Paxson knows James the only one for Cavaliers

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Jim Paxson was careful not to mention LeBron James by name. But that doesn't mean Cleveland's general manager isn't talking about the high school star.
According to NBA rules, Paxson isn't permitted to publicly
discuss any players who have not yet applied for the draft. But rules didn't stop the Cavaliers from including James in one of their scrimmages last year, which resulted in a $150,000 fine and a two-game suspension for former coach John Lucas.
So, on Friday, Paxson referred to James as "him," "somebody," and "the player."
While he never once muttered James' name, Paxson did call the Akron superstar the only player who can help save the Cavaliers.
And Paxson said James is his only choice if the Cavs are lucky enough to win the draft lottery May 22.
"There's only one player potentially in this draft who
economically could change (things)," Paxson said Friday. "And that's the reason why I won't be here if I don't pick him."
Paxson addressed the upcoming NBA draft lottery, James,
Cleveland's coaching situation as well as the Cavaliers' dismal 2002-03 season during a one-hour meeting with reporters at Gund Arena.
The Cavs finished 17-65 this season, tying Denver for the
league's worst record. Paxson traded the club's top three scorers -- Andre Miller, Lamond Murray and Wesley Person -- last summer, unloading some pricey contracts with the idea of improving the Cavs' financial flexibility for the future.
He anticipated it would be a rough season with the league's
youngest team, but never knew how rough, that he would have to fire Lucas or that the Cavs would struggle like they did.
"The reality was we had to take one more step back to be able to get to this point to build with this team," Paxson said. "I think we have talent, we just didn't play as a team."
Now the Cavs are looking for a coach. Paxson said the job is open and that Keith Smart, who replaced Lucas in January and led the club to a 9-31 finish, is among the candidates.
Paxson didn't put a timetable on hiring a coach, but doubted he would have one in place for the draft lottery. And if the Cavs do get the first pick, Paxson knows he might have coaches pounding on his door for a chance to coach James.
"It's the most important summer and offseason that we've faced since I've been here," Paxson said.
Because of its potential domino effect, May 22 might be the most important day in Cleveland pro basketball history, and Paxson joked that he doesn't want to be part of it.
"I'm going to be on a plane or be somewhere," he said. "I'm
not watching that thing, that's all I know. Somebody can just tell me what the draft order is."
James is expected to go first. However, following his
sensational performance in leading Syracuse to an NCAA title, freshman Carmelo Anthony has emerged as a possible No. 1. Yugoslavian center Darko Milicic also is considered a top-three pick.
But Paxson doesn't think anyone will pass up James. The
Cavaliers certainly won't.
"To me, you look at the big picture," he said. "I just think in Cleveland, Ohio, Denver, Toronto, Miami and the L.A. Clippers, those are the bottom five going into this lottery, there's only one player that can have the most impact all the way around, and right now, I don't see anyone else having that same impact."
As much as he would love to see James wearing Cleveland's new wine-and-gold colors, Paxson isn't counting on it. He's also hoping Cleveland fans don't abandon the Cavs if the right pingpong ball doesn't bounce their way.
"As far as building a team, that (getting James) isn't the
magic bullet, either," he said. "That doesn't make it all better for the Cavaliers. But economically and for a lot of other reasons there is only one player who impacts at that level."
Paxson didn't have to say his name.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)