[Antawn Jamison ponders the Wizards - photo: K. Weidie]
Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to Washington for a marquee match-up between struggling teams and former rivals. Though Soulja Boy is not expected to be in attendance, Antawn Jamison will be, playing in his first game in Washington since he was shipped out. Both teams look to snap losing streaks. Three questions, three answers, from three of your favorite people– John Krolik (@JohnKrolik) of ESPN TrueHoop blog Cavs: The Blog, and TAI’s Sam Permutt (@sammyvert) and Kyle Weidie (@truth_about_it) — right now.
#1) You’re Antawn Jamison, consummate professional and former All-Star power forward. The NBA has decided to merge the Cleveland and Washington teams. You get to pick four other players (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and center) to start alongside you for the new and improved Wizaliers team. Who are you running with? And even with this merger, how successful can the Wizaliers team be? Are they a playoff team? Championship contenders?
JOHN KROLIK: You also have horrible shot selection and terrible defense, and don’t pass if you’re Antawn Jamison. Anyways, you cheat and take John Wall for your point guard and Kyrie Irving for your shooting guard, take Anderson Varejao as your center, and reluctantly take Jan Vesely at the SF position. Unless John Wall can turn it around playing with Kyrie and Varejao, this team doesn’t come close to the playoffs.
SAM PERMUTT: If I’m Antawn Jamison, the first and most important pick that I’m making is Anderson Varejao for the starting center. There’s no way I want to deal with JaVale’s antics, and I need a hustling, defensive-minded big to cover for my defensive weaknesses. I’m filling the team out with John Wall and Kyrie Irving (they’ll figure it out… one of them can eventually be a better two guard than Anthony Parker, right?) and finishing the lineup with Trevor Booker. I don’t think we’ll be great, but we can make the playoffs as lower seed with a scrappy, physical, athletic game a la the Bobcats from a couple years ago. I’m also secretly still pining for a trade. I don’t want to play for the Wizaliers.
KYLE WEIDIE: I pick Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Luke Harangody… then I wake up from my nightmare and take Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Andy Varejao and Trevor Booker. Hopefully this team helps to hide my ‘Are you serious, Antawn, you are a veteran, why do you always look so reluctant on defense?’ ways. Plus, with two other bigs who aren’t as offensively “confident,” shall we say, I get to jack shots. I honestly can’t say how good our team will be. Certainly not one with hopes that would live up to a framed locker picture of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but certainly one, given a really strong bench, that could be in the conversation to possibly make the playoffs in the East, perhaps.
#2) Kyrie Irving is having an incredible season. In addition to the statistics (18.5ppg, 5.1apg, 3.5rpg 47.8% FG, 42.4% 3p, and 86.8% FT), Irving is largely being credited with making the Cavaliers semi-competitive this year with his on-court play and leadership. John Wall had a similarly impressive rookie year, only to slump at the beginning of his sophomore campaign and have his abilities questioned (though his play of late has quieted the critics). Is Kyrie on track for a similar slump, or can he continue to steadily improve his game and his team over the next year and a half?
KROLIK: I don’t see how Wall is “slumping” that badly this season — his playmaking numbers are slightly worse, but his FG% and PPG are slightly up, and he has the same fatal flaw in his game (outside shooting) that he had in his rookie year. Not improving at the rate fans expect you to and “slumping” are not synonyms.
PERMUTT: Kyrie is headed for a slump, but it won’t be as drastic as Wall’s. Irving has a much better outside shot and is also a better ball-handler in traffic. However, as the scouting becomes more developed and teams become familiar with his game, easy shots will be less available for him, so expect his percentages to fall next year. Additionally, it will be very difficult for him to keep the same consistent intensity in his second year in the league with another (presumably) bad Cleveland team, similar to what occurred with Wall at the beginning of this season.
WEIDIE: At some point soon Wall’s slump will be so far in Ted Leonsis’ Ferarri rear-view mirror that it will seem like it never happened. Irving’s situation, perhaps similar to Wall’s, might be heavily influenced by the teammates he has around him. I haven’t seen a ton of the Cavs this season, but judging from their ability to compete thus far, I’ll assume that they don’t have a good chunk of their high-usage players holding the team back like in Washington. As long as Dan Gilbert doesn’t disenchant Irving by making him appear in commercials for Fat Heads/Pay-Day Loan Schemes/Casinos/Whatever Other Slime Bucket Stuff Gilbert’s Into, then I see Irving being just as nice and then some in year two. He has a wide range of developed skills and he’s an intelligent player. Derrick Rose didn’t slump as a soph, no big reason why Irving will either.
#3) The Washington-Cleveland rivalry was a serious affair in the past decade, involving rap superstars, flagrant fouls, lost headbands, and late-game playoff drama. Though much of the luster undoubtedly left with the departure of Lebron James from Cleveland and everyone from Washington, is there any semblance of a rivalry remaining? Which team will care about this game more, rivalry or no?
KROLIK: Not only were rap superstars involved, Soulja Boy was involved. It looks like the rivalry’s over — Washington fans always seemed a lot more into the “rivalry” aspect than Cleveland fans did, and they seem to have lost interest in it once LeBron left and the Cavs got terrible — if anything, the fanbases seem to be united by the fact they hate LeBron more than any other fanbases. I don’t think either team will have a significant advantage w/r/t “caring” come game-time.
PERMUTT: The rivalry is dead. Not only did it mostly swirl around Lebron, but it was also about the veterans on the team and the playoff battles, both of which are long gone (except Jamison, who’s playing for the other team). I would normally expect Cleveland to be a little more interested in the game—Jamison would like his new team to perform well against his old team, and Alonzo Gee might have some extra juice also—but the Wizards are playing on more rest, so they will still likely be more focused and fresh… and they’re being held accountable for not playing hard, which is always a plus.
WEIDIE: Because the so-called, somewhat legit “rivalry” between the Wizards and the Cavs coincided with the explosion of blogs, I think there is enough underlying pixels to spark something up again. Yes, it’s pretty dead now, or let’s say dormant. But with each team having two up-and-coming point guards, if these franchises find a way to become young and exciting in the next couple of years, perhaps aided by some Trevor Booker-Anderson Varejao scuffles, the rivalry could be right back on it’s feet in some regard. Oh, this would also be contingent upon some playoff matchups. I know, I know… seems unlikely now. But hey, anything could happen. Hopefully Jay-Z will be on John Wall’s side next time.