Coach: LeBron plus Larry equals 'something special'
CLEVELAND -- He was going to be the perfect fit: a dead-eye shooter, an Ohio boy, a character guy who had deferred to higher-profile teammates throughout his career.
Michael Redd was going to be one heck of a sidekick for King James.
Just one problem: Redd wasn't feeling the Cleveland Cavaliers' master plan. He was not into the sidekick stuff, didn't want to be LeBron James' Scottie Pippen. He'd rather stay in Milwaukee and be The Man, especially with the Bucks paying $20 million more than the Cavs.
So Cleveland moved on and got . . .
Drum roll, please . . .
Some liked the move immediately. Others had questions and concerns galore:
"Can Larry play with LeBron? He couldn't play with Allen Iverson."
"Both Larry and LeBron need the ball in their hands a lot, so how's that going to work?"
"LeBron needs a shooter as his No. 2 guy, not a slasher."
"Five years, $65-$70 million for a guy who's only had one really good season?"
LeBron and Larry have heard it all. Their response?
"Last year should have answered a lot of questions," Hughes said Thursday, after his third day of practice next to LeBron. "I played with two All-Stars that were perimeter players, and we proved that it could be done. Now, I'm only playing with one All-Star perimeter guy, so it won't be a problem at all. I've never been a selfish guy. Both me and LeBron like to pass. I know I can play with guys that people say I can't play with. I've already shown that."
After one week of training camp, that's how they're rolling in Cleveland. Like Al Green, it's all love and happiness.
Everybody's loving new coach Mike Brown and his emphasis on defense. Everybody's commending new GM Danny Ferry for bringing in not only Hughes but Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Alan Henderson as well. And LeBron has shot down all rumors about his going elsewhere when free agency comes, telling local reporters he's happy in Cleveland.
In fact, James is one of the guys most excited about Hughes' arrival.
"We got a guy who can spread the defense, beat guys off the dribble and he's a great defender," LeBron said. "He's going to be great for us."
Hughes is right. If he was able to excel alongside Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison -- and more important, help the Washington Wizards reach the playoffs -- then he should have no issues playing with LeBron. Neither of them passes as well as LeBron, or for that matter, is willing to pass as much as LeBron.
Speaking of the Wizards, they won't have to wait long to see what they lost when Hughes ditched them for Cleveland. They host the Cavaliers in the league's first preseason game Monday night at the MCI Center. Although it's just a dress rehearsal, Hughes is going in with something to prove.
"They couldn't envision me having the same type of season this year that I had last year," Hughes said, explaining why he believes the Wizards did not offer him close to the money he received from Cleveland. "That motivates me because I put in a lot of hard work. They thought it was just because I was in a contract year, but a contract year doesn't put the ball in the basket, it doesn't make you make defensive calls and offensive calls for the team all year."
For their part, the Cavaliers feel they got just as much, if not more, by acquiring Hughes rather than Redd. Last season, Hughes posted career-highs of 22.0 points, 4.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds (leading all shooting guards in boards), and he led the league with 2.89 steals per game. If he duplicates those numbers this season, you're talking about one of the best perimeter tandems around.
On paper, Hughes' numbers next to LeBron's numbers look downright glorious: a two-guard grabbing six boards, a three-man grabbing seven. That's more board work than some team's two forwards produce. Combine that with the rebounding ability of Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and opponents are getting nothing off the glass.
Of course, that's just on paper. LeBron and Larry will have to develop that ever important intangible -- chemistry -- for this combo to really succeed. They have already had a few heart-to-hearts about playing together, discussing where they like the ball, what each other's strengths and weaknesses are and how to best play off one another.
"Chemistry starts with guys respecting one another and having a mutual respect," said Brown, who at 35 is the second-youngest coach in the league behind New Jersey's Lawrence Frank. "If guys have a solid relationship, they're going to look to help their partner out. I'm not worried about LeBron and Larry at all because they're two class individuals who both want to win.
Brown says he's already seen signs that they are on the same page.
"Every time I watch those two play together, I see something special," he said. "I have to be careful not to let myself turn into a spectator. Sometimes, I have to realize, 'Hey, I'm coaching.'"
Though some have wondered how well James and Hughes will fit together offensively, the Cavaliers see them as the perfect duo. Yes, both players can handle the ball and like to have the ball in their hands, but to Brown, that his one, two and three men to be interchangeable.
Whoever grabs the rebound or receives the outlet pass -- whether it's James, Hughes or one of the point guards, Eric Snow or Jones -- can push the ball up to ignite a fast break or start the offense.
In the half-court set, Brown salivates over the thought of the deadly drive-and-kick game that James and Hughes make possible. Both players can penetrate virtually at will, which will enable them to get into the lane, draw multiple defenders and kick the ball out to jump shooters like Jones, Marshall or Luke Jackson for open 3-pointers.
Moreover, last season James had to fight through not only double teams, but triple teams. With Hughes by his side, teams will pay dearly for giving too much attention to LeBron.
But the possibilities aren't limited to offense. Defensively, James and Hughes could wreak havoc on the wings. While Hughes was first in the league in steals, James was third; both are excellent at anticipating and reading the passing lanes. That, combined with their rebounding prowess, should lead to lots of fast-break points for the Cavs.
"Everybody needs help and I'm here to help LeBron," Hughes said. "That duo [Jordan and Pippen] did it on the offensive and defensive end and they also won championships. That's what you have to do to be considered one of the best. I think last year I was part of the best duo [with Arenas], and this year it can be the same way with LeBron."
Actually, it could be much better.
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