Contrary to reports, it wasn't his selfish play or jealousy of LeBron James that prompted the Cavaliers to trade gifted swingman Ricky Davis. No, the reason for the Dec. 15 deal—which shipped Davis along with Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart and a second-round pick to Boston for Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick Brown—was even more compelling. "You simply cannot win with Ricky," said a high-ranking Cleveland official, who ticked off a long list of missed assignments and bonehead fouls by Davis that contributed to the team's 6-17 start. "He cost us at least eight games."
That's also why Celtics coach Jim O'Brien was distressed by the trade: He acquired a player who loses games for two players, the 6'8" Williams and the 6'11" Battie, who learned how to win during Boston's playoff runs of the last two years. After the Cavs bowed to the Rockets 89-85 on Dec. 17 in their Cleveland debut, Battie and Williams talked about inspiring a defense that ranked 29th in opponents' turnovers. "We need to find a way to get the guys as excited about defense as they are about dunking," Battie said.
Williams, 31, set the perfect example in Philadelphia two nights later, forcing seven Glenn Robinson turnovers in the Cavs' 88-81 victory. Not only did Cleveland end a 34-game road losing streak but it also held the 76ers to 52 points over the final three quarters, with Battie calling out rotations under the basket down the stretch.
None of this surprised Cavaliers coach Paul Silas, who during a film session last Thursday had been elated to hear Williams pointing out to James that he could play better team D by laying off his man on the weak side. "Then at the next shootaround I saw LeBron doing what Eric suggested," Silas says. "We've been telling him all year, but it doesn't mean as much until it comes from another player."
The Davis trade also provided a sense of urgency to a team that was accepting losing "as a way of life," says Silas. "I've told our guys that we'll move anybody to improve the club." Anybody does not include James or power forward Carlos Boozer, but it could mean All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 28, who over the last two years has overcome huge odds by merely staying healthy after stress fractures in his feet had threatened his career. "He's trying to find himself right now," Silas says. "But these guys from Boston are aggressive, and Z has to fall in line."
Though the Cavs average just 3.1 years of experience, Silas believes that they are close to a winning combination. There remains the question of whether James should stay at point guard or play off the ball at small forward, though he has flourished in both capacities since Davis's departure. James finished with 36 points against Philly, then poured in 32 points and had a career-high 10 assists the following night in a 95-87 win at Chicago.
"The media said I couldn't shoot," said LeBron, who had been practicing to extend his range. Now he may be surrounded by a cast that will help him win games as well.