It was bound to happen. Shortly after the buzzer sounded and curtain fell on the Cavaliers’ morose 0-2 start to the season, it was evident that the whispers would be starting the next day. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the mainstream national media is going to see the Cavs struggle as an opportunity, and they will waste no time to pounce. And, of course, who else would get the ball rolling other than Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski? In a column that was intended to either insinuate doom for the Cavaliers or else to chastise owner Dan Gilbert for his overt support for Issue 3, he points out that the Cavaliers 0-2 start means certain peril for the LeBron era in Cleveland.
I could do a whole other post on both the ridiculousness of Dan Gilbert using the Cavaliers as a political platform to push support for Issue 3 and on the needlessness of Wojnarowski throwing this argument in to a column about LeBron’s future plans, but that’s for another day. What is prevalent to today, though, is Wojnarowski’s rather daunting and bleak outlook on what the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s takeover of the New Jersey Nets means to the Cavaliers in the context of this 0-2 start. He writes:
As the Nets floundered with legal red tape and financial issues that threatened the proposed Brooklyn arena, the threat of Jay-Z and a flashy new building would come and go over the years. Now, it could be a far more real threat than the blah New York Knicks and historic Madison Square Garden.
Suddenly, the Russian’s staggering $9.5 billion fortune and alluring charisma threaten to transform the fledging Nets into a fully loaded weapon again.
“Prokhorov and his people know that the way to LeBron is through Jay-Z,” one high-level source connected to the Russians and Nets said. “From the start, that’s right where they’ve wanted to go.”
The Russian’s influence was everywhere in the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, where the Cavs trudged through another discombobulated performance. Even a LeBron triple double – 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds – couldn’t elevate the incompetence surrounding him in a 101-91 loss to the revived Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have been deftly restored under general manager Bryan Colangelo’s watch, but beside him in the tunnel stood Maurizio Gherardini, the assistant GM out of the Euroleague whom Prokhorov tried to hire for his Moscow power, CSKA. He is considered Prokhorov’s top choice, sources say, to eventually run the Nets – despite the mistake it would be to replace Rod Thorn.
Small world, yes, and this was one of those nights when it felt like it was closing on Cleveland. For the Cavs to hold onto their hometown hero, they’ve always believed there was one unimpeachable recruiting tool: winning. Make it impossible for him to leave a champion for a lottery loser, whatever its proximity to a major market.
This is only the beginning of course. This kind of stuff is only going to get worse before it gets better. And for once, I don’t totally disagree with Mr. Wojnarowski. It really does feel like the walls are closing in. With the deconstruction of the Indians and continued hopelessness of the Browns, the strain of an 0-2 start by the Cavaliers is magnified tenfold. At the minimum. It takes every once of strength to keep in mind that we are only 1/40th of the way in to the season. It’s a struggle to find relevance in the fact that the 2006-07 Spurs started out 1-1. That the 2005-06 Miami Heat started out 1-2. That the 2003-04 Pistons lost their first game of the season. That the 2002-03 Spurs started out 1-1. The 1998-99 Spurs started out 2-3. The 1991-92 Bulls jumped out to a 1-2 start. Heck, the 1990-91 Bulls team started out 0-3 and were just 9-6 in November. Then there’s the 1984-85 Lakers who dropped their first 2 games and were 3-5 after 8 games. Can you even imagine the pressure on this team if they find themselves at 3-5 after 8 games? It could happen. If they beat Minnesota, Charlotte, and the Knicks and lose to Washington, Chicago, and Orlando, the Cavaliers will be 3-5.
The point of all of this is that yes, there is pressure, and yes, this 0-2 start is freaking Cavs fans out. Articles like this one surely aren’t going to help, but what if it gets even worse than that? Bethlehem Shoals has a very different take on this article by Wojnarowski. He writes:
But what’s really interesting is that Prokhorov apparently has to “woo” Jay-Z, which makes accusations of shadowy backroom dealings, exploitation of friendships and general unfairness a little premature.
