Danny Ferry's Departure Signals Chaos, Strife in Cavaliers Organization

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2010

CLEVELAND - JUNE 02:  General Manager Danny Ferry of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after the Cavs won 98-82 to win the Detroit Pistons in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007 NBA Playoffs on June 2, 2007 at the Quicken Loans Arena 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.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Danny Ferry stood at center court three years ago and bathed in the rare jocosity of it all.

On this night, miserable, cursed Cleveland fans engaged in some of the rowdiest merrymaking in Ohio's 204-year history.

Quicken Loans Arena rocked and the Detroit Pistons felt the reverb and suffered the hearing damage. The hometown Cavaliers romped to a 98-82 win behind a 31-point explosion from Daniel "Boobie" Gibson. That remains his career-best scoring outburst.

Cleveland residents had not celebrated a championship since 1964. That Eastern Conference Finals clincher set up the first NBA Finals appearance in the 35-year history of the franchise.

After decades of heartbreak and incompetence, the Cavs danced on the biggest stage with the then three-time champion San Antonio Spurs.

More impressive was how the Cavs did it: with David Wesley, Gibson, Larry Hughes, and Sasha Pavlovic at the guard spots.

Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas shared the bulk of the frontcourt minutes with LeBron James.

Had a less talented roster ever made this kind of noise? Fans saw the run (even the Spurs' Finals sweep) as a validation that a team in Cleveland, any team, could win something.

Then, Ferry, the Cavs' discerning GM, could rest easy. The unbearable, relentless speculation surrounding James' anticipated free agency turn would not swirl for two more years.

The anguish and lost love could wait until 2010. Well, here we are.

Ferry tendered his resignation on Friday after five years on the job.

A stunning image the night before underscored the frustration of the last few months and offered a glimpse as to why Ferry resigned.

There was James playing Pop-a-Shot with a busboy on Jimmy Kimmel Live an hour before tipoff of a Lakers-Celtics Finals rematch. The reigning MVP smirked a bit then shook his head when the busboy annihilated him 70-something to 40-something.

The score did not matter as much as the scene. Another defeat on national television did not seem to devastate him. He was, after all, one month away from one of the greatest power trips in sports history.

The problem with the Cavs: what should have been confined to June and July has instead defined the organization for more than two years.

He sandwiched between that humorous showing appearances on ABC's Nightline and CNN's Larry King Live. His posse and King made sure his guarded declaration that "the Cavs have an edge" in the chase to sign him made national headlines.

Edgy fans teetering on James' every move and vague statement recorded a new version of "We Are the World" that denigrated New York and begged the self-proclaimed King to stay.

He knew the truth (that Cleveland will fall apart and open hundreds more suicide phone banks without him) long ago. He made sure Owner Dan Gilbert and everyone else forced to bow at his feet knew it, too.

Only James would allow the King moniker and act to continue under these circumstances. He doesn't get it.

He still fails to grasp how this all works. He wants the acclaim Michael Jordan enjoyed and the same mystique and fanfare that follows Kobe Bryant.

Like Bryant, he jumped straight from high school to the pros. July marks his chance to experience a college-like recruitment. This time, though, the suitors will dangle hundreds of millions, exorbitant perks, and the false promise of immortality.

Grown men are allowed to have fun whenever they want. It says here that James should not shun conviviality just because he did not win that elusive championship.

No one else in James' shoes could get away with having this much fun after the embarrassment of Game Five, the LeBacle.

He posted his standard fabulous averages against the Boston Celtics, but even his staunchest apologists cannot refute that he quit when it mattered most.

James was more endearing when he refused to shake hands with the Orlando Magic. Then, he looked like a competitor who cared that his season had ended.

He has approached the aftermath of his latest flameout with indifference and immaturity, aiming to overshadow a battle between the league's traditional powerhouses.

James wants to be bigger than the NBA Finals without playing in them. When he has his cake, he wants a damn trophy on that, too.

Ferry accepted this gig five years ago because Gilbert promised him full control. He walked away when it was clear he didn't have any.

James runs this town and its basketball team. One week after Gilbert selected former coach Mike Brown to play the convenient role of fall guy, Ferry had seen enough.

If James asked Gilbert to hop on one leg naked down East Sixth Street, he would consider it. The owner's other employees are too entrenched in the idol worship to mold a championship product.

Sometimes, great players need to hear "no" more than once. L.A. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak did not remodel a lottery squad by granting all of Bryant's wishes.

