Cleveland and Detroit previews

Cleveland Cavaliers
Coach: Mike Brown
Starting five: PG Eric Snow, SG Larry Hughes, SF LeBron James, PF Drew Gooden, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Off the bench: SG David Wesley, SG Damon Jones, PF Donyell Marshall, C Anderson Varejao
Most underpaid: Nobody in the league was more undervalued last season than LeBron James, who was worth about $27.39 million to the Cavaliers and made $4.6 million on his rookie contract. James carried Cleveland to a 50-win season and the playoffs as well as joined Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Michael Jordan as the only players to average 31 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a season. But James did give Cavaliers fans reason to worry about the future, opting to sign a shorter three-year extension to his rookie contract that will give him an out after the 2009-10 season if he is unhappy with the teams progress. The team has improved by 18, 7 and 8 wins in each of his first three seasons.
Most overpaid: With a finger injury that was slow to heal, Larry Hughes played in a career-low 36 games. The Cavaliers were 23-13 when Hughes was available but it couldnt have been what owner Dan Gilbert expected in signing Hughes to a $60 million contract. Hughes, in addition, shot barely 40 percent last season, his steals per game were cut in half and the Cavaliers were worse defensively with him on the court versus off. Cleveland has to see return on their investment in Hughes, who now has missed 144 games in his career, especially for James sake. He was a $1.22 million player who made $10.3 million last season.
Outlook: The Cavaliers made only modest moves to improve their team – – re-signing Drew Gooden, signing David Wesley, signing Scot Pollard – – and that should worry James. What if we are all witnesses to Cleveland finishing fourth in the East year after year?

Detroit Pistons
Coach: Flip Saunders
Starting five: PG Chauncey Billups, SG Richard Hamilton, SF Tayshaun Prince, PF Rasheed Wallace, C Nazr Mohammed
Off the bench: PG Lindsey Hunter, SG Ronald Murray, PF Antonio McDyess
Most underpaid: Whether or not you agree, the numbers say Chauncey Billups is worth more than a maximum contract playing for the Pistons. He will have the chance at seasons end to opt out of his current deal and see what teams are willing to offer. Billups is coming off a career season in which he averaged 18.5 points and 8.6 assists and led the Pistons to a 64-18 record before the team crashed out of the playoffs. More than that, Billups leads the NBA in assists per turnover and is both a top 10 free throw shooter and 3-point shooter. The Pistons cannot allow Ben Wallace and Billups to leave consecutive summers for nothing in return. Billups was a $19.85 million player who made $5.9 million last season.
Most overpaid: After losing Ben Wallace, the Pistons quickly moved to sign free-agent center Nazr Mohammed. About the only thing the two players share in common is that they grab rebounds at nearly the same rate. Mohammed brings more on the offensive end and was a 78.5 percent foul shooter but wont come close to matching the tone Wallace set on defense. His greatest value to Detroit is keeping Rasheed Wallace happy by not forcing him to play center. Mohammed was a $570,000 player who made $5.5 million last season.
Outlook: Even with Ben Wallace gone, the top three teams in the East last season have between 12 and 15 games to make up to catch the Pistons. It was alarming, though, to watch Detroit struggle to shoot 40 percent and get outrebounded by Miami in the conference finals. This season could be a major step back.

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