LeBron James alters the NBA landscape in Cleveland, beyond

Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

CLEVELAND - The diamonds in his ears, around his neck and on his wrist sparkled in the camera lights. The microphones in front of him read "ESPN" and "Fox Sports" but they were joined with ones from Extra and Access Hollywood, when the question came for the umpteenth time.

"LeBron, will you ever get tired of this?"

He has a rehearsed answer he's brought out many times for it. But this was L.A., so the kid decided to put a little flair into it. Corners of his mouth curling into a smile, eyes closing for emphasis, LeBron James quickly shook his head back and forth like a 3-year-old when asked if he's ready for bed.

No quote, no need.

There is no telling how media guides of the future will judge what is going on right now in Cleveland Cavaliers land, but as their 2003-04 season begins Wednesday, James' arrival has undoubtedly altered the direction, perception and fascination with the Cavaliers.

Since the envelope opened on May 22 revealing that new wine-and-gold logo at the NBA Draft Lottery, the Cavaliers landed their highest-profile coach since the departure of Lenny Wilkens, surged to the top of network television schedules, apparel sales and road ticket interest. They've even sold out a preseason game.

In a survey of all 29 NBA general managers conducted by NBA.com, James was rated as the acquisition expected to have the most impact this season. That's ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers' Hall of Fame additions, two guys named Gary Payton and Karl Malone.

The GMs' pick for most improved team? The Cavaliers.

The pick for Rookie of the Year? James, 81 percent.

The pick for which rookie will be the best in five years: James, again.

The most fun team to watch: well, the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings, and then the Cavaliers ahead of the Lakers, New Jersey Nets and the other 26 teams that finished ahead of them in the standings last season.

Can one player really change everything?

"By one pingpong ball bouncing the right way, it changed the perception of the team locally and nationally," Cavaliers General Manager Jim Paxson said. "The timing was right for us to take a big step. There is a buzz out there about us, and we have to take advantage of it."

So the Cavaliers hired Paul Silas and gave him a rich four-year, $16 million contract. They played an extended summer league and preseason schedule to allow for the most development and improvement. They signed free agents Ira Newble and Kevin Ollie and traded for J.R. Bremer, believing their supporting roles could complement their developing stars.

The team has an established All-Star center in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has been healthy for nearly two full seasons and is no longer playing under restricted minutes. There's a developing All-Star in Ricky Davis, who averaged 20.6 points per game last season, the highest of any Cavalier since Brad Daugherty in 1991-92.

Then there are the three kids, James, Miles and former Juneau-Douglas High School star Carlos Boozer.

Boozer has already proven to be one of the steals of the 2002 draft (10 points, 7.5 rebounds) and has only gotten stronger and more confident since making the All-Rookie team last year. Some observers even believe he has the potential to challenge for the NBA rebounding title this season (Ben Wallace of Detroit led last year with a 15.4 average).

The 6-foot-9 Miles had a disappointing season with the Cavs in '02-'03, but re-dedicated himself in the off-season, coming to Cleveland for daily workouts with Silas. He also has become friends with James, which has helped inspire him.

"I will never be a part of the last place team in the NBA again," Miles said. "Things are going to be different around here."

And then there's James himself, who has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice before playing his first real game. He'll only be the most watched, most hyped, most scrutinized rookie in NBA history.

"We have a chance and he has a chance to be very good as this thing unfolds," Silas said.

"We've still got a lot of learning to do because we are so young, but I think we have a chance to become a good team, especially in the second half of the season."

How it will all work out is a mystery, but now there are millions captivated by the possibilities. And no matter what the final record is or how many promises come true, one thing is for certain: this is to be a Cavaliers season like no other.

"We have an opportunity to mold this young talent and develop an identity together so we can start to have a winning attitude," Paxson said. "A break like this has been a long time coming."



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