After years of anticipation, King James will finally be able to put throwback jerseys and sneaker contracts in his Hummer’s rearview mirror.
After more than 30 years of frustration and failure, the Cavaliers caught a break by winning the league’s draft lottery. They drafted James, the Akron high school phenom tabbed by most as the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, with the No. 1 pick.
James is already helping sell out Gund Arena and hopes to one day lead his home state’s team to a world championship. But that could be years away being Cleveland doesn’t have nearly enough talent to compete with the league’s elite quite yet.
James, though, has given fans and the Cavaliers hope.
“I’ve been here for seven years, and I’ve seen everything. It’s a lot better around here now,” Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “Last year, we had empty crowds. Nobody cared about us. This year, everyone has smiles on their faces.”
Perhaps just as important for Cleveland, Paul Silas was brought on as the new head coach.
Silas developed the New Orleans Hornets into playoff contenders and molded Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis into All-Stars. Now he’ll try to do the same with James, Ilgauskas, Ricky Davis and the rest of Cavaliers club high on potential but low on experience.
“We’ve got some great athletes,” Silas said. “Now, I’ve got to make them basketball players. They’ve got to work. It’s going to take some time for our guys to learn the system. One day they’ll have it, and when they do it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
While the addition of James has put the Cavaliers in the limelight in October, the addition of Brad Miller may put the Kings in the limelight in June.
After years of dramatic moves, Sacramento did perhaps the least of any Western Conference contender to change or upgrade their roster. But the one deal they did make may prove to be the biggest: snagging All-Star center Miller from the Indiana Pacers in a three-way trade for reserves Scot Pollard and Hedo Turkoglu.
If Miller plays as advertised, and the team can finally stay healthy, it may have what it takes to become NBA champions.
“Everybody knows that injuries have killed us,” Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. “It’s always been a key injury at a key time. That’s not something you can plan for and plan against. All you can do is keep coming back every year with a great team, and then hope that people stay healthy.”
Peja Stojakovic missed much of the 2002 playoffs. Mike Bibby missed the start of last season and fellow point guard Bobby Jackson missed a large stretch of action during the season. Five-time All-Star Chris Webber hasn’t been completely healthy for years.
Webber will begin this season on the injured list while recovering from knee surgery. He was hurt early in the second round of last season’s playoffs and hopes to return in early December, though others believe he won’t be back until later that month.
Miller, Vlade Divac and reserve newcomers Tony Massenburg and Darius Songaila will shoulder most of the responsibility under the boards in Webber’s absence. Coach Rick Adelman will rely on his smaller players for the bulk of the scoring.
“I’m more worried about us this year than I’ve been in a while,” Webber said. “There are a lot of new elements to the team this year, and you need to play together and grow with each other. We’re not going to be able to do that right away, so I’m hoping we can catch up quickly.”
2002-03 STANDINGS: Cavaliers - 8th place, 33 GB, Central Division. Kings - 1st place, Pacific Division.
2002-03 TEAM LEADERS: Cavaliers - Davis, 20.6 ppg and 5.5 apg; Ilgauskas and Boozer, 7.5 rpg. Kings - Webber, 23 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 5.4 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Kings, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 26, 2002; Kings, 91-85. At Cleveland, Webber scored 28 points—20 in the second half. Dajuan Wagner had 17 points before fouling out in his NBA debut for Cleveland.
2002-03 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cavaliers - 3-38 on the road; Kings - 35-6 at home.