With the Cavaliers entering a bit of a rebuild, the one position that appeared to be set for the time being was power forward. The “four” spot on the Cavs’ roster featured a 22-year old JJ Hickson, a veteran leader in Antawn Jamison and a duo of hard-working bangers in Leon Powe and Samardo Samuels.
Seven weeks later, it appears that even the power forward slot is in a state of flux thanks to some considerable underperformance, ocassional bad body language and heavy contractual obligations.
Hickson had been widely considered to be the future of the power forward position – he was the piece which Danny Ferry would not part with when teams came calling at the trade deadline. Athletic, young and possessing a ton of room for growth, Hickson had fans in awe at times. Unfortunately, said awe transitioned quickly into guffaw, mostly in disbelief of how the mental side of the game has not caught up to his physical talents despite being in his third year within the league.
Antawn Jamison provides a completely different scenario. Now in his 12th season, Jamison is understandably older, slower and less of a slasher than Hickson. He is due to make approximately $12 million dollars more and appeared ready to be moved to a contender in a similar regard to his arrival in Cleveland less than one year ago.
But what has transpired over the last few weeks has allegedly changed the perception of what is in store for the future of the Cavaliers frontcourt. Hickson has seen his playing time decline, receiving just nine minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls. He is admittedly “not happy” with Byron Scott’s move, but did say that he will be professional about it. Unfortunately, it appears that Hickson’s definition of professional is slouching on the bench with towel over his head – furthering the gap between he and his head coach, his second coach in two seasons with whom he has not exactly seen eye-to-eye.
While Hickson has declined in terms of playing time and production since the opening week of the season, Jamison has taken the completely opposite path. Recovering from a bit of a wonky knee early on, ‘Tawn averaged 13.1 points and 7.1 assists in November, 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 three-pointers in December. He can frequently be seen calling plays from the post, facilitating Byron Scott’s Princeton offense, and leading by example to make sure that the other four members of the team are in constant motion.
So given all of the above, where do the Cavaliers go from here? The answer depends on the direction in which other teams choose to go. No longer in a position of leverage, the Cavs are forced to assess the landscape and make moves more for the long term than they had in the past.
Antawn Jamison, who the Wine and Gold acquired for the net of a first-round draft selection, is a tough piece to value. As told to WFNY by a league source, he is relatively untradable at this stage given that most teams are not willing to take on his contract (due approximately $15 million next season), the uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that the Cavs would have to receive assets that would cost them at least $13 million this season. Couple this with the fact that Byron Scott likes what Jamison brings to the table, he is still one of the most respected players in the NBA and his deal becomes very valuable next season, Chris Grant may be forced to bite the bullet for the 2010-11 season and keep the veteran leader around.
Conversely, Hickson is 22-years old, is still considered to be a raw, untapped player and is only due $1.5 million this season and $2.3 million in 2011-12. While he is a restricted free agent beyond 2012, the fact that Hickson has relatively underperformed to this point could make some general managers feel that he could be re-signed for a decent value. Seeing what Hickson can do when he is along side a playmaker like LeBron James, he could be seen as a strong complimentary piece to a team that already has a No. 1 option on offense.
Also in Cleveland’s favor, if they were to shop Hickson, are that his per-36 minute/40-minute statistics are strong and have improved year-over-year to their current level of 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and a free throw percentage of 77.8 percent. These numbers put Hickson right in line with other notable young forwards like Washington’s Andray Blatche, Jeff Green and Paul Millsap during their age-22 seasons; the rest would be up to the Cavaliers to sell such a line.
It is ultimately important to note that there is no need to move either player at this stage. Despite the restlessness of the fan base and the clamoring for moves sooner than later, there are no serious discussions being had. Sure, there are phone calls being made, but these are merely protocol for NBA general managers – they would be doing a disservice to the team if they were not constantly checking the landscape of the league.
If the team feels that Hickson could ultimately provide the same fruit as the abovementioned Blatche, Green and Millsap, there is no need to move him given his current situation. Jamison’s contract is up after next season, Hickson will only be 23-years old, still entering his prime playing years. Unfortunately, for Byron Scott and an ownership mentality that still longs for winning basketball, Jamison playing (and well at that) with Hickson sitting does not bode well for the latter player’s trade value.
The Cavaliers will, at some point in time, have to make a decision as to what the future of the power forward position will be. But as things stand during the second week of December, they are in no hurry to commit one way or the other.
(Photos by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images and Al Behrman/Associated Press)