HoopsHype.com Columns

Hughes not the right guy
by Eddie Johnson / July 12, 2005



Played 17 years in the NBA for the Kings, Suns, SuperSonics, Hornets, Pacers, Nuggets and Rockets.
Won the 1988-89 NBA Sixth Man Award averaging 21.5 ppg.
NBA all-time leading scorer among players with no All-Star appearances.
He is in his sixth year as the color analyst for the Phoenix Suns broadcasts.
You can visit his website at www.jumpshotclub.com

The Cleveland Cavaliers went shopping with a stack of cash and the soon-to-be best player in the NBA in LeBron James. The Cavs knew the appeal of James and the money could help them land one of the top free agents available – most notably Ray Allen and Michael Redd.

But it was just like the guy who goes in the bar and puts his sights on the girl who everybody thinks is gorgeous only to waste his time chasing her and then finally giving up so late that the love of his life walked right pass him all night going unnoticed. So out of desperation, when his chances seem slim, he settles for the one that didn't look so attractive until he had a few drinks.

Sounds a little far-fetched, huh? Not really.

Joe Johnson was the best player available to pair with LeBron James – not Allen, Redd or Larry Hughes, the player they eventually signed. The Cavs did the right thing chasing Allen first because he was unrestricted and Johnson is not. But after Allen chose to stay in Seattle, they should have done everything possible to get Johnson – and not chase Redd then settle on Hughes, who will struggle in Cleveland having to play a lot without the ball.

Here's why:

Johnson is as versatile as LeBron – only without the jumping ability. He can catch and shoot from anywhere on the floor. He has the ability to create shots for himself and teammates in the paint because he has the best ballhandling skills of any 6-7 player in the league other than James. Besides, he can defend four positions.

Johnson's numbers are just as good as the stats of the other top three free-agent shooting guards and he is not concerned about being the man, which would have allowed him to become a good match for LeBron.

I compare LeBron to Magic Johnson. He does not need players who command the ball, but guys that can finish and flourish playing with him.

Magic had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Byron Scott. Jabbar was great, but at the tail end of his career Worthy and Scott were excellent players whose games were enhanced because they received the ball from Magic in their scoring zones and shot high percentages.

Allen and Redd would have worked to a degree, but I wondered about those two playing Robin to LeBron's Batman.  I am sure that weighed into their decision to stay put.

Signing Hughes was a total stretch. First of all, he is not a consistent shooter. He shot a dismal 37 percent from the field and 21 percent from behind the arc in the playoffs. Most importantly, he has not shown that he can play without the ball for long stretches and still be productive.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy Hughes' game, but only when he is wheeling and dealing and being himself. I think he will struggle to find his niche with the Cavaliers.

Here is my directive to Danny Ferry:

- Sign players who fit with LeBron and do not command the ball.

- Re-sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas and continue to develop Drew Gooden.

- Find players that are not household names but can look great paired with a player like LeBron, who creates a double-team anywhere on the floor. Eddie House, Jon Barry, Donyell Marshall or Juan Dixon could help. These players won't sound off many alarms, but can flourish in Cleveland and cost little to your bottom line.

- Two players you missed out on already have been snatched up. Raja Bell and Bobby Simmons would have been ideal to play with King James. Those two could have been had for the same money you gave Hughes.

Eddie Johnson is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com