There was a time when being traded to the Cavaliers was a fate not to be envied, the NBA's equivalent of being transferred to the branch office in, well ... Cleveland. But when power forward Drew Gooden learned in July that he'd been dealt by the Magic to the Cavs, days elapsed before his smile deserted him. "They say they're happy to have me, but I'm more happy to be here," he says. "I feel like this is an organization headed up and up."
The arc of Gooden's young career is considerably flatter. The fourth pick, out of Kansas, in the 2002 draft, Gooden played erratically in Memphis and Orlando. One night he would put up a double double and offer a tantalizing glimpse of his inside-outside game; the next night he would fail to compete. Along the way he cultivated a reputation as something other than a dream to coach--a rap he rejects. "Totally unfair and untrue," the 6'10" Gooden says. "It's like when you were a kid and something got broken in the house and there was no one else to blame, so your parents blamed you even though you didn't do it."
Playing alongside LeBron James, Gooden will get ample chance to dispel any doubts. He will replace the not-so-dearly departed Carlos Boozer--who, according to Cavs brass, signed with Utah after promising to stay--and shouldn't have to worry about playing time.
Gooden feels he has a kindred spirit in coach Paul Silas--both grew up in Oakland and became power forwards--though Silas has already made it clear that he will "get all over" Gooden for lapses in effort. "Cleveland fans will be happy with what I bring to the table," Gooden says. "I'm going to rebound and make sure we get stops." Defending the opposition might help him defend his reputation as well. --L.J.W.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cavaliers
Last March the Cavs looked capable of winning a first-round playoff series, but they fell apart when Jeff McInnis hurt his right shoulder. They're not as strong now as they were during that stretch, though LeBron James alone could lift them in the standings.... James was the best rookie ever to come straight out of high school, and not just based on his numbers. At the ends of games he would get the big stop or the big rebound, and when he was on a roll, he would drive to the basket and make sure he drew the foul. LeBron got frustrated last year when his jumper wasn't falling, and at times he would take early shots without understanding the time and situation. They need to put him in the post to improve his shot selection.... Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the best center in the East next to Shaq, but they don't get him the ball enough. That's probably because they haven't had shooters to spread the floor. Luke Jackson and Sasha Pavlovic could fill that role, but they're behind James, so they're not going to play much.... Drew Gooden isn't the future for them. He's the opposite of Carlos Boozer, who made the most of what he had. Gooden gets mad if he's not a focus of the offense, but he can't hold his position in the paint, he's not a good shooter, and he's one of these style guys who worries about the kinds of shots they're getting.... Though Eric Snow looked old last year, he can control the tempo and make sure you'reexecuting. The problem with starting Snow and McInnis is that neither one can post up or shoot the three.... Dajuan Wagner is never going to be a point guard, but maybe he can come off the bench and launch jump shots alongside Snow the way Allen Iverson used to.
When point guard Jeff McInnis, acquired from Portland last January, was in the lineup for the Cavs, they were 20--11. They were 15--36 in games without him.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 35--47 (9th in East)
Points scored: 92.9 (14th in NBA)
Points allowed: 95.5 (17th)
Coach: Paul Silas
(second season with the Cavs)
DREW GOODEN [NEW ACQUISITION]
ERIC SNOW [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (stats for final college season) (r) Rookie (Spanish league stats) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
JOHN BIEVER (JAMES)
BRAINS AND BRON
After displaying great poise as a rookie, James needs to muscle his way inside to improve his shot selection.