With the drama of LeBron James’ free agency playing out like the last episode of LOST, I thought it would be prudent to take a thorough look at this Cleveland team to see what kind of shape they are in. In order to do this I will have to try and be as objective as possible. So if I say something that sounds cold or unfeeling towards a beloved player you know why from the start. It will be necessary to look at the players, coaching staff, owner and front office in order to do this correctly.
Dan Gilbert is currently evaluating the front office and coaching staff, so let’s start with the guy at the top. Gilbert became the majority owner of the Cavaliers in March of 2005. Since that time the Cavaliers have the best 5 year record of any team in the Eastern Conference (272-138) and trail only the Mavericks (283 wins) and the Spurs (281 wins) in the West. They are the only team to escape the first round of the playoffs each year in that span.The Spurs, Lakers , Heat and Celtics have all won titles in that time period.
Gilbert fired Paul Silas before the 2004-2005 season was over. One month later, GM Jim Paxson was next. He hired Mike Brown before getting his GM in place in Danny Ferry. All of these moves were questioned at the time, and with good reason. It seemed like Gilbert was a wrecking ball, and was going to be too much of a hands on owner for someone who didn’t come from the basketball community. Gilbert, true to his word brought in the people that he believed in and then let them do their jobs. Success has followed even if it hasn’t been championship-level success.
You can’t mention Gilbert’s ownership of the team without acknowledging his commitment to improving the franchise overall. The Cleveland Clinic Courts practice facility in Independence has been called by many to be the premier facility in the NBA. Additionally he has invested his own money (around $21 million) into upgrades at Quicken Loans Arena. Gilbert has taken on minority investors, including Usher Raymond and a Chinese group that has helped expand the market for the Cavaliers (and specifically LeBron James.)
The Gilbert era is unique to the fans of Cleveland. Unlike his counterparts in the owners’ boxes at Cleveland Browns Stadium and that place where the Indians play (it’s just not the Jake anymore, but I can’t stand to call it anything else) Gilbert seems willing to spend whatever is necessary to bring a championship parade to the streets of Cleveland. Beyond that, he seems genuinely interested in keeping his team and front office accountable to that goal.
Could Gilbert be spending too much? Is it possible that green-lighting moves like the Shaq trade has actually made the team regress?
It’s an interesting theory. I would submit that the basketball side of the front office needs to be able to differentiate those types of situations. When your employer tells you to get the job done at all costs and you fail to do so who gets the blame? It seems hard to blame the employer. In the end Dan Gilbert will be ultimately responsible, and he will reap the consequences at the ticket window and in a resale price should he choose to sell the team.
I don’t know how objective this first installment has been. Truth is, politics and casinos aside, I think Dan Gilbert is the best owner this town has ever seen. He is passionate about the team, but willing to let his coaches, players and front office personnel do their jobs. He supplies financially for every need they might have. He isn’t afraid to spend money. When was the last time you thought that way about a Cleveland owner? If there is hope for the future of basketball in Cleveland (particularly in a post-LeBron setting) Dan Gilbert is a big reason for that hope.