That's not quite what we had in mind.
For a city that has been starved for a winner (and we mean "winner" not as "a team that can win a title" but rather in its literal sense of "a team that can actually win ONE FREAKING GAME"), Cleveland sure did not get what it was hoping for, at least in the first part of the week.
After five months of buildup, a major trade for Shaquille O'Neal, and several other significant acquisitions, the Cavs came out and laid an egg against the Celtics, dropping the season opener by a score of 95-89. (That egg didn't get laid right away: the Cavs actually stormed out to an early 21-7 lead, before they turned into Just Some Team.) Fortunately, the Cavs regrouped after the loss, realized they had something to prove, and came out the next night ... to get drilled by Toronto.
In the NBA, there are maybe five or six true title contenders, another dozen or so teams who can Make Some Noise, and the rest are already making their travel plans to have a team executive attend next May's draft lottery. Fortunately for the Cavs, their next two games were against Minnesota and Charlotte, two of the NBA's jobbers; and the Cavs beat both by double digits (104-87 against the Timberwolves, 90-79 against the Bobcats).
They finished the week 2-2, which puts them in Xth place in the Central Division. (No, that isn't a typo; it is my way of saying that divisional standings at this point in the season are in bull/mammary gland territory in terms of importance.)
Doctor Jekyll...: He is often overlooked, but Mo Williams is perhaps the second most important Cavalier (sorry, but at this point in his career, Shaq just doesn't rank there). Mo was the primary reason the Cavs vaulted from a 50-ish win team to one of the league's elite. That's not to say that he is that good of a player, but (a) he is one of the better guards in the league, and (b) he was a HUGE upgrade from the previous "point guards" on the Cavs' roster. (Yes, the quotes are very appropriate there.)
Unfortunately, Mo disappeared sometime around the Atlanta playoff series last May, and had not been seen since. That disappearance continued through the first two games of the season. He was tentative, he wasn't driving into the lane for that little floater shot that has made him approximately $12 million thus far in his career ... he wasn't looking like Mo. And without that Mo, the Cavs are back to being a good-but-not-great team.
... and Mr. Gotti: Then came the last two games, and the Mo we know and love re-appeared. He scored 20 points against the Wolves, 24 against the Bobcats ... and looked like the Mo who was so valuable last season. When Gotti is at his best, his drives to the hoop set up his outside shot - opposing defenses have to respect him driving into the lane, and that provides that extra bit of room for Mo to launch from long distance.
MORE OF THE GOOD:
No, We Didn't Forget Him: Of course, Mo wasn't the only addition to the backcourt who transformed the Cavs into a title contender. Delonte West (who technically was acquired midway through the 2007-08 season, but I am not going to let a couple of months get in the way of the point I am making) also was a critical component of last year's team. Again, some of that value comes from him being a big improvement over his predecessor (in his case, he represented a big upgrade because he was Not Larry Hughes); but Delonte can shoot, defend, and is the ultimate "glue guy".
And he had become the ultimate question mark, with the off-court issues and medical problems that surfaced just before the start of training camp.
Fortunately, Delonte returned to action on Saturday night, and provided a huge lift, scoring 13 points in 24 minutes off the bench. If he is back for good, this team just got a lot better. For now, I am continuing to treat any contributions he makes as a positive surprise, at least until he has shown that he's back for good.
What's That? A Screen?: New Cavs shooting guard Anthony Parker did not have the best week of his career. He's shooting a brickilicious 39% from the field thus far, and has made some key turnovers along the way.
So why am I praising him? Because he adds a couple of dimensions that this team has lacked, dimensions that will pay off down the road. (It's Election Day, so I am allowed to make promises. While we're in that neighborhood, remember to vote today.) For the first time in memory, the Cavs have a guy who can come off a screen and hit a jump shot. It's a simple play, Basketball 101 stuff really, and yet I cannot remember the last time I saw guys in Cleveland uniforms executing it. He also looks to be a dead-eye three-point range shooter, particularly from the corners.
Cheap Shot Of The Week!: What did I truly enjoy the most about this week's games? Seeing Sasha Pavlovic on the floor wearing an opposing team's colors.
Yes, that is a cheap shot. I figure that after 817 times of watching him dribble a ball off his foot or getting a layup blocked by a six-two guard, I am entitled to just a tiny bit of spleen-venting. (The Cavs don't play Minnesota again until the end of January, so barring a trade or other roster move, Sasha won't be mentioned here again for a while.)
Don't Want To Forget Him: LeBron James is currently averaging a shade under 25 points per game, put up 38 against the Celtics, and notched his first triple-double of the season. Carry on.
MORE OF THE BAD:
The Mike Brown Stroke-O-Meter Is At Eight ("Veins About To Burst"): In his first season as Cavs coach, Brown had an animated press conference after a loss. When asked why the Cavs lost the game, he growled, "we did not box out," about five times in succession.
He could have dusted off that answer and used it several times last week.
