James says Cavaliers have no excuses

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, October 25, 2008

Now that he finally has his gold medal, LeBron James is eyeing another glittering prize.

James, the getting-better-by-the-year superstar, spent part of his summer leading the U.S. Redeem Team to Olympic basketball glory at the Beijing Games. Now he believes this is the season he can take the Cavaliers further than ever before. His sights are on an NBA championship and the shiny Larry O’Brien Trophy that goes with it.

‘‘This is the best team that we’ve had since I’ve been here,’’ said James, entering his sixth season as a pro. ‘‘I see the talent from 1 to 14, everybody can contribute. I know I’ve improved five times than I was in Game 7 of the Boston series.’’

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Whoa. Did he say, five times better?

Look out then.

All James did in the finale of the Eastern Conference semifinals was single-handedly mystify the Celtics, who could do little to stop the seemingly unstoppable 23-year-old marvel. Loading the Cavaliers on his sturdy shoulders, James scored 45 points during a remarkable 1 vs. 5 matchup that would be remembered as one of the greatest performances in league playoff history if not for one cold, indisputable, bottom-line fact: he lost.

Afterward, a dejected and exhausted James dressed slowly at his locker at TD Banknorth Garden before heading to the postgame interview. Once he began answering questions, James was typically candid while expressing his disappointment at Cleveland’s failed run. He reflected on what went wrong for the Cavaliers, whose 2007-08 season was sabotaged by contract holdouts, injuries, a slow start made worse by a tough schedule, and weeks of upheaval following a colossal trade in February.

James then pointed toward the future.

‘‘We need to continue to get better,’’ he said. ‘‘If that means some personnel changes that need to happen, then so be it.’’

He had spoken.

And standing in the back of the room, general manager Danny Ferry heard James loud and clear.

Challenged to find James some help, Ferry, who traded half his active roster before the deadline last season, acquired versatile point guard Mo Williams in August from Milwaukee, an addition that could help the Cavaliers unseat the Celtics as conference champions.

Williams, too, is a player capable of taking some pressure off James, who won the scoring title last season but is more dangerous when he’s setting up others.

Fractured for much of last season, the Cavaliers appear to be complete.

‘‘There’s no excuses for us now,’’ James said.

Ferry also re-signed free agent guards Daniel Gibson and Delonte West, and drafted forwards J.J. Hickson and Darnell Jackson, two big men who may see playing time as rookies.

But it was the Williams’ deal that may transform the Cavs.

Not long after returning from China and after some time away from the gym, James sought out Williams, a five-year veteran who averaged 17.2 points, 6.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season, to begin workouts. James didn’t want to waste a single minute in building chemistry with his new teammate.