Ever since he issued his now-infamous note in the aftermath of “The Decision,” Dan Gilbert has turned into quite a polarizing figure.
Some people (like myself) love the guy and admire the fact that he exhibits a fighting spirit and unyielding resiliency in the face of monumental opposition, widespread public ridicule, and colossal disappointment. Despite the fact that he's from our rival up north, Gilbert exemplifies the battling underdog spirit that characterizes Cleveland sports and Cleveland's diehard fans.
Others find him annoying at best, a disgrace at worst, and someone who will lead the Cavaliers back into another period of decline and futility.
As is usually the case with polarizing figures, the truth about Gilbert is probably somewhere in the middle, and the truth about Gilbert's success as an owner won't be known for several years.
However, regardless of what one thinks about Gilbert, the fact that he's an owner willing to do whatever it takes to win, even when the team is doing poorly, is a fact for which all Cavaliers fans should be grateful. Unlike many owners in the NBA who make every move with the salary cap primarily in mind, Gilbert is willing to put his money where his mouth is and do everything possible to build a winning team.
More importantly, Gilbert has built a front office whose trading acumen has continually allowed the Cavaliers to come out ahead on nearly every trade that has been made since he obtained the team.
Today's trade is no exception. The fact that the Cavaliers were able to obtain a Top 10 pick in the next draft and an above-average guard for a rapidly declining point guard and a role player is nothing short of remarkable. Even if Baron Davis never jacks up an ill-advised three point shot in the wine and gold, this trade is a winning move for the Cavaliers. When the team returns to the playoffs, I believe that this trade will be viewed as one of the major moves that helped the Cavaliers return to the postseason.
I'm not a huge college basketball fan, so I'll take the thoughts of the experts who claim that this is a weak draft on faith. However, as past drafts have shown, much of the success or failure that a team has in the draft is due to thorough scouting and a bit of luck.
Teams can make giant blunders with high picks in talent-laden drafts, such as Detroit did with the No.2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. How many championships would the Pistons have won if they had drafted Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade instead of Darko? Likewise, teams can obtain studs in relatively weak drafts, as the Milwaukee Bucks did with Michael Redd in the second round of the 2000 NBA Draft and the Boston Celtics did with Rajon Rondo in the 2006 NBA Draft.
The fact that so much of the success or failure of this trade rests on the draft is precisely why this is such a great trade for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers' front office has done a great job with scouting and drafting in recent years. Daniel Gibson was obtained in the second round and Christian Eyenga, who has exhibited great upside during his brief tenure in Cleveland, was obtained at the end of the first round. Manny Harris, who also has shown much potential, was an undrafted free agent.
Furthermore, unlike Mike Brown, who resisted playing young players more strongly than Shawn Kemp resisted going on a diet, Byron Scott has shown a willingness to allow young players to gain experience and to develop them for the future. Any draft pick that the Cavaliers obtain will be sure to receive ample playing time. They won't turn into Shannon Brown, a player who received no playing time in Cleveland but who blossomed elsewhere once they received a chance to play.
Even if this draft is not laden with raw talent, does it really matter? Despite his bravado and faith in the franchise, Gilbert knows that Cleveland is not an attractive destination for most free agents and that the Cavaliers will only be able to successfully rebuild through the draft. Even when LeBron was on the roster, the Cavaliers still had a hard time landing top-tier free agents, and Gilbert knows that the team with the worst record in the NBA will continue to struggle to attract free agents.
Dumping salary in order to have cap room to sign free agents in the future would have only depleted the roster without getting any assets in return, and the Cavaliers would almost assuredly have wound up overpaying for middling talent in the offseason.
Furthermore, almost anyone we obtain in the draft will be a better long-term asset than Mo Williams.
Is that a harsh assessment? I don't think so.
After LeBron's departure, Williams had the opportunity to step up, put the team on his back, and earn a spot in the All-Star Game rather than being merely just an injury replacement. History has shown that Byron Scott's teams thrive best with a solid point guard, and Williams had an opportunity to fit the bill.
Instead of being the leader that the Cavaliers badly needed, Williams spent the offseason fending off questions about whether he really wanted to retire in light of LeBron's departure. He spent much of this season battling injuries and inconsistency.
Sure, Williams was a quality teammate and an honorable guy. The fact that he openly lobbied to be kept in the aftermath of LeBron's departure says a lot about the guy and his love for Cleveland and the Cavaliers. However, as Eric Mangini's Browns showed Clevelanders over the past few years, good character alone doesn't lead to victories.
This reminds me of the trade for Shaquille O'Neal, in which we obtained a solid player with widespread popular appeal for two players who weren't part of the Cavaliers' future. Today’s trade is similar—the Cavaliers obtained a Top 10 draft pick and a scorer, who at the absolute very least will take some of the scoring pressure off of Antwan Jamison, for two players whose ceiling in Cleveland had peaked. Let's just hope that today's trade turns out better for the Cavaliers than the O'Neal trade.
All in all, I believe that the Cavaliers took a substantial step on the road back to respectability with this trade. And if you don’t like Dan Gilbert as a person, I hope that you at least respect him as an owner when the Cavaliers return to the playoffs in the near future.