He made up for a testy few months by trading for Spaniard Pau Gasol in February 2008. Only the Celtics have been able to answer that masterstroke.

James and the Cavs could not clear enough hurdles in the last three years. The Celtics edged them in seven games in 2008. The Magic exposed and humiliated them in 2009.

The Celtics did it again mere weeks ago. Through it all, Ferry did his best to improve James' supporting cast each year.

He traded for Delonte West, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, and Joe Smith. He signed Anthony Parker. He traded for Shaquille O'Neal's bloated but expiring contract.

With Gilbert's blessing, he traded for Antawn Jamison and his eight figure salary. James sanctioned all of these moves.

There's a difference between input from the franchise star and overstepping boundaries. Ferry saw his freedom to do the job with dignity shrink as each month passed.

Brown wasn't perfect, but he did win more regular-season games than any other coach in the last two years.

Gilbert can justify these departures by citing their failures. Brown demonstrated a mastery of defense but could never get his team to excel on the offensive end come playoff time.

When the Cavs folded in the semifinals, someone had to pay for the crime. That someone was never going to be James, not even when his nine turnovers negated a Game Six triple-double.

Maybe James found enough time in his hectic media blitz to watch Bryant, a real champion, throw the kill switch Thursday night. Behind brilliant performances from Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers thumped the Celtics 102-89 to take the opener.

Bryant takes his failures personally, the way Jordan did. He fumes and gripes after losses. He doesn't go on a talk show and play Pop-a-Shot.

He owns four championship rings but acts like he has won zilch when a new season begins. He cares more about what happened two years ago than James does about what transpired a few weeks prior.

Ferry did not supply James with enough of a supporting cast, but he gave it his best shot. He did everything a GM in his position could.

The problem isn't that Mo Williams should not start at point guard on a championship team. The problem is that James will continue to wash his shortcomings with hot water and excuses.

Under his reign, Williams bought into that sense of entitlement as did the rest of the crew. They did not need to take it, because it belonged to them. 

A player with James' abilities and astonishing career averages can hide behind the flaws of his teammates for many more years. When will the excuses stop?

Jamison wasn't enough. Ilgauskas was too soft. West wasn't just bi-polar off the court. Those assessments ring true now, but when will they stop?

An owner who does not preach and enforce accountability cannot expect to lead a champion. James can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants without consequence.

As long as he produces his customary 20-something point, near triple-double average, he can hide.

He needs tough love now, but all Gilbert can do is ask James when he wants him to bring the caviar to the table. Gilbert represents a server more than an owner.

He'll do anything to keep James happy when he should make the tougher decisions that will make his star a better player.

Ferry wasn't going to survive much longer in this rotten hierarchy. He left before Gilbert could scare up another scapegoat.

The Cavs' brain trust fears James when it should respect him. He brought the owner to his knees and will keep him there for as long as the NBA will allow.

Free agency is James' version of a championship. He might make enough to inch closer to his dream of being a billionaire. He will force other owners and front offices into the same position as Gilbert.

Ferry saw a grueling yet relaxed future ahead and opted to run while he could still escape its ramifications.

The exits of Brown and Ferry do not guarantee the end of James as a Cav. In fact, the removal and resignation say a lot about Gilbert's chances of retaining his crown jewel.

Why would James leave? He runs the show here and few are brave enough to stand up to him. Gilbert doesn't mind the dancing and prancing as long as he continues to sell out the 'Q.'

Winning a title comes at a steep price. Ferry was willing to pay it, even if he failed to find a suitable sidekick for a superstar in need of championship validation. No one can be sure about James' motivations.

Ferry will surface elsewhere in some managerial capacity. He's too smart and driven to remain on the sidelines for long.

He will not, however, preside over another transcendent talent in the James mold. They don't just make such spectacular athletic specimens in some factory.

He left because his status was a sham and a front.

James at his best can do it all, from three-point barrages to behind-the-back passes to highlight-reel shot erasures. Would it shock the world if Gilbert offered his star the chance to also head the front office and coach (half kidding, I don't think he'll do that)?

Ferry saw the usurped authority as an invitation to leave center court. No longer enchanted by it all, he saw what all the merrymaking had allowed the Cavs' to become.

Three years removed from jubilation, he saw all the sideline antics and absurd proclamations and knew.

In the Cavs' organization's version of Pop-a-Shot, he was next.


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