View from the Top

May 9, 2012
Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert
On Wednesday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert spent around 20 minutes with the local media – wrapping up the squad’s recent season, looking ahead to this month’s NBA Lottery and touching on his new Horseshoe Casino, set to open its downtown doors within the week.

In that 20-minute span, he showed why Clevelanders – including the assembled media – can’t help but love the guy.

He has incredible civic pride for a city he wasn’t born or raised in. He understands Cleveland fans’ insecurity and anger. He’s infamously impatient with losing and is willing to spend wisely to win. Plus, he’s really funny.

I mean, what other team owner can crack up a roomful of cynical reporters, spinning one of the most painful experiences in local sports history into a Zendon Hamilton reference?

After another difficult season for the Wine and Gold, the Quicken Loans founder addressed the question of patience – as in, how much will he have as the club continues its reconstruction.

“You have to be as patient as your choices,” explained Gilbert. “You can be an impatient person, but you still have to be as patient as your ability to affect the outcome. And here, you have no choice – you have to be patient for at least a period of time. But I believe we have the right front office and right coaching staff.”

The Cavaliers have a painful recent past. After six straight trips the postseason, the Cavaliers have gone 40-108 over the last two years. In 2011-12, the injury bug and a necessary Deadline deal helped derail a possible playoff run. A pair of fan favorites – Anderson Varejao and Boobie Gibson – had their seasons cut short and the squad was forced to dip into the D-League more often than they’d have preferred.

But there were also reasons for great hope – specifically based on a pair of extremely promising rookies, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Irving was hands-down the league’s top freshman and Tristan Thompson defied critics to become the top rebounder among first-year players.

And the Cavaliers are about to get another infusion of young talent in this June’s Draft. Where their first (of two) first round picks will be selected will be determined in Secaucus on May 30. And Dan Gilbert hopes lightning will strike twice in northern New Jersey.

“We’re definitely going to bring (Nick),” asserted Gilbert, referring to his son, who became a household name after last year’s stunning success. “I mean, why not go with the momentum, right? We’re going to brink Nick to the Lottery. If he doesn’t get the top pick, we’re going to ground him for the summer.”

Gilbert insisted that he’s going to bring the entire entourage from last May’s Lottery – including Bernie Kosar, Josh Cribbs and Joe Haden.

Last year, the Lottery bore some fantastic fruit – the No. 1 and No. 4 overall selections. This past June’s top pick – Kyrie Irving – showed superstar potential this past season. If and when the former Blue Devil blossoms into a superstar, Gilbert has a clear philosophy on approaching the situation this time.

“We want to build a franchise with Kyrie – or with other superstars – not around superstars,” said Gilbert. “We think that’s probably not a great formula for success or else we’d have rings and a championship trophy. We believe the ‘with’ is the key here. And we’re looking forward to adding more great pieces.”

Gilbert has enjoyed fan support since his arrival in Cleveland and has continued to build that bond in Northeast Ohio. And without setting a specific timetable, he understands that – after a pair of difficult campaigns – Cavalier fans are ready for a return to the tournament.

“It’s hard really to put a firm timeframe on it,” explained Gilbert. “You know it’s not more than a handful of years, but you don’t want to put too short a timeframe on it. I can’t give you exact numbers, but I guess it’s always ‘as soon as possible’ for us. We will continue to do everything that’s humanly possible – including spending whatever we need to spend (if that’ll affect the outcome).”

In between fielding questions, Gilbert, as always, added levity to the proceedings, answering questions about his sometimes curious Twitter tendencies – including an imposter tweeting a roll of toilet paper, Dan’s accidental tweet of a swear word (“I forgot to buy a vowel.”) and erroneously tweeting out his own phone number. (“I did that, too.”)

He also continued the tradition of breaking his GM’s chops, drawing immediate attention to Chris Grant’s 40th birthday – something most newly-40-year-olds don’t always appreciate.

Gilbert, Grant, Byron Scott and the rest of the Cavs braintrust have a huge offseason that’s about to unfold. The Cavaliers owner has been patient to this point, but he sounded ready for a return to the success he’s accustomed to.

“Before we had the injuries, we were knocking on the door (of the playoffs) up through the All-Star Break,” said Gilbert. “I certainly think that’s a possibility, making the playoffs next year. I think we play every year to get in the playoffs, regardless of who’s on the court. So I certainly wouldn’t rule out or put any limits – I don’t think any of us put limits – on where the team can go in any year.”

Cleveland fans are used to hearing about “next year.” But Cavs fans won’t have to wait long to get a taste of what next year might include. They’ll get a glimpse of the future when Dan, Nick, Bernie, Josh and Joe try to beat the odds for the second straight season less than three weeks from now in Times Square.