Mike Brown stated an indisputable fact on Friday during Cavaliers practice: LeBron James is "hands down" the MVP this season.
But what about the rest of his team? I asked him specifically about the notion that without LeBron, the Cavs -- with an NBA-best 40-11 record going into tonight's game against the Knicks here in Cleveland -- would be quite pedestrian. Ron Artest said he believed the Cavs wouldn't even be a playoff team.
In our story in Saturday's Newsday, Brown took umbrage with the widespread disrespect LeBron's support cast has gotten this season.
"We have some good players who helped LeBron be who he is," Brown said. "He is a great player, possibly the greatest to ever play, but, again, his teammates have contributed to it."
Still it's amazing that the NBA's best team will have just one representative at the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Dallas next week. Just one. Brown couldn't believe that impressive sophomore J.J. Hickson didn't get an invite to play in the Rookie Challenge game and surprised Daniel Gibson (No. 2 in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage) was not included in the Three-Point Shootout.
Brown then went into how LeBron is always mentioned as an All-Defensive Player, but Anderson Varejeo also deserves recognition for his defense. In fact, Brown believes Varejao should be included in Sixth Man of the Year talk, as well.
But while Kobe's supporting cast seem to get far more credit -- Artest, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum -- for the Lakers' success, LeBron is consideredto be the only reason why the Cavs win.
"I don't know why, they have their reasons, I guess, for not talking about our guys," Brown said. "But we can't let it affect us. We just have to keep playing and not let it affect our goal, which is to win a championship."
Will it affect LeBron's thinking this summer? I recently posted a thought on my Twitter account that it would be interesting if LeBron caught a 24-hour flu or something (nothing debilitating, of course) and had to miss one of these last two games between the Knicks and Cavaliers (the season series finale is March 1). Let the support casts go head-to-head and see who comes out on top.
But while the Knicks do have a few building blocks here with Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and David Lee, they don't have nearly the experience or toughness that Cavs possess in Shaq, Varejao, Delonte West (injured) and Hickson.
And after I spent the day here in snowy Cleveland on Friday hanging out at the Cavaliers' sparkling practice facility in Independence, Ohio, I'm wondering if it makes any sense at all for LeBron to leave this cocoon for the madness of Manhattan. Unless he completely understands what he's getting himself into (see: Alex Rodriguez) and is ready to carry the weight of expectations from an entire city (see: Mark Messier).
If that's the case, he should come. If he feels like there is still some unfinished business here in Cleveland, he should sign a short-term deal (three years) and reconsider the New York thing when he's a little older. Knicks fans don't want to hear this, of course. They can't wait forever and with salary cap space this summer and more to come in 2011, they need to get this rebuild going now.
Still, as they build they will have assets. And when/if LeBron is ready to make the move in the future -- if that's what he decides to do -- then perhaps the Knicks will actually have the type of players it will take to make that kind of a blockbuster trade.
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* -- Cavs PR politely apologized to that LeBron probably wouldn't be doing any media on Friday (and here I only wanted to ask him details about this year's "2Kings" dinner with Jay-Z at all-star weekend). But he never hid and didn't seem in any hurry to leave the practice facility. In fact, no one did. And this was on a Friday. Perhaps Shaq wasn't joking when he called Cleveland's nightlife "so-so." Seems the best thing to do last night was stay in and avoid the snow.
I'm used to seeing the Knicks waste no time getting to the locker room after practices. Some may linger for shooting drills and whatnot, but there is rarely any energy in the gym once the whistle is blown. The Cavs facility was rocking well into the late afternoon.
LeBron spent most of his time shirtless with cut-off sweats, engaged rookie Danny Green in shooting drills. He then went into the back to lift weights and re-emerged to watch a scrimmage that includes members of the coaching and training staff, end-of-the-bench types, a nowhere-near ready Leon Powe and even Delonte West with his broken left finger wrapped up in a bandage.
Shaq, who also hung around for an extended period of time, seemed to enjoy how little-used Darnell Jackson was trying to engage a disinterested Powe in a physical battle under the boards. At one point Jackson barked, "Get your work in, Powe!" It's been an uphill battle for the former Celtic, who is recovering from major knee surgery and only recently has been cleared to play.
Since we also profiled Long Islander Danny Green -- this kid has never been on a losing team, from high school to college and now in the NBA -- we should probably give full disclosure: Cavs assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, a former Santa Clara standout, banged one on Green. These games are serious business.
* -- Though there is reason to believe Shaq would re-sign with the Cavs if they wound up winning the championship this season, I think he would be an interesting potential target for the Knicks in a Plan B scenario. Not as a main guy, obviously, but as someone to protect David Lee in the paint. Shaq has great respect for Lee and Mike D'Antoni and you know he'd love to enjoy a season or two in the Big Apple, in Patrick Ewing's house. It all depends on cost, but, again, there is certainly a need for size and strength in the post. His presence would do wonders for Lee on the defensive end. Lee is also a good enough passer that even in the pick-and-roll, he has the ability to dish off when help defense off Shaq comes his way.