TWO SUMMERS agothe Cavaliers signed 6'5" multitalented guard Larry Hughes from theWashington Wizards. The numbers Cleveland liked: Hughes's averages of 22.0points and 2.9 steals in 2004--05. The numbers Hughes liked: five years and upto $70 million. His nickname is Smooth, but his transition to life as KingJames's court sidekick was bumpy. A new system, a new role, a broken fingerthat cost him much of '05--06. Now, though, come the dividends—a Hughes who ishappy, healthy and hard to stop. He averaged 19.0 points in Cleveland'sfirst-round sweep of his old team and was at it again on Sunday, scoring 17points and making four steals as the Cavs knocked back the Nets in Game 1 ofthe Eastern Conference semis.
On switching fromshooting guard to point guard in March
It was an easy transition; I've always been used to having the ball and makingdecisions. Coach [Mike Brown] told me he wanted to have the ball in my handsearlier in the shot clock so I can make more plays for my teammates. As a pointguard I can get any shot whenever I want it. I don't have to worry about whenI'm going to get the ball, so I don't press as much.
On differencesbetween ex-Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas and LeBron James
Gil is constantly hungry and always trying to prove people wrong. He looks atme more as a big brother—I was in Golden State with him when he was a rookie[in 2001--02]. LeBron was established when I got here. He didn't need me tohelp him. He's on his way to being one of the best players to play thisgame.
On how he pickedup basketball
I didn't start real young. And I never, ever thought about making money at itor being a star. My mom [Vanessa] just wanted me to play something organized.So after messing around with it for a little while, when I was 12, I started toplay on teams. I've never played any other organized sports. Not one.
On becoming theman of the house when he was in eighth grade
My mom told me this was my role and I had to make good decisions. It made mestronger. I had to learn how to discipline myself. When my mom was at work [asa bank teller], I couldn't be out doing crazy stuff. I had to make sure mybrother [Justin, seven years younger] and I were eating the right food andwatching the right TV shows. I made meals, simple stuff like PB & J,noodles, chicken soup, cereal. And I made sure we didn't set anything on fireor drink bleach. I didn't want my mom to worry when she was at work. Thatthinking kept me out of trouble.
On dealing withthe loss of Justin, who died of heart failure last May at 20, nine years afterhaving a heart transplant
It took a lot of time. I had mood swings, and every day was different. Talkingabout it to family and friends helped. Now, before every game I say a prayerand talk to him. He gets me going.
I loved the city and the guys I played with, but here we have a real shot atthe conference finals. You can't turn that down. We're close to being a titlecontender too. We need to work on our killer instinct. When we have teams down10, 15 points, we have to stop letting them back into games.
On the rapperNelly
We're close. He put me in his [Dilemma] video. We first met in the schoolyard[as teenagers]. He loves to play ball, and we have a lot in common. He's ayoung black guy from St. Louis trying to open doors for kids, and so am I. Wetalk a lot about that.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SIMON BRUTY
GREG NELSON (HUGHES ACTION)