Updated: Oct. 28, 2005, 9:38 AM ET

Cavs, LeBron look to leap


Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Cleveland Cavaliers finish in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

Marc Stein ESPN.com
Stan Van Gundy recently asked "why people aren't just going crazy" over the Cavs, saying they had 55-win potential. Not quite, but there's no doubt – at last – that LBJ is on a playoff team.
Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
GM Danny Ferry addressed the lack of outside shooting by acquiring Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, and Hughes was brought in take some of the pressure off James on the defensive end. It's time for LeBron to turn the Cavs into a winner with an MVP-caliber season.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
How will LeBron and Larry Hughes complement each other? New coach Mike Brown needs to reduce LBJ's minutes, and this is where the addition of Hughes makes sense. With that said, this team will only go as far as Ilgauskas will take it. He needs to improve on his post defense.
Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
They improved themselves in the backcourt, getting Damon Jones and Larry Hughes. If they learn to win on the road (12-29 a year ago), the Cavs will fight for home-court advantage in the first round.
Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2

The only number that matters here is mpg for LeBron. They're good enough to be thinking about April and May in November.
Tim Legler ESPN Insider

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2

Damon Jones will be the best thing that happened to Cleveland since ... LeBron.
John Hollinger ESPN Insider
Take a team that won 42 games with zero long-range shooting. Add two of the league's top bombers and, for good measure, replace Ira Newble with Larry Hughes. Jackpot.
Chad Ford ESPN Insider
The Cavs are the sleeper team in the East. They have LeBron and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as anchors and made a number of major additions this summer. On paper they're one of the four best teams in the East.
John Carroll Scouts Inc.
If they get consistent play from the point-guard position (Eric Snow/Damon Jones), they will make the playoffs and be a very dangerous team no one will want to face in the first round.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
Mike Brown will keep them focused, so they won't dive off the cliff the way they did last year. They're still a fragile team, though, so don't expect much more than a playoff berth. Time for LeBron James to start living up to those Jordan/Magic comparisons in the leadership department.
Chris Broussard ESPN Insider
Playoffs this season; conference-title contender next.

'Good' enough?
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
The Cavs count on the long arms of Drew Gooden, who pulled down 9.2 rpg last season.

Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Cavaliers roster:

Starters: Have become a lot more than just the James Gang.
At times, made Cleveland forget about Boozer. At times.
He's a 10 because we couldn't go to 11.
"Fragile" big man hasn't been hurt in three seasons.
LeBron's Pippen, unless he folds after getting paid. Nah.
Classy guy gets cushy gig: get ball to LeBron, play some D.
Bench: Sharpshooters Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Luke Jackson open up the floor for Z, LeBron and Larry. That'll work.



ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.

Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Player Efficiency Rating
Vs. NBA Avg.: +4.55

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had severe foot problems early in his career, and even now you'll hear people mention them as a concern. At this point, though, what other player would be a better bet to play a full season? Ilgauskas has only missed six games in three years, making him the most durable of the 24 players invited to last season's All-Star game (see how many friends get that trivia question right). After all, it's not like he was constantly hurting different parts of his body -- the only thing wrong was his foot, and it looks to be healed now. From that perspective, his new contract wasn't nearly as big a risk as some imagine.

The bigger threat for the Cavs is that similar big centers -- Vlade Divac, Patrick Ewing, Elden Campbell, Luc Longley -- have cruised along for years with amazing consistency, and then suddenly lost it out of the blue, like when a computer crashes for no apparent reason. At some point in the next two to six years, it will happen to Ilgauskas. The Cavs just need to hope the timing is closer to "six" than to "two."

On the court, Ilgauskas played much harder on defense than he had the previous two seasons, making more of an effort to help against screen-and-rolls and to chase loose balls. Combined with his shot-blocking ability, he put up a solid Defensive PER. He needs to be much more of a force on the defensive boards, though. Ilgauskas led the NBA in offensive rebounds, yet his overall Rebound Rate was quite ordinary because he did so little at the defensive end.

If he delivers defensively, the Cavs will have few complaints because Ilgauskas remains one of the game's best post players and is a surprisingly accurate shooter. He could stand to get a little better at passing out of double-teams, but that shouldn't be too great a worry as long as LeBron James is around -- most of the double-teaming will be directed at him.

-- Cavs player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.

Pain reliever
AP/Tony Dejak
Recent chest pains left LeBron James with a furrowed brow, but he's ready for opening night.

SportsNation Speaks
When in doubt, say the fans of SportsNation, pick the guy who can shoot:

Who should start at PG for the Cavs?
76.1% Damon Jones
23.9% Eric Snow

Vote: Cavs in 2005-06 | Results

Tim's Time
Larry Hughes

Legs on Cavaliers: The Cavs' playoff drought is over. Book it. LeBron James will become the best player in the NBA this season. It could be argued that he held that title a year ago. He just didn't have enough help.

Enter Larry Hughes from the Washington Wizards. Hughes gives the Cavs the All-Star-caliber playmaker they sorely need to take the pressure off of James to be a dominant scorer and a decision-maker.

In addition, Damon Jones, a free agent from the Miami Heat, will give one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league a viable outside threat when James and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas are double-teamed.

First-year head coach Mike Brown and new general manager Danny Ferry will be under the microscope, but this will be a fun ride.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider

Coach's Corner
Mike Brown
Experience: none
Reg. season record: none
Playoff record: none
Coach's profile

Mike Brown inherits a hungry LeBron James and an improved backcourt of Damon Jones and Larry Hughes. Their additions should open up things for James.

Last year 15 out of the 16 playoff teams won at least 18 games out of town. Brown must focus on doing better than the 12 road wins the Cavs had a year ago.

Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider

Hollinger's Q & A
Can they get stops?

Offense won't be a problem. Defense might be. If there's a question for the Cavs in 2005-06, it's their ability to stop people. At center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas blocks shots and rebounds but offsets those positives with a lack of mobility and strength. At power forward, Donyell Marshall is a softy, and Drew Gooden makes serial mental mistakes.

The wing defenders, Larry Hughes and LeBron James, are great in the passing lanes but neither has the rep as an on-ball stopper -- and one of them will have to be this season. Finally, Damon Jones' poor foot speed makes him an easy mark for opposing point guards. To make matters worse, the Cavs' best frontcourt defender, Anderson Varejao, hurt his shoulder playing for the Brazilian national team and will miss the start of the season.

It's up to new head coach Mike Brown to disguise these multiple weaknesses. The key player might be Hughes. He was mostly a gambler in Washington but will have to cover the likes of Richard Hamilton and Dwyane Wade for the Cavs, because Cleveland needs to save James' energy for the offensive end.

If Hughes can handle that responsibility, the other pieces may fall into place. Ilgauskas, Gooden, Marshall, James and Hughes all rebound well at their positions, so the Cavs won't give up many second shots. It's getting the first shot to miss that's the challenge. Cleveland doesn't need to be a great defensive team because the offense is so good, but it at least needs to be average.

More Hollinger Cavaliers analysis Insider

Fantasy Fix

Sleeper: Donyell Marshall finished in the top 10 among all fantasy players two seasons ago. So what happened? Consistency has never been a strength, but on this playoff-bound team, look for Donyell to find his game. Few forwards can fill up a stat sheet like he does with rebounds, blocks, steals and 3s, and you can get him later than normal.

Bust: Damon Jones played all 82 games with Miami last year and put up career bests in points and 3s. That sound you hear are those numbers free-falling. There's no Shaq in the middle in Cleveland and plenty of other ball handlers (LeBron, Larry Hughes, Eric Snow). Don't draft a guy whose stats could drop in half.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index


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