Thursday, May 24, 2007

The tandem that could have been

As I continue to watch LeBron James struggle mightily to beat the best team in the Eastern Conference (literally, I think there are no other Cavaliers on the floor save Sideshow Bob), I can't help but reminisce about what could have been.

Tonight, as he has for most of his career thus far, LeBron had a sack of turds surrounding him on the court. But, as many NBA fans know, things could be much different.

The year before LeBron James arrived in Cleveland, the Cavs had made the very astute draft choice of Carlos Boozer in the second round at the 35th overall pick.

In the summer of 2004, the Cavs had Boozer under contract for about $700,000 for the following season. They claimed to have made a verbal agreement with Boozer that if they released him as a restricted free agent, he would re-sign with the Cavs for about $40 million over six years, keeping Boozer in Cleveland for a long time and giving Boozer a very substantial raise and a lot more security for the 2004-05 season. Never mind that they verbally negotiated this inside of a moratorium period when contract talks aren't allowed, they felt they had Boozer's trust and went ahead and released him as a restricted free agent.

For those who don't know and don't want to have to decipher the jargon of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, this is basically how it works. A player who becomes a restricted free agent can test the open market, and if another team makes an official offer to said player, the team that had him last year can match it.

So, Boozer went out as a restricted free agent, only to have Utah, who had whiffed on signing several free agents the last few years, offer him a max contract, something Cleveland didn't have the salary cap space to match. So, Boozer, being a normal red-blooded human, signed for an absurd amount of money because...well...that's what you do when it is sitting there on the table. Gordon Gund, then owner of the Cavs villainized Boozer as betraying his trust, and the Cleveland fans really let Boozer have it.

It was a hairy situation at the time, and has since settled down quite a bit. Both Boozer and LeBron are both in their respective conference finals, and are both down 0-2 in each series. Each is the best player on their respective team, and each is likely looking at a quick exit after the deepest playoff run for each team in quite some time.

So, without laying blame on anyone (OK, screw it, the Cavs were idiots) let's play some number games. Right now, this is what LeBron's team looks like (playoff averages in parentheses)

F-LeBron James (24.5 pts, 8 reb, 8.2 ast)
F-Drew Gooden (11.6 pts, 9.3 reb, 1.4 ast)
G-Larry Hughes (15.6 pts, 5.1 reb, 2.8 ast)
G-Aleksander Pavlovic (8.9 pts, 2.2 reb, 1.8 ast)
C-Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15.0 pts, 10.1 reb, .9 ast)
F-Anderson Varejao (5.2 pts, 6.2 reb, .6 ast)

I'm not going to list the Jazz stats, because for the intents of this story, Utah is peripheral. Obviously, if Boozer was still on the Cavs, the rest of the team would likely look pretty darn different. The Cavs likely would have still refused to pursue a point guard, against every bit of common sense. But, let's play the "what if" game. Let's acknowledge first off that the Cavs would have LeBron and Boozer. Let's give LeBron a 15-percent scoring increase as another scoring option would allow him to be hassled less and score more like he did during the regular season against bad teams. Since LeBron now has someone worth a crap to pass the ball to, let's give him a 5 percent boost in assists. We'll leave him alone statistically otherwise. We'll also leave Boozer's stats alone since he currently plays on a team with a point guard and other scoring options, so he could probably be expected to have about the same stats. So that this whole thing doesn't get out of hand, let's not assume anything else except that Larry Hughes wouldn't have signed with the Cavs as they would have spent all their money re-signing Boozer. This is not such a bad thing. That's a bad contract on a player who can't stay healthy.

So, then, the Cavs look more like this right now:

G-LeBron James (28.2 pts, 8 reb, 8.6 ast)
F-Carlos Boozer (24.7 pts, 12.4 reb, 3.1 ast 53% FG)
G-Aleksander Pavlovic (8.9 pts, 2.2 reb, 1.8 ast)
C-Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15.0 pts, 10.1 reb, .9 ast)
F-Anderson Varejao (5.2 pts, 6.2 reb, .6 ast)
F-Drew Gooden (11.6 pts, 9.3 reb, 1.4 ast)

Now, given, they still have virtually no guard play whatsoever, but you're telling me that a statistical tandem of Boozer and LeBron rockin' and rollin' wouldn't give them a good chance at beating the Pistons, and ultimately winning a title? With both players entering their primes, this would be a nasty tandem for years to come. Also, you could probably assume that the Cavs would have gone out and signed another guard of a lower caliber that they could have afforded (which likely would have been a better signing than Hughes), so who knows what their backcourt would look like had Boozer stayed. Everyone loves to play the "what if" game about the NBA Draft Lottery, but sometimes it's more fun and practical to look at what could have been had someone not pulled an avoidable, bone-head move.

Reasonably yours,

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Joe Ruiz said...

Two points I will disagree with.

1. I don't know that you can leave Boozer's stats alone. The lack of a credible point guard would inevitably lead to lower stats, wouldn't it?

2. I think it goes without saying, even though I'm saying it, that a Cavs team with Carlos Boozer on it, throughly dominates a weak Eastern Conference and contends with Detroit for the #1 seed. I still think the Pistons are the superior team, but the affect a stronger Cavs team has changes the standings throughout the conference.

I am glad you mentioned Cleveland's culpability in the Boozer fiasco as most people seem to forget that their negotiations were against NBA regs.

Scooter said...

I agree that they still would fall to their Western Conference opponent, but I like the rosier view that they would have locked down a big man (Boozer) and added more guard play. I am probably giving way too much credit to Danny Ferry though.

Their roster would likely look very different had Boozer stuck around, but for practicality's sake, I decided to stick with Hughes as the only disinclusion. Gooden likely wouldn't have re-signed, and honestly, Ilgauskas may or may not have.

We shall never know though because Gordon Gund pulled a blind move. Yes, that was tasteless.