In the first four games, the Cavs were out-rebounded three times. (In the fourth game, against Toronto, the Cavs outrebounded the Raptors by one.) When the Charlottes and Minnesotas of the world are out-rebounding you, you're not hustling enough.
We're going to keep our eyes on this number. The past few seasons, the Cavs have been one of the league's best rebounding teams. Until they get back there, they probably will continue to lose games they should win, and/or have more trouble than they should with the S.D. Jones-level teams in the league.
Speaking Of Which: Hey, here's one of our main offenders ... J.J. Hickson. In roughly 33 minutes of game action last week, Hickson grabbed ... five rebounds. Total.
I don't pretend that Mr. Hickson reads this column, but if he does, let me suggest to him that grabbing five rebounds in what is basically a game's worth of playing time is not the way to get onto Coach Brown's Christmas card list. Not when you are six-foot-nine and have young legs that can take you well above the rim.
The Big Shaquisition: It probably also doesn't help when you are over seven feet and not grabbing rebounds, even if you have the hops of the average office building. But the real issue with O'Neal thus far has been that he hasn't been integrated into the office. No, wait a minute - the real real issue is that Shaquille was not put on this earth to run the pick-and-roll. Trying to have him set picks twenty feet from the basket, and then roll to the hoop ... I'll just say I'm skeptical.
Shaq has made his living camping out down low, getting the ball in the post, and dunking. That is especially true at this point in his career, as his mobility is not what it used to be. (Hey, you spend a couple of thousand games banging with three hundred pound guys, and then see how fast you can run.) As Bill Parcells once said, don't tell me what a player can't do; tell me what he can do, and then we can use his strengths.
THE REALLY GOOD:
You know what was really good this week? That it was another week that I did not have to cover the Browns. I completely feel for my TCF brethren like Gary Benz, Chris Hutchison, and Mansfield Lucas, guys who have to write about the runaway train headed out of Berea. Really, how many different ways can you write "they went three and out and had to punt"?
Unlike them, I don't have to write about the Browns. But I will choose to do so for a moment.
It has now been reported that the Browns have fired General Manager George Kokinis, presumably because he tried to remove one of the puppet strings attached to his back. As of this moment, we're still not 100% sure what happened, or whether the Browns have named a replacement, or even who within the Browns organization took the responsibility of giving Kokinis the boot.
Perhaps even worse (I am now bracing for hate mail) is the word that Browns icon Bernie Kosar may become more involved with the team in some high-ranking capacity. Seems that most Browns fans like that development. My question: why? Twenty years ago, Kosar was the third-best quarterback in a four-team division. He has had no involvement in the NFL since hanging up his spikes roughly 15 years ago. Yet many (most?) Browns fans seem to think he's qualified to run the Browns, presumably because (a) he's originally from northeast Ohio, (b) he wanted to play for the Browns, and (c) we have fond memories of him throwing touchdowns to Brian Brennan and Webster Slaughter.
I loved Bernie as a player too ... but he really has not been involved with the game since he retired. Put it this way: leaving the name "Bernie Kosar" out of the equation, would you be nearly as excited about the news that the Browns were considering bringing in a former player (one with no NFL front-office experience) for a high-level job with the team? I didn't think so.
The bigger issue for me is this: do any of the Browns' moves sound like those of a competent professional football team? Can you see a team like the Patriots or Giants or (gulp) Steelers acting this way? (And if we were Patriots, would we be pining for, say, Steve Grogan to become the new team president?) If it walks like a turd, and talks like a turd, and acts like a turd, then ... well, you know the rest. To complete that thought, it's no coincidence that the Browns have been wearing their brown pants this season.
Okay. Back to basketball, I promise.
THIS WEEK'S FUN FACT:
Through four games, Daniel Gibson has made one non-three point field goal. Eighteen of the 24 shots he has attempted have been from beyond the arc.
THE PLAY OF THE WEEK:
The season had barely begun when LeBron notched his first "chasedown" block of the season, a monster smash of a layup attempt by the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. By season's end, this play will probably still rank in the top five of the entire year.
A WORD OF SANITY:
That's it. Relax. Deep breaths. Keep saying to yourself: calm blue ocean ... calm blue ocean ... calm blue ocean.
No, the Cavs didn't start as strongly as we might have hoped. They are 2-2 after four games.
After four games last season, they were ... 2-2.
That's not to say another 66-win season lies ahead. Obviously, most teams that split their first four games do not go 64-14 the rest of the way. But by April, and the playoffs, we will have long ago forgotten this first week of the season. No, they are not firing on all cylinders yet, but there is a lot of season left. If they still look rusty in February, then we can panic. Not before then.
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
Uh-oh, get ready for a few thousand "LeBron James is a free agent after this season and he'll be going to New York!" articles, because the Cavs play the Knicks in Madison Square Garden this Friday. Before then, they face an improved Washington Wizards squad tonight and the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, with both of those games at Quicken Loans Arena. After those games, the Cavs get a bit of a break - four off days before a tough set of road games against Orlando and Miami.