The Other Side: Cleveland Cavaliers
It's difficult to call the Cavaliers a rival since the Wizards have yet to beat them in three consecutive first round playoff series. You have to win one to be a rival. Otherwise, they are a tormentor or bully. (Of course, the Wizards were healthy for only one of those series.) No matter. The Wizards get their tormentor/bully in their final exhibiton game at Ohio State's Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. It will be televised on ESPN tonight.
Although the Wizards say that they will focus on getting better more than getting revenge, it's impossible to forget their incredible first-round series in last year's playoffs. Let's see, you had a hip-hop feud including Jay-Z and Soulja Boy, Darius Songaila getting suspended for popping LeBron James in the neck and DeShawn Stevenson getting fined $25,000 for a "menacing gesture." You also had six technical fouls, three flagrant one penalty fouls, one flagrant two penalty foul and one ejection. To call it heated is putting it lightly.
Stevenson, who has shaved his beard and eliminated the high-top fade, said he doesn't plan on being a distraction to the team this season. James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he no longer has a feud with Stevenson. "It's over to me, I don't know if he's still holding a grudge. It is something that was so small but it's turned so big."
The Cavaliers went on to lose to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in one of the most unwatchable seven-game playoff series I've ever seen (save for that Game 7 in Boston when James and Paul Pierce had dueling 40-point games). But after the Cavaliers got knocked out, James let it be known that he needed more help. And with James eligible for free agency in 20110, the Cavaliers couldn't stand pat -- even though GM Danny Ferry gutted his roster at the trade deadline to get Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith. Ferry used Smith as part of a three-team deal to bring Mo Williams from Milwaukee.
The move pleased James, who heard about the deal while he was in China leading Team USA to an Olympic gold medal. James is excited about the upcoming season, but after the jump, here are some storylines to be aware of before the game tonight:
1. Mo Better Point Guard
The Cavaliers have been trying to find a point guard ever since they traded Andre Miller to the Los Angeles Clippers for, gulp, Darius Miles. They've tried Smush Parker, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, Daniel Gibson and West. They failed to grant James's wish to get Jason Kidd, whiffed at Mike Bibby. Now, they've settled on Williams, who is coming back from a sports hernia injury, but appears to be okay, aside from a confusing feud with the aforementioned Miller, now in Philadelphia.
Williams, a former 2003 second-round pick, who has steadily climbed the ladder from backup in Utah Jazz to starter in the relative obscurity of Milwaukee to playing in the spotlight alongside James in Cleveland. From Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:
Williams is confident he will bring the same game to Cleveland. The lights will be brighter, though, playing alongside James. "There are things Mo would do, that other players couldn't do," said Bob Frith, who coached Williams at Jackson's Murrah High. "You just didn't see him. He's in the limelight now. Whether he likes it or not." Williams is, by his own description, a piece, but not the piece. It is a philosophy adopted by the Cleveland organization. No single player is a chip or a missing link.
. . . Even with that mentality, Williams appreciates the notion that the Cavaliers are better with him, expectations are high and he will be looked upon as the missing piece. "That's what they should be saying because that's what we're saying," Williams said. "We feel like, if we don't win a championship this year, we're not satisfied with our season."
An aspiration with which James agrees. "This is the best team we've had to start a season," James said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. But preseason, looking at the talent we have, we have some good guys."
2. James's Easy-Going Preseason
James had a pretty busy summer, traveling to China and leading the United States to a gold medal in Beijing. It was a lot of basketball, but the Cavaliers don't want to wear down their star before it counts. Brian Windhorst, formerly of the Akron Beacon-Journal and now with the Plain Dealer, wrote for ESPN.com:
If there was anything resembling a slump in LeBron James' career, it was the first few months of the 2006-07 season. Coming off a demanding summer in the Far East with Team USA at the World Championships, James seemed to suffer a hangover. He still had plenty of good performances but he routinely dealt with low-energy nights and often appeared to be out of gas in fourth quarters of close games. He found a second wind after the All-Star break but his numbers dipped in every category and he was left off the All-NBA First Team.
Now he is coming off another such summer after playing in the Olympics. This camp, coach Mike Brown has cut back on the length and intensity of his preseason practices and held only one contact workout during two-a-days. James was held out of almost all contact work in the first 10 days of camp and Brown has vowed to keep his minutes under 40 per game in the early going, which has never happened in James' career.
3. Delonte West Battles Depression
West, the D.C. native and Eleanor Roosevelt product, admitted last week that he contemplated quitting basketball before leaving the team to get treated for a mood disorder. The 25-year-old missed three preseason games, saying, "I needed help."
It was a courageous move for West, who is taking medication and attending therapy sessions. West signed a two-year deal with a team option for 2011-12 last summer. Depression has troubled a number of basketball players over the years, including Vin Baker, Brian (Bison Dele) Williams and former Mystics star Chamique Holdsclaw.
West appears to be moving in the right direction, and is battling for minutes at backup point guard with Gibson. From the Associated Press:
"In a sense, you feel like a weaker man because you have to raise your hand and ask for help," West said. "But I found out over the last week that it made me a stronger person. I came back focused, and with the help of some medicine and talking with people on a regular basis, I'm back in good spirits."
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"At this point in my life, you kind of hide behind the personality that's created by the fans or the media," he said. "But we're still people, too. Besides the fame and the finances, you still have to deal with emotional and family situations on a daily basis just like everybody else.
"In the gym, I've always found peace. At this age, I want to become more of a complete person off the court. At times, I struggle with that. So I feel stronger that I did seek help and I've got a plan of action for this year off the court. Some of that may include group sessions or inpatient time. If that helps me be the best basketball player that I can be, man, I'm all for it."
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