Auburn Hills, Mich. -- A few weeks ago I was talking to an executive from an Eastern Conference team on the phone and he asked me: "Why does LeBron stand out on top of the the key and dribble so much? You know, that's exactly what we all want him to do." This, of course, is a subject that has been bandied about here and in many other forums over the last few years. But it is, after all, a simple question.
I was thinking about it today when I was watching the Cavs' last three possessions as LeBron was dribbling and his teammates were all standing and looking at him, or running around him trying to figure out how to set a pick. The Pistons (the victors of this afternoon's affair) were all watching him too, heck half of them were guarding him. I'm sure other plays are called, but no matter what happens in crunch time LeBron always seems to have that ball by himself far away from the basket with defenders everywhere. It usually doesn't work. It so obviously doesn't work that every team in the NBA knows it celebrates when they get the Cavs to try to make it work.
Twice this year I've had players say to me that it wouldn't matter if the Cavs had a great point guard if LeBron ended up with the ball isolated at the top of the key in pressure situations. Not that LeBron is a selfish player. But without a trusty jump shot and with teammates that don't seem to want to do anything but watch, it always turns to a at least a 1-on-2 ordeal, often 1-on-3. I've had GMs, scouts and coaches from other teams tell me it seems like the Cavs stop running their plays when LeBron gets the ball late in games.
So, after seeing LeBron jack up a terrible 3 and then throw a desperation pass to Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a missed 20-footer at the end of the shot clock in the two most important possessions of the game today, it led me to wonder. Why does LeBron have to be the one getting the ball all the time there? Why can't LeBron move without the ball so the defenses can't set up against him. Why can't he force double teams away from where the ball actually is so the Cavs can gain an advantage? Why can't someone else set up the final play if LeBron can't get it done because the defenses won't let him or he can't pull off the clutch play?
So here we come to Sasha Pavlovic. To me, the entire second half of the Cavs season has been about Sasha. The Cavs didn't make a formal announcement or anything, but back in February they pretty much figured out their team wasn't working too well. So they decided to go young, so at least they were developing while they were underachieving. It was then Daniel Gibson, Pavlovic and Andy Varejao got minutes increases. It was then Damon Jones stopped playing and Eric Snow's and Donyell Marshall's minutes were cut. It was then Sasha started to blossom and now he looks as if he's got the brightest future on the team outside of No. 23.
Sasha has played very well for more than two months now. He had a little hiccup when he got sick and was in about a weeklong slump in March, but he pretty much shows up every night. At this time, he is a better 3-point shooter than LeBron. He's also a better free-throw shooter. And after LeBron's great talent, he's the second best driver and finisher the Cavs have. Plus he has the massive advantage of not having to play against two and three players at a time.
Sunday, Sasha scored 11 points on the first half. He got two shots in the second half. Against Miami the other night, he had 12 points in the first quarter and only got four shots the rest of the game. This happens often, Sasha gets forgotten even though he's astoundingly efficient. Over the last six weeks, he's averaged 12.5 points on just over nine shot attempts per game. That's insane. Sunday he had 14 points on nine shots. He can finish with either hand around the basket, he can pull up and he can spot up. Not to mention, he's one of LeBron's favorite players.
So I am left to wonder. Why not give Sasha a chance to create in these tight games the Cavs seem to be losing at a shocking pace? Instead of having LeBron dribble, why not set up a play for Sasha and see if LeBron can get open away from the ball. Or why not see how Sasha handles himself in the clutch. Surely he commits bad turnovers, but an aggressive turnover any better than a wild 25-footer over a double team. I know it is cliche, but why not put LeBron in a better position to be successful and Sasha as well? Maybe it will fail, but what's going on now is broken and everybody can see it. They just can't, apparently, see No. 3.
If you've got some time, Andy talked to me about his upcoming contract situation and I broke it down here. A lot more to be written about it this summer. Also, the Detroit News worked up a pretty good piece on the plight of former Cav Robert Traylor, a guy who has never seemed to avoid shady money dealings and now is headed to prison for it. Incidentally, in the year I got to know Tractor I found him to be a warm and engaging guy who really took care of a lot of people in his life. Too many, as it seems, and with poor judgment.