Whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the level of the Pistons and beloved Celtics prior to Thursday afternoon's NBA trading deadline was up for debate.
Given that the Cavs are no longer the team they were Thursday morning, that debate seems moot at this point.
That said, if indeed the Cavs weren't on the level of the Pistons and Celts in the first place, Thursday's blockbuster trade with the Bulls and Sonics certainly doesn't seem to have magically put them there.
By now, chances are you know the details of the deal like the back of your hand. But just in case there is any need for a refresher regarding a deal involving three teams and eleven players, the excerpt from ESPN's report on the matter lays out the basics below:
Unable to finalize major deals in the past, [Cavs GM Danny] Ferry pulled off a colossal one at the 3 p.m. buzzer. He sent guard Larry Hughes, forwards Drew Gooden and Cedric Simmons, and guard Shannon Brown to Chicago for [Ben] Wallace, one of the game's top inside enforcers, and [Joe] Smith, a versatile veteran.
Cleveland also acquired the sharpshooting [Wally] Szczerbiak and [Delonte] West from Seattle for forwards Ira Newble and Donyell Marshall, two expendable parts. In addition, the Cavs will get Chicago's second-round pick in 2009. The Sonics will receive guard Adrian Griffin from the Bulls.
Sadly for Cavs fans (and likely happily for most of the devotees on this site), we don't have an excerpt to quote with a foolproof explanation of how this move represents too much of a major upgrade for the Cavs (Update: Foolproof or not, Cavalier Attitude's John Krolik has a well-written piece up demonstrating a far more optimistic analysis of this deal than the one you are about to read).
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It's worth disclaiming at the outset that yes, it's reasonable to believe that this move could indeed be very helpful for the Cavs. Ben Wallace could return to the Ben Wallace of old. Wally Szczerbiak could be that stretch-the-floor offensive presence that LeBron James needs, especially while Daniel Gibson sits for the next four to six weeks with an injury. Delonte West could be the stud point guard with a shooting touch that this team has needed for a while, and Joe Smith could make everybody forget about Drew Gooden.
It isn't inconceivable that some or all of those possibilities could come to fruition.
But it isn't all that believable either.
The 33-year-old Wallace has been a shell of his former self throughout the season. Never much of an offensive option, he has been more putrid than ever there this season (37.3 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from the foul line, not much of anything else). Of far greater importance is the fact that he clearly isn't the defender he once was. His blocked shots are down and his rebounding is way down from what it has been in previous seasons. Though he has certainly been plagued by injuries at times this season, it has been clear all year that Wallace hasn't moved with the ease and power he once did on the defensive end of the floor, and he isn't the dominant defensive player that he was during the prime of his career.
In some regards, Wallace may legitimately have reached a point in his career where he is a less energetic (and less offensively useful) Anderson Varejao. While Wallace played on the team with the league's eighth-ranked defense all season, it is worth noting that the Bulls were 4.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor than off this season. By the same token, the biggest reason the Cavs' defense is only ranked as high as 16th in efficiency is the fact that the man they call the Wild Thing missed the first 30 games of the season. With AV on the floor, the Cavs are 9.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively than without him. That's an astounding figure. Of course, simply citing team defense stats with players on and off the court doesn't tell the whole story about individual defensive performance, but the numbers here should most certainly provoke some thought.
Beyond all that, what the Cavs will do with Wallace with regard to their rotation remains to be seen. How they choose incumbents Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas along with Wallace and Joe Smith is a major question mark, and how quickly Mike Brown will be able to find a successful set of combinations there remains in doubt.
There is no guarantee that the Cavs have upgraded at power forward. Drew Gooden had been doing an admirable job all season, averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 boards while playing solid defense to boot. He was an established part of the Cavs' rotation, and he was doing what he was paid to do. The 32-year-old Smith is six years older than Gooden, a comparable scorer, not as good a rebounder and not contracted beyond this season. Two more years of the 26-year-old Gooden seems like it could well have made more sense than an expiring Smith and a highly paid Wallace whose productivity or lack thereof has left plenty of room for improvement of late.
As for the former Celtics headed to Cleveland via Seattle, the question marks continue to come forth with abundance. To Danny Ferry's credit, Wally Szczerbiak is definitely an upgrade over the oft-maligned Larry Hughes so far as outside shooting is concerned. It was also crucial to the Cavs to get rid of the ridiculous contract that Hughes had that it seemed nobody would take (although the fact that they had to take on Ben Wallace's even-worse deal in exchange has to at least somewhat nullify that victory). Szczerbiak had been having himself a nice campaign off the bench for the Sonics and has shot the ball with proficiency throughout the season. That said, especially having seen this guy play during his stint in Boston, it's worth noting that he contributes nothing else. He isn't quick, can't create his own shot, doesn't rebound and plays absolutely zero defense. Further, Wally isn't the scorer he once was. Next to LBJ, he should still probably fit better than Hughes did, but the departed two-guard could get to the rim and defend better than Wally World can, and he could handle the ball when needed as well. And like Hughes, Wally hasn't lived an injury-free life. No guarantees here.
Finally, three and a half seasons into his professional career, Delonte West is no less of an enigma than he was when he entered the league in green and white back in 2004. West was a fan favorite in Boston, and deservedly so. He is a personable guy with a perceived sweet shooting stroke who plays hard every time out. As a Celts fan, I repeatedly talked myself into believing that he could be the point guard of the future for this team. And on certain nights, he can look very good.
But the same problem that doomed Delonte in Boston is the same problem that sticks with him now: He is a combo guard without the necessary skills to be truly proficient at either spot. West doesn't have the ball-handling or the court vision abilities to make him a truly solid point guard, and he doesn't have the size or the slashing abilities to be a stud two-guard in the Association. He can do some good work as far as getting to the basket at his size, and yes, he can moonlight at both spots, but he isn't the true point guard the Cavs have been hoping for and some fans are already making him out to be.
West has also been stunningly inconsistent throughout his career, and it bears note that West's shooting figures have never been as good as his "sweet shooting touch" label might lead one to believe. West has shot 44.4 percent from the field and just 37.0 percent from beyond the arc (a supposed specialty) for his career, and his numbers this season are patently awful: 38.8 percent from the field, 33.9 percent from beyond the arc and an awful 66.7 percent from the foul line. In fact, his true shooting percentage is actually lower than that of Hughes. What all this tells us is that it might not be too great an idea to get excited about the prospects of Delonte in wine and gold.
There is without question a long way to go on the road from the NBA's trading deadline to the Finals in June. The Cleveland Cavaliers earned some points on Thursday by finally ridding themselves of a highly paid player in Larry Hughes who was evidently not going to succeed in the environment there. They also added four players who certainly bring with them the possibility of helping this team improve.
But there is at least as good a possibility -- and perhaps more so -- that they won't.