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Hughes Might Be Best As Sixth Man

The big news out of Cleveland last night was LeBron James coming off the bench for the first time in 333 career games as the Cavaliers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 118-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers. But the real story may turn out to be the emergence of super stud sub Larry Hughes.

The could-be king returned after missing 5 ½ games with a sprained left index finger, entering the game with Anderson Varejao (who played for the first time after ending a more than two-month contract holdout) and Hughes (who played at home for the first time in a month after missing 11 games with a bone bruise in his left leg).

James hadn't been a reserve since Larry Brown kept him strapped there during the 2004 Olympics, but he definitely will return to the starting lineup when the Cavaliers play New Jersey on Friday. Varejao has been Cleveland's energy off the bench since he came to town in 2004. But Cleveland Coach Mike Brown might need to keep Hughes in his current role.

In his second game back from injury, Hughes scored a season-high 36 points on 13-for-17 shooting and connected on five - yes, five - three-pointers. He came close to breaking Wizards assistant coach Phil Hubbard's Cavaliers record for points off the bench - 37 - set in 1984. Very n-i-ice.

Like Manu; if I could be like Manu. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hughes's performance came three days after scoring 22 points off the bench in a loss against Charlotte. Hughes has played 26 minutes in each of the past two games. He's averaging 1.12 points per minute - or 53.5 points per 48 minutes. He appears to be breaking out of his early season slump, as he played his best game of the season against the Pacers. Pacers Coach Jim O'Brien told reporters after the game, "I thought they had two LeBron Jameses out there."

Some might ask, "Why would you pay somebody $12 million to come off the bench?" I'd answer, do you want to win or worry about money?

A move to the bench is often considered a demotion, disrespect, or - if you're New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury - a reason to threaten to blackmail your coach back into the starting lineup.

NBA players usually aren't selfless enough to assume a seemingly lesser role without the glamour and glitz of the electronic lights, smoke and blaring music of pre-game introductions, but the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili may have changed that perception completely.

Ginobili, the Spurs third-highest paid player at $9 million this season, embraced a reserve role for the 39 games last season, mostly because he had confidence in his abilities and Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who seems to have a pretty good grasp of his job. The move made sense because it allowed Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to work the two-man game on offense in the first few minutes, Ginobili to exploit overmatched second-teamers from other squads, and the trio to be comfortable enough with their individual games to close.

Ginobili failed to win Sixth Man of the Year last season mostly because few voters truly saw him as a reserve and decided to go with the Suns instant cup of caffeine Leandro Barbosa. Ginobili did get an NBA championship ring, though, which some might consider a bit more important than a little trophy.

Larry, the bench is not so bad.(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

This season, Ginobili has left little doubt about who is the league's best reserve, as he averages 20.8 points - 24th in the NBA - in just 29.5 minutes per game. He might even get another ring - and a little trophy this season.

Does anybody think any less of him because some public address announcer isn't yelling his name before tipoff? The guy might be an all-star for the second time.

Being on the bench doesn't mean that you won't play, which explains how Jason Terry, who makes $8.3 million, is the top reserve for the Dallas Mavericks yet he still scores about the same as last season in slightly fewer minutes. Barbosa is still explosive off the bench, averaging slightly less than Tim Duncan this season (17.5 points compared to 17.6) in about two fewer minutes.

Although Hughes hasn't said much or complained any about coming off the bench, Brown said he's open to keeping Hughes there. Hughes hasn't always meshed on the floor with James since leaving Washington as a free agent in 2005, but he might excel in a reserve role. He won't have to worry about being a point guard, a shooting guard or running many set plays where James dribbles down the clock at the top of the key, takes his shot or passes. Hughes can just focus on what he does best: scoring.

