How J.J. Hickson Changed The Landscape Of The NBA

I’m not a huge cinema fan. Most of the movies that I like have Will Ferrell in them and I rarely fork out $10 to go see it in theaters.  A couple of nights ago I watched Adjustment Bureau, which was chosen because I love watching movies that include at least three shots of Matt Damon walking on a crowded city street. If there was an Academy Award category for something that specific, Matt Damon would have five of them.

Anyways, the premise of the movie is that there is some higher up power that has control of fate and what things are supposed to happen. To avoid giving you a synopsis I’ll just say that the “hook” in the movie is that these special agents travel through doors that take them to other places in the world, creating ripple effects. This got me to thinking about how much one event can effect another. In life, these decisions seem to be obvious. If you buy something, you will lose money. And it goes on from there.

In sports, ripple effects can be very subtle and they can be earth shattering. Chris Paul may decide to drive to his left rather than his right in the first quarter which may lead him into Andrew Bogut, who is a stronger help defender when moving to his right. Later on in the game, Paul may go left and catch the defense off guard because they were expecting him to go left again and he may end up at the basket for an easy lay-up. These little things happen hundreds of times a game but we don’t pick up on 90% of them.1

And then there are the larger ripple effects, usually created by management, that can leave long lasting effects on a franchise. Where would the Blazers be today had they taken MJ over Sam Bowie in 1984? How many championships would the Chicago Bulls have today had Michael Jordan not taken a break to play baseball? What if the Orlando Magic didn’t give Rashard Lewis a six-year contract worth more than $110 million in 2007 before trading him for Gilbert Arenas, who will be 30 next season, is no longer effective and has three years and $62,423,766 left on his contract?

One of the most recent seismic shifts in the NBA landscape involved the Cleveland Cavaliers but it wasn’t as simple as LeBron wanting to go play with his friends down in Miami.2 For two straight seasons, Danny Ferry entertained the idea of acquiring the Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns. In 2009, he ended up acquiring a Phoenix big man, but instead of getting Amare, Ferry traded for Shaquille O’Neal. Despite the whole “Witness Protection” campaign, he didn’t end up working out. The following year, the Cavs once again contacted the Suns about bringing Stoudemire to Cleveland. Cleveland was more motivated to make the deal this time around as they were just months away from LeBron being a free agent.

The Cavs came close to acquiring Amare, but there was a hold up in the final stages of negotiations: Cleveland didn’t want to part with J.J. Hickson in a deal for Stoudemire. At the time, this was a questionable move. Hickson had shown some potential and even had good chemistry with LeBron, but still, they had a good shot to get one of the 15 best players in the game. That said, it wasn’t necessarily egregious.

But then the post-season came. As we all know, the Cavs season would be abruptly ended by the Boston Celtics in the second round and LeBron James would leave for Miami a couple months. James’ own performance against Boston was the center of attention after the series and because it seemed like James quit during the last two games of the series, all of the blame was placed on him. LeBron does deserve a good amount of grief for the way he went out on his team but something that often gets ignored by fans was Cleveland’s refusal to trade Hickson.

In one of Danny Ferry’s final moves as the general manager of the Cavs, he said no to the Suns in a trade that would have brought Amare to Cleveland and instead opted to trade for Antawn Jamison instead. The ripple effects of these two decisions are obvious. Not only would adding Amare given Cleveland a significantly better chance of beating the Boston Celtics and eventually the Magic and Lakers as well, Jamison’s awful contract (he made $13,358,905 and is on the books for $15,076,715 this season) prevented the Cavaliers from making any serious offers to players like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or even Amare. And if you don’t think that matters, remember that Wade and Bosh played for $14,200,000 and $14,500,000 respectively last season. The only other contract traded to the Wizards was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had an expiring contract anyways, so without Jamison’s contract on the books Cleveland could have offered Bosh or Wade or Amare or even Carlos Boozer a sizable contract to entice one of them as well as LeBron to Cleveland.

But Cleveland didn’t have that cap room during the summer and Miami did, allowing them to form a superteam with James, Wade and Bosh. This left Cleveland with a team that had no star players or even a pretty good one3 and Jamison ended up being the new leader of the team. Despite his decent average of 18 points per game he took 16 shots a night to get there, made only 43% of his shots from the field, averaged his fewest amount of rebounds since the 2002-2003 season when he was with Dallas, posted the lowest PER of his career since his first two years in the league and played some of the worst defense that you will ever see.

Even with Jamison’s poor performance, the deal could be salvaged on one condition: if J.J. Hickson had developed into the superstar that the Cavs expected or wanted him to be. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Hickson did have a career year numbers wise but part of that was playing the most minutes per game of his career while playing on a team that needed anyone that could score to take shots. Hickson averaged 13.8 points per game but also took 12 shots a night and saw his field goal percentage drop from 55% in 2009-2010 to 46% in 10-11. Despite the feeling that Hickson was expanding his offensive game, he continued to struggle with all shots outside of three feet and scored just .833 and .919 points per possession on post-ups and pick and rolls respectively, both of which are categorized as “average” by Synergy.

Average would be a good  term to describe Hickson. He isn’t awful but he is clearly not much more than a rotation big man. A year after Cleveland’s general manager Danny Ferry refused to trade Hickson to acquire Amare Stoudemire, new GM Chris Grant traded him for Omri Casspi. The trade opened up a spot for rookie Tristan Thompson but it also closed the door on the LeBron era in Cleveland. Hickson could have been the piece that kept James in Cleveland for a long while had he been dealt for Stouremire. Instead, he was a player the Cavs believed had enormous potential that ended up being traded for an average player just months after the Cavs chose him over Amare. If only Dan Gilbert could put a nice fidora on, walk through his front door and make that deal in retrospect. Can you imagine the world today without a Comic Sans meme?

Oh, and with LeBron still in Cleveland?


Footnotes

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1. Unless, of course, the decisions creating the ripple effects were made by Russell Westbrook. In that case, everyone and their mother will be voicing their concerns about his play on some online forum within an hour.

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2. Though it seems like LeBron is much closer to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, at least based on their activities this summer. While Dwyane Wade has been off in other countries attending fashion shows and Chris Bosh has been getting married and having his honeymoon with his family on an ostrich farm, James has been in the spotlight playing in more than a few summer league circuits with Paul and Anthony (and Kevin Durant).

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3. You can make an argument for Anderson Varejao as a pretty good player simply because he’s one of the games best and most underrated defensive players. That said, in order for him to reach his maximum potential, he needs to be the anchor of a defense that is at least average and the Cavs were not that last season. To top it all off, Vareajao only played 31 games last season anyways.

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Author: (2422 Articles)

Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

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