Saturday, October 31, 2009

LeBron & Co. welcomes the troubled West back

It's still early in the NBA season, a point LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal keep stressing. So a loss here or there won’t turn what should be a promising season for the Cavaliers into a shipwreck.

The Cavs have foundered, though.

Their play has been spotty, their defense leaky -- a reflection of a team in transition, a talented team trying to figure out what it can do. The Cavs have also been a team absent one of its important pieces: Delonte West.

Absent, until now.

They activated West for their game tonight against the Bobcats. He's back, and he's ready to play, coach Mike Brown said.

"If he's activated, he will play," said Brown, his words offering some solace to Cavaliers fans who had fretted about West and the team's slow start.

The fans knew what Brown knew: One player can make a difference.

Doubt it?

Then watch a TV replay of the Lakers-Mavericks game Friday night. Ask almost any of the NBA analysts, and most of them will tell you the Lakers are the cream of the National Basketball League.

Nobody is prepared yet to hand the Lakers, the defending champs, another NBA title, not a week into the season. On paper, they can make a case for being the team to beat if all their pieces are in place.

Playing the Mavs at the Staple Center, the Lakers looked like anything but a championship team. They found the racehorse brand of basketball the Mavs played overwhelming. Dissect the L.A. loss, and you come away critical of almost every aspect of the team’s play.

You also realize the Lakers were at a gigantic disadvantage: Pau Gasol didn’t play.

I can’t think of one NBA team that can afford to lose a player like Gasol or West. Take either of them out of a team’s lineup, and you’ll see a great team downgraded to very good. And very good isn’t good enough to win an NBA championship.

The Mavs proves that true. They are very good, close to an elite team; they aren’t, however, a team people put into the great category.

People have put the Cavs, who play the Bobcats tonight, in that category – or at least they did before West had his psychological meltdown.

The emotionally-fragile West is returning to the floor, as will Gasol will shortly. Their return should quiet worries of hoops fans in Cleveland and L.A. who expect perfection in the early stages of a long season.

Fast starts are a thing of beauty, and LeBron and Shaq would tell anybody within earshot they would have preferred to open the season 2-1 and not 1-2.

“Honestly, it's gonna take some games before we figure out with Shaq -- and everybody else,” LeBron said before the game with the Bobcats.

In short, he was calling the Cavs a work in progress, and he’s right. The team might not find its form until West finds his, which no one can be certain when that'll be..

While Shaq has been an intriguing addition, he can’t fill the unique role West, the most versatile player on the team, plays for the Cavs.

Some players are irreplaceable when a championship is the team’s objective. LeBron is, for sure. Shaq is, too. And West – and Gasol and Kobe Bryant for the Lakers – fit that description.

Fans will see West play tonight. They can't wait to see what the Cavs can do with all their pieces ini place.

Neither can LeBron and Shaq.


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