He also won't have to worry about deferring to James until the end of the game. Remember, it's more about finishing than starting. And if Hughes is comfortable in the final minutes after blitzing through other teams' reserves, it might serve Cleveland best (that is, if Hughes can spends his time on the bench dressed in a uniform and warmups rather than a crisp, clean sportcoat; he has to stay healthy for anything to work).

But, a game-changing sixth man could energize a crowd and a team more than lame pre-game introductions. Brown may eventually put Hughes back in the starting lineup, but I wouldn't blame him if he didn't.

I talked to Hughes briefly when the Cavaliers came to town last week. He didn't sound too concerned about Cleveland's slow start. "We've struggled. We've had injuries. We've had guys holding out. We're fine," Hughes said. "It's a long season. That's what we do now. We have to catch our stride. We feel like we can turn it around."

He also said that it didn't upset him when people claimed that the Cavaliers backed into the NBA Finals last summer because of a weakened Eastern Conference playoff pool. "We don't really worry about that. We can't do anything about that," he said. "We accomplished what we needed to do to make it. We didn't make it all the way, but we are the defending [Eastern Conference] champs. Either respect or you don't. We have the banner."

After a torn plantar fascia made him immobile and ineffective during the playoffs last season - and forced him out of the final two games of the NBA Finals, Hughes said he's anxious to get back and reverse whatever curse has hit him the past two postseasons in Cleveland (remember, his brother died during the conference finals in 2006).
"Big time," he said. "That's what you play for. You play for that big stage, for the people that doubt you to do well. We had a lot of doubters. We feel like we can get there and do a better job."

By Michael Lee  |  December 12, 2007; 10:03 AM ET
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Interesting argument, and absolutely the right philosophy would be to decide what works best for the team as opposed to worrying about how much money is invested in Larry. That terrible contract is a "sunk cost" so the Cavs shouldn't concern themselves with it. Hopefully Larry has the right attitude to make the most out of the situation (if he can stay healthy ...).

Posted by: tmc | December 12, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Probably Jamison's fate in one or two years if he remains with the Wiz.

Posted by: reispace | December 12, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The "Why are you paying this guy that much to come off the bench" argument probably derived from an agent.

Would a true fan really care to associate salary with when a guy should play?

In any case, Cleveland can do whatever they want with Larry Hughes.

We've got our Andray "Unbreakable" Blatche and they've got their Mr. Glass.

Posted by: | December 12, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Hughes has proved to be best as Gil's backcourt partner.

But apparently he loves him some Lake Erie.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Larry is a good guy and combined with Gilbert to take the Wizards deeper in the playoffs than they have been since. He was never good enough to justify the salary Cleveland gave him but they were desperate to find a running mate for LeBron. I hope he stays healthy but his history indicates he'll never be an 82 game player.

I'm baffled by the number of people who keep consigning Antawn to a 6th man role with the Wizards. As long as he is one of a handful of NBA players who average a double double, he should not only be starting, but on the All Star team. Double double players night in and night out are rare in the NBA. Antawn, even with defensive deficiencies, brings his 20 and 10 game after game and shows no signs of slowing down.

Finally, for all you Eddie Jordan detractors who participate in this Insider site, let's give Eddie and his staff props for this team's play since losing their best player. 5-6 guys a night are in double figures scoring and last night we had 3 double double starters. they are sharing the ball, sometimes even making one pass too many, and are all in all playing team basketball they way it is supposed to be played. They won't beat the elite teams but they are all giving maximum effort every night and the coaching staff deserves a lot of the credit for keeping this team focused and far!

Posted by: arnie | December 12, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Great post, arnie. Well said on all points.

Posted by: kaloram | December 12, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Be nice if Hughes could string together a whole season. He's a nice guy and a good player.

Posted by: Zonker | December 12, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse


do you have any update on TJ Ford. Do you know or have you heard anything on his injury? Larry will probably break out of this "slump" of shooting good and go back to what he does

Posted by: LooseCannon | December 12, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse


sorry,I meant Michael. But either way, do you or Ivan know anything about the Ford injury.

