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Do I Feel Bad That Cleveland Isn’t In The Playoffs? Nope…Not At All
LeBron James is in the same situation that Michael Jordan was in when he first came to the NBA. It is up to Dan Gilbert and a new front offfice/coaching staff to surround this talented young man with ‘winners’ who can help him make the Cavaliers a playoff contender each season.
SAN ANTONIO– In the sports world it’s always what have you done for me right now and nothing holds that undeniable truth more than how the Cleveland Cavaliers unceremoniously fired Paul Silas in the midst of this season. Now did I think that Silas could have done a better job coaching while this team was struggling prior to his firing? Sure I did. This team was in a tailspin that was leading to disaster. Silas knew that and what he should have done was address the problem in a fashion that would have brought about different results. Yet it was evident to at least this writer that what new owner Dan Gilbert was to be the Jerry Jones of the NBA. Well Mr. Jones let me enlighten you on something from someone who has covered this game longer than you have been an owner; changes for a franchise takes YEARS to happen. Even a minute change such as maybe acquiring a player or bringing in a big name head coach is a crapshoot. Yet I should not be surprised that Gilbert fired John Paxson as the general manager a month after Paxson and Gilbert orchestrated the firing of Silas. With that said am I sorry that the Cavs didn’t get into the playoffs this season? Nope and the reasons why I tell you that they will not make it next year will astound you even more.
THERE WAS FALSE HOPES BUILT ON WORTHY ASPIRATIONS In all honesty the smartest thing that the Cavaliers franchise ever did was the fact that they got LeBron James. Paxson actually did the only thing right as a general manager when that happened; everything else he tried to do has failed miserably and he tried to cover his tracks. The franchise’s future is #23 and that’s a given. However the aspirations of greatness are standing on a false bottom right now. That false bottom are the foundation from every bad deal that Paxson has made from the mishandling of Carlos Boozier last summer to the trading away of Andre Miller and other players. Even the fact that he signed Ira Newble to a contract that overpays him for five years was a horrendous mistake. How he was able to be the general manager this long I have no idea. Now the last straw was the fact that he was trying to blame the team’s backslide on Paul Silas and now Brandon Malone; two innocent bystanders caught up in a whirlwind of mess and false hopes.
When you actually assess the Cavs’ roster, it is not a bad roster. Is it a playoff roster? Good gracious no it is not and anyone who believes so is being very myopic. I look at what they currently have and see glimpses of hope but that is quite a ways down the beaten path to respectability. Will Gilbert actually be patient enough for this to happens? That is where his business acumen has to come into play and why I said that sometimes it takes years for plans to come to fruition. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a NBA playoff contender in a conference that right now is mediocre at best.
Yet even though the team is in a predicament where mediocrity is reigning, I don’t want to take away from their 42-40 record. This team has come a long way from last season and that is saying something. Despite what the new ownership may think and for what others or I may feel, this team improved considerably from last year. Now is there room for improvement? Sure there is. Every team in the league can improve to some type of standard mark. It is just that what the Cavs and their fans need to realize is that one player is not going to be the answer.
TAKING BLAME AND ASSESSING THE FUTURE So where can the Cavaliers go from here and more importantly who needs to take full responsibility for what has happened this season? Well let me answer the second question first. The new ownership must assume full responsibility for this collapse even though they only came in on the tail end of the season. Why do I say that? Because it was on their watch that the collapse went into full effect. It is up to Dan Gilbert and his group to realize that in the sports world, things will take some time and that they will have to find a coaching staff that has carte blanche in developing a winning team. Knee jerk reactions need to not be the normal flow of business for this franchise. That is said because since the old regime has now been completely eradicated, Gilbert will be judged on who he brings in as a coach, general manager and what free agents actually want to come to the team now. It his show now, so he is the man where the buck will stop.
Now with that said let’s assess the future of this franchise. The one asset that the Cavaliers have is James but that is it. If you want, think back to when Michael Jordan first came in the league and that is essentially where the Cavs are at right now. Gilbert says he wants to build a winner, well that is definitely going to take some time. This is going to be a rebuilding process on the fly type scenario and could become disheartening as a fan. It will be disheartening because as good as the individual pieces may be at times, collectively this past roster proved to be very stagnant as a unit down the stretch. You can blame whomever you want but the fact will remain that this team is not quite ready to make a playoff push.
Here’s what I see as some future moves that could be made. If Gilbert wants instant credibility, I’d hire Flip Saunders as the head coach and possibly Craig Ehlo as an executive. As a matter of fact I’d hire Brad Daughterty to an executive position as well. Both Ehlo and Daughterty were staples of the Cavaliers back in their heyday under Lenny Wilkins. Speaking of Wilkins that could be the Cavaliers’ next general manager. Again we are talking instant credibility with the city, the fans and the team. Wilkins has a ring and he knows what it takes to possibly get to the next level. With him and Saunders running the ship, it could very well be a gamble worth taking that pays off big dividends.
With all of that said I’m not trying to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be a bad team because that is not the case. Are they a playoff contending team? Not right now and they will not be for at least two more seasons. And before anyone starts saying that making the playoffs are being a contender that is not the ‘proper’ definition. A playoff contending team is one that goes far in the playoffs on a consistent basis. Teams like Indiana, San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers (in the Shaq/Kobe days). Those are playoff contenders. Teams that consistently win 50 or more games year in and year out are playoff contenders. 42-40 is not a contender and I hope that Gilbert understands that. As a matter of fact I hope that everybody who is affiliated with the Cavaliers understand where I’m coming from. There are pretenders and then there are contenders. This team is contender material but it will have to go through the growing pains to get there.
As I’ve stated earlier, I don’t feel bad for the team because they didn’t get into the playoffs. In my eyes they weren’t going to go get there this year anyways. However I do see some promise and if Dan Gilbert, Usher and the rest of the ownership group bring in people who want to truly help this franchise get to the next level, then I can see them making a serious push in the 2006-07 season. That’s two years away but that’s the perfect time for the Cavaliers to have become the team that so many think they were this year.