he has good solid defensive teammates that know what their role is and who is supposed to help on any given offensive set.  However, trust cuts both ways.  During his time with the Wizards, Jamison has not always rolled to help out on plays when it appeared that he should.  So would it not be likely that one of his teammates develop a lack of trust with his defensive effort?

One good place to see this demonstrated is on Kyle Weidie’s Truth About It.net.  Following a number of games – for example this one versus the Knicks – he went out of his way to demonstrate through screen shots the inability of the Wizards (including Jamison) to play good sound defense.

Source: Truth About It.Net

While Jamison clearly has benefited by being part of a better defensive team and he is smart enough to know he has to pick up his defensive effort, it should not be made to seem as if he did not have a role in his previous teams generally poor defensive efforts.  It will be interesting, however, to “witness” how far Jamison’s defensive skills have improved once the playoffs begin.  When the games truly count, teams will begin to game plan to take advantage of the Cavs weaknesses.  And until Jamison proves otherwise, he has to be considered a weak link in Cleveland’s defense.

Goodbye and Good Luck Antawn Jamison

Antawn, thank you for your hard work and dedication during your time with the Wizards. I enjoyed watching your “unorthodox” flip shots, your dribble drives, your ability to grab rebounds and your lock down defense (ok, I’m kidding about that). I will miss your professional attitude and the way you often spoke the truth about your teammates and what was and wasn’t acceptable. You personally helped turned this franchise around and helped provide Wizards fans with hope.

However, you are now with the enemy. 🙂 So while I would personally like to see you win a championship, unfortunately I can not say the same about your new team. Sorry, but I do not have any desire in seeing Cleveland win a championship. In fact, I am more intrigued to see if King Crab Dribble actually leaves Cleveland if the Cavs do not win a championship this year.

So while I wish you all the best… it just does not a championship, at least not this year.