Posted by: LooseCannon | December 12, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Larry Hughes is a class act. I miss him and wish him health and happiness in Cleveland or wherever he decides to call home.

I'm among those who do think AJ will be a great 6th man, behind Blatche. Doesn't make sense this year, AJ's still on top of his game, AB hasn't been consistent enough, and the Wiz are short-handed at the 5. But over time that would be Antawn's best role for the team, assuming AB plays up to his potential and we and we get Etan or a serviceable reserve center back. Yeah he's a 20/10 guy, but look at what forces Ginobili and Barbosa are off the bench.

Posted by: Prazak | December 12, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Thank you again EG for being smarter than Danny Ferry's Dematha, Duke, Spur Education !

Posted by: Janitor | December 12, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Max Money to an at best 2ndary, more like tertiary option on any respectable team.

Posted by: Janitor | December 12, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I'd agree with Arnie, Eddie takes alot of heat from some on this site. I know I've critized him in the past for ignoring mismatches and not responding to them.

But the way this team is playing, Eddie and the staff have been doing one heck of a good job. We don't have the firepower to go head to head with the top teams with no Arenas, but this group is really doing the best they can do right now.

Posted by: GM | December 12, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse


We all know if Gilbert were healthy and playing, this team would still revolve solely around him and its Big 3. They would get the bulk of the minutes. Gilbert's re-injury seemed to force EJ's hand at playing/trusting his bench more (which is a good thing I believe for now and the future). They have to play more as a team to compete/win and certain players are earning EJ's trust. The light didn't just go off in EJ's head, Gilbert's injury dictated it.

Posted by: G$ | December 12, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Here's what David Dupree has to say in his USA Today chat:

Washington, DC: Good afternoon David, I'm interested in your perspective on the Wiz. After a rough start, they seem to have come together a bit in the wake of Arenas going out. They're playing team basketball, the bench is developing, and Jamison and Butler are really stepping it up. Now, taking into account that the majority of their wins have come against bad teams, what do you think are their prospects for the season and playoffs, assuming Arenas comes back on schedule, healthy, and more or less his old self? Thanks, Darren

David DuPree: Hey, Darren. I think what the Wizards have done lately is a direct reflection on head coach Eddie Jordan. This is his best coaching job by far, and I think that should be acknowledged. I think this team knows it can win, no matter whom it puts on the floor, and when Gilbert Arenas comes back they will just be that much more confident. I think the Celtics, Magic and Pistons are the class of the conference, but the Wizards are right there in the next group, ready to make some playoff noise.

Posted by: kalorama | December 12, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Ivan made some interesting comments in his chat today (including some of the usual Eddie backslapping), but this one was really interesting:

"Ivan Carter: Everything will depend on that knee. If Gilbert takes the wise approach this time, doesn't rush back too quickly and listens to the team doctors and trainers, he'll be in good shape. If he rushes back, he'll be in the same spot he was this season."

Ivan is saying that Gilbert ignored team doctors and trainers earlier this season, rushed back too soon, and as a result, got reinjured. If that's the case, was hasn't Ivan reported that. Can we get some quote from team doctors and trainers about Gilbert ignoring their advice?

And if Gilbert was ignoring their advice, why didn't Eddie Jordan listen to team doctors and limit Gilbert's minutes?????

Posted by: Sean | December 12, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Gilbert would not be allowed to play unless the doctors cleared him medically. If he was on the floor, it's because the doctors told him and Jordan he could be there.

Posted by: kalorama | December 12, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Arnie seems to have hit the nail on the head. Great contribution.

Posted by: Zach | December 12, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

"Gilbert would not be allowed to play unless the doctors cleared him medically. If he was on the floor, it's because the doctors told him and Jordan he could be there.

