I was reading two articles at the Plain Dealer this morning talking about Danny Ferry’s career as an NBA executive thus far. Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst cover a couple different angles. Windhorst dissects the trades and moves themselves, while Pluto talks about Ferry as a player and how he developed into the man he is today. It is amazing to look at all Ferry has accomplished, but one thing will forever hold true. Danny Ferry won’t be able to say he was able to build anything at all without Lebron James. That is, unless Lebron James leaves Cleveland.
Now, before everyone attacks me for speaking the unspeakable, this is not a prediction. I didn’t drink a gallon of New York Media Juice over the weekend and come out brainwashed. I am also, quite obviously, not rooting for Lebron to leave town. I hope we never have to find out what life is like without Lebron James. That said, I was left wondering after reading these articles if I thought Danny Ferry would be capable of building a winner in a post-Lebron era, should that era ever arrive. Of course there is no way to prove a point or win an argument on this, but I think I would have confidence in Danny Ferry given what I have seen so far.
You could say that Danny didn’t do all that well in signing his first round of free agents. Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, and my favorite punchline Larry Hughes don’t seem like good signings in hindsight. Consider the fact that the Cavs’ scoring before these acquisitions was primarily done by Lebron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and Jeff McInnis. After the acquisitions of Jones, Marshall, and Hughes, the scoring load stayed much the same, except this time without Jeff McInnis. Larry Hughes played in only 36 games scoring 15.5 points. Marshall contributed 9.3 points per game, but shot only 32.4% from three. Damon Jones shot almost 38% from three but he only contributed 6.7 points in 25.5 minutes per game.
While these free agent signings didn’t necessarily work out to the maximum of the Cavs’ expectations, they were good enough, as Windhorst points out in his article, to get Lebron James through his first contract extension. Combine the acquisition of Flip Murray in the middle of the season that year with Ferry’s willingness to be patient and loyal to Mike Brown and you end up with a positive year for Ferry as the Cavs make their first trip to the playoffs in 7 long years.
That was the first milestone. Danny sat on this team and bet that it would be even better the next year when healthy. He might have been right as the Cavs rode Lebron James all the way to the NBA finals where they got plastered by the Spurs. This is where Danny Ferry deserves credit. He didn’t blame the players for failing to deliver on the ultimate stage. He took that as a sign that his team wasn’t nearly as far along as it needed to be. He saw the writing on the wall that he was really just riding Lebron James and that they weren’t ready to go up against a fully functioning team. He took responsibility. He never said it, but his actions reflect it.
And how many times have we seen this play out in the NBA? A team is good, but not good enough to get over the top, but they stick with all the pieces that got them the Bronze or Silver medal. I think of the New York Knicks in the Patrick Ewing era. I think of the current Washington Wizards that decided to go back to work this year with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison. Not Danny Ferry. He works his tail off and makes the bold deal that remade the Cavs by trading with a division opponent.
And through it all, these are the reasons that I think Danny Ferry could remake the Cavs if he was forced to do so without Lebron James. He may not be right all the time, but you can tell that his targets are always moving and he is willing to constantly react to try and hit them. He has a larger over-riding theme whenever he makes a move and that theme is consistent between his coach, his owner, and him at all times. And if it comes to pass, heaven forbid, that Lebron James leaves the Cavs, I would expect Danny Ferry to make more bold moves, whether it is acquiring a mix of draft picks and free agents or trading for talents that need new homes. Based on his performance so far, he has earned that benefit of the doubt.
Now let’s hope we never have to build without Lebron.