The Cavs have failed LeBron James

There’s no other way to say it: the Cleveland front office has failed LeBron James.

Just look at their current rotation: LeBron, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sasha Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson and Joe Smith. Other than LeBron, is there a player on that list that is in the top 20 at his position? Delonte West was probably the best thing to come out of those two deadline deals the team made in February, but he’s injury-prone and is a restricted free agent this offseason. Ilgauskas is probably still a top 20 center, but I can name 15 guys off the top of my head that I’d rather have on my team. (Okay, want me to list them? Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, Andrew Bynum, Brad Miller, Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins, Samuel Dalembert, Mehmet Okur, Al Horford, Rasheed Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal. There, that’s 17 for you.)

The point is that the 2008 Cavs feature LeBron James with four below-average starters and a few mediocre rotation guys. I do like West, Varejao and Gibson, but that’s about it. What’s worse, the Cavs had the fourth highest payroll this season ($81.1 million) and they’re on the hook for another $74.8 million next season.

It takes work to have a roster this expensive be this bad. But don’t blame it all on GM Danny Ferry. He took over in 2005 a full year after the Cavs’ bonehead move to let Carlos Boozer become a free agent because of a “verbal agreement” that he would re-sign for the mid-level exception. At that point, Boozer was a 22 year-old 15.5-point, 11.4-rebound power forward that had All-Star written all over him. Why in the world would you risk the advantage and consistency of pairing he and LeBron for the next decade just to save a few million on his contract? I know the fans in Cleveland hate Boozer for this, but it was probably his agent at the time, Rob Pelinka, who was at fault for Boozer’s part in things. I don’t know what kind of a promise Boozer made to the organization, but once he became a free agent, the Jazz offered him $4.6 million more per season than what the Cavs said they would pay him. For his part, Boozer has insisted all along that there was no handshake and no promise. Still, that kind of deal would be illegal under the collective bargaining agreement, so the blame falls entirely on the Cavs for pursuing (or claiming to pursue) such an arrangement.

It is that historical misstep that has sent the Cavs franchise into its current tailspin. LeBron alone is good enough to win 40 games, and the Cavs supporting cast stepped up enough in the 2007 postseason for Cleveland to get past the dilapidated competition in the East to make a Finals appearance, but as the ensuing sweep (at the hands of the Spurs) would indicate, the Cavs were a long way from a title then and they are even further away now.

And the clock is ticking. LeBron signed an abbreviated deal that allows him to opt-out in the summer of 2010. Barring any additional signings, the team projects to have some salary cap flexibility in the summer of 2009, when Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Eric Snow come off the books, but new contracts for Delonte West and Daniel Gibson threaten that flexibility. The team will have to improve through the draft and through trades – two areas where the Cavs have struggled over the past few years.

Here’s a list of all the bad moves that the franchise has made since drafting LeBron:

1. In 2004, the Cavs could have held onto Jason Kapono, one of the league’s best three-point shooters. But they elected not to re-sign him after he shot nearly 48% from long range. Sure, why would you want a guy that could make teams pay for doubling LeBron?

2. Instead of drafting Luke Jackson (#10 overall), the team could have drafted Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson or Andris Biedrins, whom were all drafted in the next 10 picks of the 2004 Draft.

3. In 2004, they failed to pick up the option on Carlos Boozer, trying to do an illegal deal to get Boozer on the cheap. The so-called “verbal agreement” falls through when Boozer signs with Utah for six years and $68 million.

4. Instead of trading for Sasha Pavlovic (giving up a first round pick that turned into the #13 pick overall), the team could have instead used that selection on Danny Granger, Rashad McCants, Hakim Warrick or Francisco Garcia, whom were all taken in the next 10 picks of the 2005 Draft.

5. In the summer of 2005, instead of signing Larry Hughes to a five-year, $67 million deal, signing Donyell Marshall to a four-year, $22 millon contract, and re-signing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a five-year, $51 million deal, the team could have made a stronger run at Michael Redd or Ray Allen (whom were both unrestricted free agents that summer) and Tyson Chandler or Samuel Dalembert (whom were both restricted free agents). If that failed, they could have saved all of that cap space for the future.

6. In the 2006 Draft, the Cavs could have selected Jordan Farmar, one of the league’s best young point guards, instead of Shannon Brown. The Lakers took Farmar with the pick immediately following the Cavs’ pick. (Kudos to Ferry for drafting Gibson in the second round.)

Simply stated, had the Cavs exercised the option on Boozer and made a better pick in the summer of 2004, the team could have had a core of LeBron and Boozer, along with Al Jefferson or Josh Smith. Now that sounds like a group with championship contender written all over it.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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