Posted by: kalorama | December 12, 2007 03:21 PM "

Les BouleS doctors are as bad as Les BouleS have been these past few decades. Check with CWebb. I can't believe that any doctor would allow Gilby to bike around town and run sprints with that silly parachute or play pickup games at Barry Farms. None of that was supervised.

Posted by: DC Man88 | December 12, 2007 9:43 PM | Report abuse

BTW, Gilby said he got reinjured by overextending himself this past offseason, not because EJ gave him too many minutes. If Gilby's body was telling him that he couldn't handle the minutes on the court, he should have taken himself out.

He should know better, and it shouldn't take JKidd pulling him aside after a game to tell him this. A multimillionaire, and can't even get any good medical advice. That trainer that he was working out with should be fired.

Posted by: DC Man88 | December 13, 2007 12:07 AM | Report abuse

"Very n-i-ice." that a DWYCK reference?

Mike Lee has got to be the sure shot!

Posted by: buk50 | December 13, 2007 12:15 AM | Report abuse

I luv Gilby!!!

Posted by: DC Sashay88 | December 13, 2007 1:56 AM | Report abuse

This time around, I'm going to bicycle with DC Man88 balancing on the handlebars for extra wind resistance. Then we're gonna make a GilTV episode together!

Posted by: Gilby | December 13, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

DCMoron, if you're gonna post what Gil says, then state it correctly. He says after Jason Kidd told him to be careful, "My Knee
I got the second opinion on my knee like Jason Kidd told me to and it came back clean. All that was in there was just swelling and a little fluid, everything else came back clear. Ever since then, my knee's actually been getting better. The swelling and the fluid is getting pushed out on its own. I was just trying to hurry up and get it out of there so I could play comfortable and that's why I had the fluid drained, but it's been draining itself for the last week and a half.

Mentally it was a big relief because now I know it's healthy and I don't have to think about it getting hurt or think about the negativity behind it."

Then later after the Wiz played the Pacers and TWolves, "I just got bad news.

I guess after I got my second MRI and I was cleared to go full speed, I finally went full speed and ended up tearing cartilage. I had to get surgery and I ended up with a meniscus tear and a microfracture on my non weight-bearing part of the bone in my left knee.

It's not the more serious microfracture that some guys get. If I would have had that kind, I would have been out 12 months. This one is just three months.

I can't rehab it yet, I'm sitting out for about a month. It's not as bad as the injury in April, but it's tough.

It's kind of bad because there is a whole bunch of teams out there that I wanted to kick their ...

They needed to clear some cartilage out because there were some tears that happened after I barbequed the Timberwolves and Indiana because I was going too, too hard.

It turned out to be worse than I thought.

I found it out just now. I just sat out yesterday's game because after the Timberwolves game, I went home and all of the sudden it just started hurting.

I didn't go to Charlotte because I went to get another MRI to make sure nothing happened in those last two games and the MRI showed the tear."

Whoa look at that! He hurt the knee during the season in the TWolves game, NOT THE OFFSEASON, you MORON! Get the facts right if you're gonna diss them.

Then you say Gil should have known to take himself out of the games or risk hurting himself further. Well, your boy Caron and AJ are playing heavy minutes that already looks like they can't sustain the great intensity they showed about 7 or 8 games ago. Wearing themselves out as well as increasing their chances for injuries. Shouldn't they KNOW to take themselves out of the games? Who cares what EJ, THE COACH, says right? F' him! EJ just stands their looking dapper, that's all he does in games, right DCMoron?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 13, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse

What a friggen' sob story by the diva Gilby!

"Abe, please give me max money. I know I have agent zero leverage now, but I be a good boy. You see. I will bring back my mistress and my 5, I mean my 2 kids."

Posted by: DC Man88 | December 14, 2007 12:38 AM | Report abuse

jealous DCMoron wants to be a diva too

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

5th man, 6th man, 7th man, not sure where he fits in. It's hard to declare this a success after one good game. But this made me laugh:

Posted by: Steve S. | December 15, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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