Larry Hughes may be Cavaliers’ biggest asset

Doug Clark from the Chronicle Telegram reminds us of a word or two about the word “valuable” as applied to sports, such as in the phrase — Most Valuable Player.
Most sportswriters goof up on this one. They get a blind spot, their vision blurred by the gaudy stats in front of them. It happens in every sport, particularly baseball, where writers see the word “valuable” and their brain answers, “Ah-ha. It means outstanding player, doesn’t it?”
Uh … no, it doesn’t. It means valuable.
As in V-A-L-U-A-B-L-E.
Take the NBA. We’re learning a thing or two about what valuable means every time the Cavaliers take the floor and Larry Hughes isn’t one of the guys standing there waiting for the tip-off.
LeBron James may be the most outstanding player in the league (huge argument here, as Dwyane Wade showed us and the world last year when the Heat won the championship), but is he really the team’s most valuable player?
LeBron James is going to be LeBron James no matter what. In a word, he’s going to be spectacular. But no matter how wonderful LeBron James plays night in and night out, can he be splendid enough to put the Cavs on his back and carry them to the NBA Finals? Or even to the Eastern Conference finals?
Gonna go out on a limb here and say, ‘no,’ he can’t. Ask Julius Erving or Charles Barkley or George Gervin or Oscar Robertson or Patrick Ewing or Allen Iverson, or any other spectacular player who had to go it alone without a wingman what it was like trying to hoist a team onto their shoulders and carry it that far down the playoff trail.
Heck. We can do even better than that. Go ask Michael Jordan how many championships the Bulls would have won had Scottie Pippen not come along. If, say, ESPN ran a half-hour film clip showing Scottie Pippen highlights — instead of focusing just on Jordan — two-thirds of the viewers would probably say at the end of that half hour, “I had no idea Scottie Pippen was that good.”
He was. If Jordan was the league’s outstanding player and the Bulls MVP, Scottie Pippen was co-MVP of those Bulls teams that were the scourge of the league.
As silly and as misleading as it is to compare a peach with an orange, we can safely say that Larry Hughes is no Scottie Pippen. We can also safely say, however, that without Larry Hughes around to play wingman, LeBron James makes one brilliant, back-lit target out there. LeBron needs Larry like a Thanksgiving turkey needs stuffing, like Elgin Baylor needed Jerry West, like MJ needed Scottie, like Karl Malone needed John Stockton.
Two things have registered mightily with Cavs fans this year: (1) How much better a player Larry Hughes is this year from last year and (2) how big a falloff there is in the team’s play when Hughes is not on the floor.
The scary part for the Cavaliers is that Hughes has seldom (almost never) gone wire-to-wire in a season without being shut down because of one injury or another. He’s not as brittle as, say … porcelain … but then he does get bruised a lot and he does miss time. When he falls on the floor, you can hear the intake of breath from the Cavs bench all the way up in Loudville. And with binoculars from there, you can also probably see the trainer automatically reaching for his little bag with the red cross on it.
To make a cross-sports reference, Hughes is a bit reminiscent of Fred Lynn, the Red Sox outfielder ( 1970s-80s) who was as talented as he was brittle. He was as good as his body permitted him to be which, sadly, was a permission too often denied.
That’s the way it’s been with Larry Hughes so far, the loss being even more magnified because his body has, on occasion, permitted him to give us a tantalizing peek at what can be.
So let’s hear it again for the wingman, without whom the ace is out there flying solo — a marked man, trying to do it alone — through the stratosphere of the NBA season.