When he spoke about the release of head coach Mike Brown, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert mentioned that there are times when “risk must be taken in an attempt to break through to new, higher levels of accomplishment.” And given what the Cavaliers (and Gilbert) have at stake, this is unfortunately one of those times.
Reports have circulated that LeBron James has not played any cards that would cast a light of a player forcing a coach out of a job. But with 37 days remaining until the NBA free agency period begins, he did not have to. Gilbert has approximately five weeks of time to provide his best (and likely biggest) sales pitch of his entire business career. It is during this period of time where only he and his ownership team can talk with James, make any necessary moves and show that the staff is equally – if not more – committed to winning an NBA Championship.
And it will start at the top, as the team looks for a new head coach. But the problem at hand is the continued level of uncertainty that laces the greater Cleveland area.
As Rock waxed poetic earlier this morning, there are plenty of big names available (or at least they are on their collective radar) as Gilbert eyes up yet another epic move. The 11-man trade was two seasons ago, adding a 330 lb veteran center in Shaquille O’Neal, or acquiring an All-Star power forward for a second-round draft choice - all moves that will pale in comparison to what Gilbert has to do prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. But with James eying up free agency in July – something that he has essentially prided himself on over the past three seasons – Gilbert is faced with the dilemma of drawing top flight coaching talent to a team that is in a massive state of flux.
If general manager Danny Ferry had struggles in bringing MLE-esque talent to Cleveland for the long term one season ago, those players at least had one guaranteed season of playing along side LeBron James and notching 60-plus wins. A retread veteran coach who had been unemployed for at least a season or two will not entice James and/or other top level players. A rookie head coach would likely be considered as a step back from Brown, a coach who had been criticized for his lack of experience prior to joining the Cavaliers. So this leaves Gilbert with the marquee names – the Phil Jacksons and Mike Krzyzewksis of the world. Men with winning teams in areas that adore them. The downside of what they could be left with if LeBron James were to leave would be gigantic.
But money talks. And Dan Gilbert – despite not exactly breaking the bank over the course of the last two seasons – is arguably one of the most willing spenders that the city of Cleveland has ever seen. The fact that the Cavaliers could be devalued by over $100 million in the event of James leaving may make the money needed to sway either Jackson or Krzyzewksi be considered marginal at best.
Name aside, Gilbert understands what it will take to keep his investment afloat. If he can find away to work the same magic he has since purchasing the team back in 2005, continuing his commitment to bringing the city of Cleveland an NBA Championship, and providing LeBron James with a roster – and coaching staff – that he feels can get the Wine and Gold to the next level, he could go down as the most adored owner in the history of Cleveland professional sports.
There is no denying that Gilbert can be seen as the victim here. Seemingly held hostage by the one he’s attempting to woo, Gilbert is forced to take the risks that he laid out in his announcement regarding last season’s Coach of the Year. Whether he likes it or not, the firing of Mike Brown has already started the proverbial swinging motion. Gilbert sees the pitch coming and has cocked back to take aim. If he can find a way to lure a coach that can accomplish all of the above, there will undoubtedly be a flurry of fireworks. But if he comes up with nothing but air, the fall could be one of incredible size and scale.