This tells you a couple things about the situation. First, being part-owner is largely symbolic and frivolous if the new majority dude has to go out of his way to have a little talk with you. It also makes it darn impossible to tell who the bigger fish is here: Prokhorov, the conquering foreign invader just oozing with cash, or the international hip-hop icon whose imaginary/simulated power nearly equals MP’s. Second, it’s almost like the interaction between Prokhorov and Jay-Z is the sensitive juncture, not Jay and Bron.
Let that last line really sink in for a second. The implication there being that Jay-Z and LeBron are essentially already a package deal. Of course, the problem with that scenario for the Cavaliers is that this street is strictly a one way street. And to be honest, I think that’s the most frustrating thing about all of this. Virtually anything that can be connected to LeBron is by default a one way avenue, and all roads are leading out of Cleveland. LeBron isn’t bringing Jay-Z to Cleveland, but Jay-Z can draw LeBron to New York. LeBron can’t bring Madison Avenue to Cleveland, but Madison Avenue can bring LeBron to New York. LeBron can’t bring another superstar in his prime to Cleveland, but another prime superstar can lure LeBron elsewhere.
Shoals goes even further in his article. He points out that it’s certainly odd for two people who own the same corporation (as Mr Carter and Mr Prokhorov both own the Nets) to have so much trouble connecting and getting on the same page. So is the next jump in logic to naturally assume that LeBron and Jay-Z are already so tied together as one that in order for the Nets to get LeBron, they have to first get Jay-Z?
It makes sense. I can’t deny it, it truly does. But then you have to take this one step further. If that connection between LeBron and Jay-Z extends beyond pop culture and is already sinking into a business relationship (whether it be spoken or unspoken), then how is that not tampering? That’s the basis of the questions Shoals is asking, but then again, this is such new ground and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. After all, who is the one doing the tampering? Is it Jay-Z, or is it Mikhail Prokhorov? Imagine the scenario whereby Prokhorov would be tampering by default just by trying to connect with a fellow part owner of his sports franchise.
We live in an existence where the NBA is powerless to do anything about this. For that matter, they may have little incentive to do so. Sure, David Stern publicly says he hopes LeBron stays in Cleveland, but he has to say that. But he’s a businessman. He surely has caught himself daydreaming about unifying this nation’s premiere city with the world’s premiere basketball player. So what, really, is his motivation to care whatsoever about tampering? He knows the Cavaliers will never file a complaint against Jay-Z or the Nets. How could they? To put any strain on LeBron’s relationship with his “big brother” would be akin to a shove out the door. So Stern can continue to hide behind the shield of the NBA’s policy to only investigate cases of tampering when a formal complaint is filed by a team.
In 1996 the Chicago Bulls paid Michael Jordan $30,140,000 to keep him out of New York. Dan Gilbert may not be a billionaire, but with a net worth around $900 million and having already invested millions in breathing life, excitement, and technological advancements and amenities into this franchise, you’d think he would probably like to pay LeBron $50 million a year to stay in Cleveland. But he can’t, and he’s relatively powerless to stop Jay-Z from swooping in and stealing the heart and soul from this franchise and this city.
Of course, on the other hand, there is another possibility. Perhaps the pressure from these early season setbacks are causing us to not think straight and to see conspiracy theories where there are none. It could easily be just as likely that Jay-Z’s current tour schedule makes it hard for Mr. Prokhorov’s associates to find a good time to meet with Jay-Z. Perhaps Jay-Z, a minority owner and a silent partner, knows that LeBron’s decision is LeBron’s decision alone and that he can’t exert any influence over this decision. That would certainly be a logical reason for him to see no urgency in finding time to meet with an eccentric billionaire who has only one goal in mind….a goal that has nothing to with Jay-Z whatsoever.
There’s really only one certainty in any of this, and that’s the realization that this is the last year LeBron is guaranteed to be a Cavalier. If the Cavs want it to extend further beyond this season, the team cannot perform the way it has been. LeBron knows this, the other players know this, Mike Brown knows this, and most importantly, Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert know this. Patience is a virtue for know, but if this subpar performance continues for much longer, don’t be surprised to see radical changes on the horizon. This franchise’s survival depends on it.