If Doc Rivers and the Celtics were truly evil, they would tank tonight’s game against the Cavaliers as part of a grand-scheme plot to mess with LeBron James‘ head. Imagine the reaction: LeBron and his shiny new team couldn’t beat the mighty Celtics, and yet the very next night, the guys he dumped in Cleveland host the reigning East champs and get the job done.
But assuming the Celtics are too competitive and aren’t that conniving, there is still a significant risk against Cleveland. This is a classic “Trap Game” — which has nothing to do with Plies‘ or Young Jeezy‘s pre-rap careers — a case where one team (Boston) coming off a big win against another elite opponent (Miami) overlooks the next, weaker opponent (Cleveland) and doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.
Lack of focus from Paul Pierce, KG and Co. is what Cleveland fans are hoping for, because otherwise their team comes into tonight’s game as a major underdog. How many players on the Cavs’ roster could even crack Boston’s rotation? Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao, maybe Anthony Parker … that’s about it.
And one of those guys, Jamison, now doesn’t know where he fits on this Cleveland team despite being perhaps its most talented player.
“I don’t know what the role is going to (be),” Jamison was quoted in Ohio’s News-Herald, right after dropping the always ominous It is what it is line. “I don’t know how many minutes I’ll play. I’m up in the air, just like you.”
Cavs coach Byron Scott is already trying to solve a delicate chemistry equation. He has veterans who have grown accustomed to contending for a championship, mixed with youngsters who will benefit from rebuilding, mixed with the threat of losing a lot of games early. Having one of your top players unsure of his role on the eve of the season opener is a bad sign.
Jamison has come off the bench before. He won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2004. But that was on a Dallas Mavericks team that won 52 games and went to the playoffs. On a rebuilding squad most likely bound for the Lottery, will a 34-year-old who has career averages of 19.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game be OK with taking on a backup role? Will Jamison become an Allen Iverson-in-Memphis problem if he doesn’t find himself in the starting lineup?
It makes sense why Scott would like to bring Jamison off the bench. As former Sixth Man award winners like Ben Gordon, Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry have proved in recent years, teams are better off when the second unit has a guy who can carry the scoring load just like the first unit. The Cavs are short on scorers and don’t have much depth, so splitting the two best scorers (Williams and Jamison) among the two units may be the way to go.
Another factor is that Jamison’s natural position, power forward, is occupied by the 22-year-old Hickson, who is seen as an important part of the team’s future. Hickson needs a lot of minutes if he’s going to develop into anything near the player Cleveland sees in him, and as the team’s most athletic big man, Hickson needs to be on the court in Scott’s preferred running system.
Whether he’s a starter or a sixth man, Jamison will be on the court to finish games for the Cavs. I would presume Scott’s ideal crunch-time lineup consists of Williams, Parker, Jamison, Hickson and Varejao. But dealing with an unhappy former All-Star who happens to be arguably your best player makes it even less likely that Cleveland will have the need to roll out a crunch-time lineup, as they pile up more L’s than expected.
If you’re Byron Scott, how do you use Antawn Jamison this season?