To say that these are trying times for the city of Cleveland would be an epic understatement. To say that these are trying times for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert would not even begin to describe what kind of impact the next two months could have on him.
Gilbert, you remember, bought the team in 2005 for $375 million, a significant raise compared to what the team was worth before drafting local high school phenom LeBron James. Seven years later, Forbes Magazine has it ranked as the fifth most valuable franchise in the entire NBA at $476 million, over $100 million more than the price that even Gilbert paid for just five years ago.
All of this, as we know, is due to just one guy: King James.
It is not often that a franchise and a city rely so heavily on one man, not only athletically but also economically and socially. Sources have said that if James leaves the Cavs this summer as a free agent, the value of the Cavs franchise would depreciate by up to $150 million.
Considering the amount of money Gilbert has been pumping into the franchise—specifically the payroll and arena upgrades—such a depreciation would be back-breaking for the Quicken Loans founder.
And it should serve as motivation for him to spare absolutely no expense this summer in an effort to take his franchise to the next level.
While the Cavs are well over the salary cap and cannot sign a big-name free agent other than their own (LeBron), there is no salary cap for a coaching staff. Gilbert has expected a first-class organization since the day he bought the team but has been handing the keys to a second-rate coaching staff, in particular Mike Brown.
Make no mistake about the fact that Brown is not as bad of a coach as he has been made out to be. Before he took over the job in 2005, the Cavaliers were a mess defensively. Five years later, defense is one of the pillars the team hangs its hat on. They have been an elite defensive team for the majority of Brown's tenure, especially over the last several seasons.
But Brown has taken this team only as far as he could. As a guy who is in his first job as a head coach and just recently turned 40, he is neither the right coach for this team or this superstar. Look at the head coaches who have won championships over the last decade (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, and Larry Brown) and you will see that, outside of Rivers, they are all Hall of Fame coaches.
The exception, Rivers, had already had a previous head coaching job in Orlando to learn from and was not in his first job in the position.
Survey that list again and one name—Larry Brown—should jump out at you if you are the Cavaliers. It's because Larry Brown could be the one elite-level coach who could be available this offseason for the right, and undoubtedly steep, price.
Gilbert already has a history of being fixated with Larry Brown. After Gilbert bought the team back in the spring of 2005, there were rumors that he had offered Brown the position of President of Basketball Operations. With Brown rumored to be out of Charlotte due to tension between him and new Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, Gilbert should not hesitate in contacting Brown again.
And this time, it is important that Gilbert gets it right. Brown has been credited for turning around franchises in Indiana and Philadelphia. Before Brown went to Detroit, the Pistons were in a similar position that the Cavs are in right now. Brown got them over the hump and made them champions.
Outside of a few blemishes in New York (seriously, who did succeed under Isiah Thomas?) and the 2004 Athens Olympics (Argentina won't be popping up on anyone's NBA schedule any time soon), Brown's record has been remarkable and speaks for itself.
That is why it's important that Gilbert go out of his way to pay Larry Brown whatever it will cost to put him on the Cavaliers sideline in 2010-11. Gilbert could even throw in a front office role and give Brown final say on all player personnel decisions. Adding Brown would also give Gilbert a leg up compared to other suitors for James since none of them have a coach of the caliber of Brown. Some, in fact, don't even have a coach at all.
Although getting a Hall of Fame coach that commands attention and respect would be a heck of start, Gilbert would be far from over. His roster would still need major tweaking.
Gilbert should still bring back General Manager Danny Ferry to work with Larry Brown in the front office, and the two should work tirelessly in surveying every team from around the league looking for players that teams are looking to move. With the position that the Cavs are in—no draft picks and no cap space due to deals to bring in players like Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams—that is the only avenue they can take to make the team better.
They will be surprised at what they find. Around the trade deadline this past season, the Cavaliers were hot on the trail for both Jamison and Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire.
Another rumor that had popped up was discussions with Philadelphia regarding Andre Iguodala, who has up to four years and close to $50 million left on his contract. A team like Philadelphia that is rebuilding may look hard to move that contract, especially if they can find another cornerstone player through the draft.
Getting a guy like Iguodala for the limited assets the Cavs have may also include seeing Cleveland take on Elton Brand, who has three years and about $51 million left on his contract.
That would be a combined $100 million in salary that Cavs would take on, and although Iguodala and Brand are not world-beaters by any means, they are far better than the limited amount of talent LeBron James has had to work with over the majority of his seven-year career in Cleveland.
That by no means should be the trade that the Cavaliers zero in on. It is merely an example of what they would have to do in order to add talent to this roster: take on exorbitant contracts and further inflate their payroll.
A player like Iguodala is the same age as LeBron, and he would easily become the best player James has had to play with in his entire career as a Cav (no, a 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal and a 33-year old Antawn Jamison don't count. And put your hand down, Mo Williams).
There will be a plethora of options out there, especially sign-and-trade options involving free agents such as Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and Stoudemire. Now is not the time for the Cavs to get cute. As long as teams are not asking for LeBron in a sign-and-trade, then Ferry would have to make anyone and everyone available on the roster.
Some would say it's not fair to put that much pressure on a mid-market team like Cleveland, but that's the hand Gilbert has been dealt. He knows that keeping LeBron in Cleveland was the overwhelming objective of his ownership when he bought the team. Plus, no expense he invests in the team this summer will come close to the crippling financial hit he would take if James decides to go elsewhere.
Not only is it the only hand Gilbert has, but also the last. It is the moment of truth for both him and the city of Cleveland. And if the extraordinary financial commitment he made over the last five years wasn't enough, then there are still plenty of other improvements that could be made possible with more expenses.
"Or else" isn't something Gilbert—and especially not the city of Cleveland—wants to think about right now. Or ever.
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