Ricky holds the key
Only now, just hours before the Cavaliers play their fourth game on national television, we have seen them enough to say that it's time to relay some bad news to the kid who helped make punching himself in the forehead a national phenomenon.
With apologies to Paul Silas, Miles is not the trigger man for Cleveland making an honest playoff run -- only because the Cavs reside in the East, of course -- in LeBron's first season of manhood.
It's Ricky-Ricky-Ricky-Ricky (shut up).
The theory, as it was presented when the season started, suggested that the Cavs pretty much knew what to expect from Ilgauskas, Davis and Carlos Boozer. With total faith in James, even before he started exceeding expectations in his very first real game, Silas saw D-Miles as the X-factor. The guy who would have to be more consistent than he's ever been before, thereby lessening the burden on LeBron.
Just a dozen games later, a revision is required. That's because Davis has come closer to meeting external expectations, which weren't quite so optimistic. In short, when Davis moves the ball and plays a team game, Cleveland is going to be competitive. The Cavs, of course, are 4-8, so you can surmise what happens when Davis doesn't.
The past five games, though, illustrate the Ricky Effect pretty clearly.
On Nov. 12, Cleveland followed Davis' sluggish lead to suffer a bad loss in Miami, which was the Heat's first win of the season.
Two nights later, in Boston, Davis shot 4-for-16 and proved so uninterested in ball movement that Silas had to bench him for the final four minutes of a relatively close game that the Cavaliers would end up losing by nine.
Just 24 hours later, Davis transformed himself into a selfless stopper, taking only six shots and hounding Allen Iverson all over the floor in Cleveland's 91-88 victory.
Davis then scorched the Clippers for 27 points in a comfortable home win Tuesday night before morphing back into the me-first Ricky the next night in Washington. After making his first five shots against the Wiz, Davis missed seven of his next eight attempts until Silas pulled him with three minutes left in the third quarter. Davis did not return.
So, in summary:
Besides his unquestioned standing as the Cavs' best outside shooter, Davis is a gifted passer and an effective perimeter defender when he wants to be. He can get up on people and run the break like James does. Yet when Davis does none of that, Silas looks increasingly tempted to yank him off the floor and play Kevin Ollie or Ira Newble, who will play with more discipline.
Problem is, the Cavs don't have enough talent -- and nowhere near sufficient outside shooting -- for Davis to be sitting. Ilgauskas also started the season in a shoot-every-touch mode but has gradually moved away from that, after a couple benchings of his own. Yet progress with Davis, sadly, never seems to last.
That's why, according to more than one rival general manager, Cleveland is prepared to trade Davis, fearing that he simply won't be a team guy for them no matter what Silas tries. You suspect that the Cavs would jump at the chance now to revive those old Ricky-for-Wally Szczerbiak scenarios with Friday night's visitors from Minnesota. Szczerbiak is injured and won't play, but he was a collegian in Ohio and shoots the ball worlds better than anyone on Cleveland's present roster.
|“||I definitely want to stay here. Me and LeBron can be the 1-2 punch that turns Cleveland around. ... But we do need to start winning some games. You can feel the urgency coming on. ”|
|— Ricky Davis|
Just to be clear, this isn't a Ricky vs. LeBron personality problem. By all accounts, they get along nicely, with Davis actually said to be coping fairly well with life in LeBron's shadow. Both parties deny that there was a confrontation during the Portland game, with Davis dismissing the story as inevitable.
"You knew it was going to come," Davis says. "We started 0-4, so they came up with something. I don't know nothing. After we heard what came out, I went up and asked LeBron what was going on. He asked me what was going on. We just kind of looked at each other, wondering where it came from."
Fine. The notion of friction might be exaggerated, but Silas taking Davis out of games early is no mirage. Knowing how much Silas hates losing, coming from a successful veteran team in New Orleans and championships as a player in Boston and Seattle, you know he wouldn't cut the playing time of his second-best player if he felt like he had another option.
Davis simply has to change, or else he will be moved eventually. And he insists that's not what he wants. Davis swears that he wants to win with LeBron and win back the benefit of the doubt that he lost season with that Hall of Shame attempt to record a triple-double against Utah in April.
"People will probably hold that against me for a while," Davis said. "It's real hard. But when you make a mistake, you try to move on.
"I definitely want to stay here. Me and LeBron can be the 1-2 punch that turns Cleveland around. ... But we do need to start winning some games. You can feel the urgency coming on."
As a Ricky-Ricky-Ricky-Ricky fan, I sure hope he means it when he says he feels it.