Published February 18, 2010
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers coveted Antawn Jamison because of his ability to stretch a defense.
Now they hope he can stretch the gap between Cleveland and the rest of the NBA.
The best team in the league filled its last glaring hole when Danny Ferry acquired Jamison Wednesday in a three-team trade with Washington and Los Angeles. His ability to shoot from the perimeter should create more space inside for Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James.
"He's a guy who can shoot the 3-point shot very well, a guy who has to be guarded," coach Mike Brown said. "He can create off the dribble and get to the free-throw line. His character, the way he carries himself, his professionalism, it speaks volumes off the floor and on the floor when basketball stuff is not involved."
In what could be James' final season in Cleveland, Ferry and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are doing all they can to win a championship. That includes swallowing the $28 million owed to the 33-year-old Jamison over the next two seasons.
It's a hefty price to pay for a team already well over the salary cap, but it was another clear sign to James and the rest of the league that Cleveland is serious about winning its first championship in June.
"I didn't feel we had to do something," Ferry said. "It was a great position to be in. Our guys have done a great job in giving us the ability to only make a decision if there was something that really excited us and caught our eye."
Ferry admitted he's been trying to get Jamison in Cleveland for the last couple of years. Washington finally relented when it began rebuilding following the season-long suspension of Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers shipped Ilgauskas to Washington, along with a 2010 first-round draft pick and the rights to Emir Preldzic, who was selected in the second round of last year's draft. The Wizards also received forward Al Thornton from Los Angeles.
Cleveland gets guard Sebastian Telfair from the Clippers, who received Drew Gooden from the Wizards.
Trading Ilgauskas was the most difficult part for Ferry, since the two were Cavaliers teammates at one time. Ilgauskas has spent his entire 12-year career with the Cavaliers and is the career leader in games played, blocks and rebounds. He is second in scoring to James.
Ferry called Ilgauskas on Wednesday night to tell him the news.
"It was not a fun conversation," Ferry said. "But he was very professional, just like you'd expect."
Jamison was in the arena Thursday but not expected to play when the Cavaliers hosted the Denver Nuggets.
In order for him to play, all players involved in the deal must pass physicals, something Ferry doesn't believe is logistically possible in time for tip-off. Ferry, though, believes there is a chance Jamison could get activated in time for Friday's game at Charlotte.
Jamison averaged 20.5 points for Washington this season, but Brown isn't sure yet whether Jamison will start or come off the bench.
"I don't know yet," Brown said. "A lot of times you kind of just go off gut feel."
Second-year forward J.J. Hickson has started most of the season at power forward and flourished playing between O'Neal and James. Brown is hesitant to tinker with the chemistry that has given Cleveland the league's best record (43-11) and its current 13-game winning streak.
The fact Cleveland did not have to include Hickson to obtain Jamison was a bonus. The Cavaliers were linked to Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire in the days leading up to Thursday's trade deadline, but any deal for Stoudemire likely would've had to include Hickson.
"Having J.J. on our roster is a great thing," Ferry said. "J.J. would be a junior in college right now. What pick would he be in this upcoming draft? He's done a nice job with the opportunity that he's had."
With so much talent and so much pressure to win, Ferry knows anything short of a championship will be considered a failure this season. The Cavaliers were in similar positions the last two years, when they have failed to get back to the NBA finals after getting swept by San Antonio in 2007.
"It stunk three years ago, it stunk two years ago, it stunk last year and it will be awful this year" if the Cavs fail to win it all, Ferry said. "We want to always be one of the best two, three or four teams in the league that has a chance. We've been able to do that the last few years. It's given us a realization, an appreciation of how hard it is and it's made us hungrier to do it."