To a lot of NBA writers and fans, this current Cavs team defied explanation. The team relied more heavily on one player than any other playoff team, and that player seemed to have regressed from the previous year. It was entirely possible that we had the worst starting backcourt in basketball. Fans were making Iraq Study Group-like studies about how we ever signed Larry Hughes. Our center and power forward didn't shoot over 50%. By the playoffs, our 2nd and 3rd scoring options were a second-round rookie named "Boobie" and a shooting guard who had been a benchwarmer for the first three and a half years of his career.
And yet we made the NBA finals. How? One team the media has chosen to compare the Cavs to is the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers, a deeply average team led by a singular effort by Allen Iverson to a brief moment of finals glory before realizing the bonds of their own mediocrity and never challenging for a championship again.
I dislike this comparison. I greatly prefer to think of these Cavs as the new version of the Jordan Bulls. First and foremost, we have the player whose destiny is to become the next coming of Jordan. (Wade emulates Jordan's game, while LeBron emulates his legacy.) Second, while all of the hoopla about both teams was about their offensive weapons, both the Cavs and Bulls relied first and foremost on a suffocating defense and domination of the boards, with a slow-down offense meant to keep the pace of the game in the trenches. Neither team features a top-caliber center. Neither team features a true point guard of any description; The Bulls' starting Ron Harper as their de facto point bears eerie similarities to our making Larry Hughes our de facto point, and their other main option, B.J. Armstrong, bears striking resemblance to Boobie. They relied on Dennis Rodman to supply energy, rebounding, defense, and ridiculous hair; Anderson Varejao and Drew Gooden supply those qualities for us. Both teams struggled mightily with Detroit. And Mike Brown and Phil Jackson both coach basketball.
However, there is one huge difference between the Jordan Bulls and this team. His name is Scottie Pippen. Many Cavalier fans have expressed a desire for the Cavs to go and get LeBron a "Pippen", a 2nd banana who can score 20 a game and take some pressure off of LeBron. But by saying that a Larry Hughes, a Michael Redd, or even a Joe Johnson or Ray Allen is to misunderstand just how instrumental Scottie Pippen was to that team's success. Over the years, Scottie Pippen's legacy has become that he was Michael Jordan's great sidekick, a guy who was a good 2nd option on offense and who did all the little things as MJ did his superhero thing and got his team championships. To call Scottie Pippen simply a "glue guy" and mention him in the same breath as a guy like Josh Howard or Shane Battier is simply insulting.
Scottie Pippen was an extraordinary offensive player; playing with one of the biggest ball-dominating players of all time, he scored 20 points a game, not simply by making cuts or knocking down open shots, but by using his ball-handling and athleticism to drive to the hole and finish resoundingly, scoring with his back to the basket using his height, wingspan, and a huge collection of post moves, and an outside shot to boot. And he could also hit open jump shots and move without the ball for easy scores, but again, to say he simply took advantage of the opportunities given to him by MJ is underestimating his offensive arsenal. And his chief role on offense wasn't even to be a scorer; he was a true point forward, whose court vision, passing (he averaged 6 or 7 assists per year during the Bulls championship years), and understanding of the offense was crucial to working the legendary triangle offense that won Phil and MJ all those championships.
Then, of course, there was his defense. He was the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams of all time, and probably the best perimeter defender of all time; while the Jordan mystique dictates that he evolved into one of the best defenders around, it was always Scottie who got to shut down the other team's best scorer, as well as rotate over to provide help defense better than just about anybody. He regularly made more steals than anybody in the league today, and made enough blocks to put him on par with most centers.
When Jordan was off playing baseball, Scottie put up MVP numbers and led his team to 55 wins and within one game of the Finals. Simply put, he was no sidekick.
So when we talk about adding a "Pippen," what are we saying? We're asking for someone who plays on-ball defense like Ron Artest and help-side defense like Shawn Marion, as well as an offensive player with the scoring ability of Carmelo Anthony, and the passing ability of the kind of true point guard we so desperately wish we had. There's honestly no comparison for the kind of player Scottie was-the closest I can come is Artest, Tayshaun, or Marion, but he was far more skilled offensively than any of those players, and had point-guard like passing ability to boot.
Jordan and Pippen was an amazing coincidence, the kind of thing that shouldn't be able to happen-putting the greatest player of all time alongside a top-5 player that took absolutely nothing away from the team is extremely rare. The closest thing we've had to a "Pippen" situation since MJ left is when Kobe Bryant was paired up with Shaq in his prime, or Shaq just past his prime was paired up with Wade. So when we hope that Larry Hughes can come along into an effective defender and scorer, or that we can land a low-level star like Michael Redd or Joe Johnson, know that we aren't adding a "Pippen"; we're not doing that unless we add Tim Duncan.
So by all means, let's hope we can find a 20-point per game weapon to put next to LeBron, that Larry Hughes will get healthy and together and become the player we're paying him to be, or that we can find a point guard to run the offense smoothly and unleash LeBron, but don't think that those players can deliver us to six titles. Only one man would be capable of doing all that-This Man.