Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Revisionism about LeBron’s teammates

By Rick Morris

Ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs in the second-round shocker at the hands of Boston, there have been some fans giving voice to the cry, “How come Danny Ferry couldn’t surround LeBron with better players?”

Only, that phrase should be spelled out “How come Danny Fewwy couddin suwwound LeBwon wit betta pwayas?” Because that incarnation captures the true infantile nature of the question itself.

As a lifelong Cavs fan and somebody who saw this up close in the same media market for the past five years, I maintain that one can never truly understand the magnitude of what Ferry accomplished – yes, accomplished – without taking into consideration the two key factors concerning player acquisition in the LeBron era:

1 LeBron held a gun to his head for the entire half-decade. That’s not to bash LeBron, merely to make an accurate observation of the circumstances. I cannot fault LeBron for wanting to be hands-on in making sure that the organization surrounded him with the proper talent to maximize his skills. At the same time, that makes him significantly more than a co-signer for the moves that turned out not to work. Let us not forget that with his first (restricted) free agency pending in 2006 that he goaded the organization the previous summer to bring home one of the “Big Three” free agents that year. When Ray Allen and Michael Redd stayed home, he pretty much forced Ferry to sign Larry Hughes. Likewise, his fingerprints were all over the Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall and Z signings of that summer. There’s not a move made in the past five years (or, in fairness, in the two prior to that during the Jim Paxson days) that LeBron did not approve (or, in some cases, dictate). While the ’05 moves are universally considered busts (with the possible exception of the Z re-signing, which I have always seen the merits in considering the league’s dearth of legit centers), his ’08 megatrade that unloaded such pantloads as Hughes and Drew Gooden and returned players such as Delonte West is considered to be inspired. And few if any can lay the blame for the ’10 elimination at the feet of Shaq or Antawn Jamison (notwithstanding Jamison’s execrable “defense” on KG). All in all, considering the obvious handcuffs, Ferry did an amazing job.

2 Ferry had the right pieces in place by 2010. I have used the terms “shape-shifters” and “Transformers” to describe the 2009-10 Cavs and I will always stand by them. Much like when the Cleveland Browns (typically) cluelessly whacked Phil Savage along with Romeo Crennel when “Coach I’m Thinking Arby’s” misused the talent he was given in 2008, too many feebs out there are overlooking the fact that Mike Brown already paid the appropriate price for the team’s failure to live up to expectations. The team had tremendous success heading into the playoffs going big or going small, creating a range of options that no other team in the league could match. Cleveland’s ability to put Boston on the defensive on the (rare) occasions that the Cavs broke out the smaller, more athletic lineup spoke very eloquently to the “what might have been” factor with this roster.

No, the denunciations of Danny Ferry reek of Cleveland’s favorite bitter beverage, a tall glass of 20-20 Hindsight. At every turn, he was having to deal with the pressure being put on him by a megastar who was not-too-subtly threatening to book at the end of his deal if he felt that the team hadn’t arranged the talent to his satisfaction. And he continued to improve at that task over the five years, putting together a deep and talented cast of characters by the time of the final run. If LeBron does leave, the one card I expect him not to play is the “They didn’t give me enough to work with” one – because if he does so, that will reveal him as completely lacking in character.

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