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J.J. Hickson is at the center of everything

Feb 10, 2010, 11:11 AM EDT

The Cleveland Cavaliers, as is, are among the best teams in basketball. That much is undeniable. And with how they’ve started the new year, they’re playing at a higher level than any other team in the league.

So naturally, Cleveland has been linked in all kinds of trade rumors, with targets ranging from Antawn Jamison to Troy Murphy to Andre Iguodala. Such is the nature of the trade deadline beast; the NBA’s artificially created evaluation point inspires the rich to get richer and the poor to clear cap and step out of the way.

But none of this is too much of a surprise. The Cavaliers were considered to at least be in contention for the Eastern Conference crown when the season began, and a few months later, they’re doing just that.

The Cavs’ rumored trade targets? Also not much of a surprise. Cleveland’s “need” for a stretch four is well-documented, and natural when you consider the Cavs’ other frontcourt pairings.

But the fact that the key to Cleveland going from a great team to a truly incredible one is J.J. Hickson? Can’t say I saw that one coming. Hickson has been a contributor since early in the season, but only in recent weeks has he made the evolution from athlete to basketball player. There’s always been potential, but it looks as though Hickson is making a legitimate breakthrough in his game. I wouldn’t say that the J.J. Hickson Era has begun just yet, but that’s apparently not a concern to other GMs in the league looking to deal with the Cavs. From Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

League executives who have been speaking with the Cavs and other sources also involved in talks say that whether or not the Cavs make a deal may come down to J.J. Hickson. Simply, several teams want Hickson included in any trade package and, to this point, the Cavs have been balking at many of them. Hickson is not untouchable, but the team has made it clear in talks that it would take a special offer to get him.

The Cavs had hoped to force some teams to make a decision on offers by this week, prior to the All-Star Game. But right now, executives say, the market is frozen as everyone is waiting for the first move. The Cavs, however, have stood firm to the position that they are willing to take on money past this season but unwilling to offer up their talented young forward.

Deals are supposedly in the works for the likes of a Jamison, a Murphy, an Iguodala, and it’s Hickson that’s gumming up the machinery. On paper, it’s a no-brainer, but what we have here is a savvy front office in Cleveland keen on capitalizing on Hickson’s production and potential. Or, perhaps even more preferably, Cavs GM Danny Ferry could end up with one of those players and Hickson; most of Cleveland’s trade partners are more desperate to move salary than the Cavs are to improve, giving Ferry quite the booster seat at the negotiating table.

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