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Did The Cavs Really Get Better?

The biggest losers in the three-team trade deadline deal between the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics? Cleveland Coach Mike Brown or Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers.

Huh, you ask.

Well, the pressure is really on for both. Because if the season ended today - and given how the Eastern Conference is shaping up, the top five teams shouldn't change positions too much - the Cavaliers and Celtics would meet in the conference semifinals.

Think either franchise would be satisfied with a second-round exit right now?


Good thing I got that extension. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Certainly not the Celtics, after getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen over the summer with the intent of raising Banner No. 17. And definitely not the defending conference champion Cavaliers, who just added $4.7 million in salaries this season - and more than $9 million in luxury tax penalties - to get Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith.

The Cavs now have the NBA's third-highest payroll behind New York and Dallas. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert didn't sign off to pay that kind of money for his team to win just one playoff round. General Manager Danny Ferry said winning the championship was what prompted him to make this deal but unless something unfortunate happens, Cleveland won't have an easy path back to NBA Finals. They likely won't get a team (Washington) missing two all-stars (Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler) in the first round, or another team (New Jersey) with two disinterested all-stars (Jason Kidd and Vince Carter) in the second round.

The best the Cavaliers can hope for is that this trade can give them a boost in the standings, but they can't do any better than possibly catch Orlando for the third seed. That would help them avoid a second-round matchup against Boston - but they would have to face Detroit instead. And, say what you will about Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, the folks in Detroit know that those guys posed serious problems for the Pistons in the conference finals last year.


Let's see here: Larry, you gotta go. Ira, you gotta go. Am I missing anybody? C'mon, Drew. You gotta go. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Yes, LeBron James had that 48-point performance in Game 5 - but before Hughes went down with an injuried Achilles, his defense caused problems for Chauncy Billups. And, Gooden consistently frustrated Rasheed Wallace (and while James scored 29 of his team's final 30 points in that pivotal Game 5, the team still needed one more point - that came from Gooden. Okay, I'm kidding).

When you look at a deal, you have to ask yourself, which team got the best players? I don't think it's even close. The Bulls got the two best players with Gooden and Hughes. I like that move for Chicago because it addresses two of their primary needs: a low post scorer and a big shooting guard.

Cleveland was really fed up with Hughes. Ferry gave him a ton of money, but Hughes never came up big when the team needed him. He was hurt and inconsistent too often. He had to go for the good of himself and the team. And word is LeBron wasn't too uspet to see Gooden and his occasional brain lapses gone.

It will be interesting to see how those new pieces fit in with the Cavaliers. Wally Szczerbiak is a shooter, but will he be satisfied camped out on the perimeter waiting for James to give him the ball. His trigger-happy ways got on Kevin Garnett's nerves in Minnesota. I like Delonte West. He gives Cleveland a tough, aggressive combo guard who provide defense and shooting. He doesn't solve the Cavaliers' problems at point guard, but he should be able to get Eric Snow's minutes.

Joe Smith, the former Maryland star, quietly was having a great season for the Bulls. He was the best front court player for Chicago, which probably explains why the Bulls stunk. He should be an upgrade over Donyell Marshall.


Now Ben, you're going to get up a little higher in Cleveland, right? Only if you promise not to bring this weak stuff to Dwight Howard, Wally. (Photo by Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now for the key piece in the deal - Wallace. The Cavaliers are hoping that Wallace can be rejuvenated now that he is out of Chicago, a place where the four-time defensive player of the year never seemed comfortable. He never smiled much as it is, but he looked downright miserable in a Bulls uniform, as if that headband hurt his head. One Eastern Conference scout who has watched Wallace closely over the past four years said his reputation far exceeds his current abilities and doesn't know if a change of scenery will be enough. Wallace, 33, has seen his scoring, rebounding and shot blocking decline in each of the past three seasons.

"People think of him as being a rebounding, shot-blocking force. He can't do that anymore," the scout said. "His game was about athleticism. Once that's gone, you can't conjure that back up."

The main problem I see for Cleveland is that they got a lot older, a lot less athletic and a lot less effective on perimeter defense (in addition to Hughes, the Cavs lost Ira Newble, too). With Wallace down low instead of Gooden, it will be easier to double team LeBron because teams won't be afraid to leave Big Ben. Gooden made teams pay.

The thing is, none of this may matter because LeBron James has proven over his career that he can single-handedly negate any deficiencies for the Cavaliers. As long as he's on the roster, you can never count out Cleveland. I just don't know if this trade really made Cleveland much better - or if it made them better at all.

By Michael Lee  |  February 22, 2008; 1:57 PM ET
 
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