Is LeBron James' Stigma Keeping Free Agents Out of Cleveland?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2012

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 27:  Majority owner Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to the media prior to playing the Boston Celtics in the Cavaliers 2010 home opner at Quicken Loans Arena on October 27, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers have continued to struggle this season, running up a 6-23 record to this point as they continue to play with a plethora of relatively untalented basketball players. The lack of outside additions has to be looked at as a factor.

Living in close proximity to quite a few of them (and being one myself), allows me a front-row seat to the borderline lunacy that can take hold of fans of a team in a city that hasn't won a professional sports title since 1964.

They're incredibly dedicated, yet extremely reactionary.

Already you can hear people calling for Byron Scott to be fired, shouting that Dan Gilbert is cheap and that Chris Grant is a terrible general manager.

Common sense and a level head will tell you that Scott shouldn't be fired, Gilbert is relatively deep pocketed for a Midwestern sports owner and Grant is doing just fine.

To draw those assumptions out a bit is relatively simple, and barely takes more dedication than merely looking at the team's win-loss record.

Scott can't be judged on the team's record with the little bit of talent that the Cavaliers have had past the top few players. He should be judged on player development, which has been pretty good in his time with the Cavaliers.

Gilbert isn't cheap, he's just continuing on with the plan of rebuilding through the draft that Grant has set forth for them. The Cavaliers did, after all, have a payroll north of $80 million in 2008.

Grant's plan has been to build through the draft, and that's not something that happens over the course of a few seasons.

Hell, I've even heard some fans ready to give up on Tristan Thompson, a guy who has played all of 89 games in the NBA.

Patience may be a virtue, but it seems like the rarest of elements at times in Ohio.

One of the biggest problems plaguing the team, however, might be the fact that free agents are staying away from Cleveland ever since LeBron James left Cleveland in 2010, and Gilbert reacted in a slightly negative way.

If the owner can be that crazy, how can the organization be well run?

Since LeBron left, they have signed just Joey Graham and C.J. Miles away from other teams on the free agent market.

With so many young players, old Cavalier leftovers and guys thrown into trades as salary cap fodder, the team has struggled, as expected.

So what's the deal? Is Grant too inept to sign someone, is Gilbert too cheap to pay someone, or are guys just unwilling to sign for an owner like Gilbert who can be so demanding of his players?

In short: no.

Everything the Cavaliers have done is by design, building through the draft, keeping their future payroll low and collecting assets in the form of young players and draft picks. They've done all that perfectly.

Cleveland is set up with at least two extra first-round draft picks (possibly three) and three extra second-round picks between now and 2015.

On top of that, they've got a payroll that's sitting at just $28 million this season and $31 million in the Summer of 2014 (less, depending on the team options they exercise).

With the improvement to their young players this year and into next year, they think they can become a playoff team with the core they have, possibly adding a mid-level free agent here and there.

If they can manage a playoff spot, or a near-playoff spot next season, then they suddenly become a lot more desirable to 2014's free agent class, of which LeBron James is assumed to be a part of.

With a young star point guard and a handful of other young and impressive talent and the subtle hints LeBron has left that he might want to return to Cleveland at some point, it's hard to blame Grant and the Cavaliers for crossing their fingers and hoping LeBron comes back.

Is it a long-shot? Probably. But you've got to assume that along with Miami and Los Angeles, Cleveland has to be one of his top three destinations.

Only time will tell how long it takes for the Cavs to be playoff contenders, but they're set up well right now, especially without wasting money on free agents.