Off-Season Outlook, Part I
David Liam Kyle
This past season, the Cavaliers celebrated their 35th Anniversary, marking various eras throughout the team’s history. Among the “Hardwood Classics” nights at the Gund, Cleveland paid tribute to the Miracle of Richfield era, George Karl’s comeback Cavs and Lenny Wilkens’ successful squads of the late-80s and early-90s.
One day, Clevelanders will come to the house on Huron and Ontario to celebrate an era in Cavaliers basketball that featured a local kid by the name of LeBron James. Individually, LeBron has already made his indelible stamp on the franchise in only two short seasons. As a team, the LeBron-era Cavaliers have yet to make their mark.
But if new owner Dan Gilbert is true to his word, the LeBron-era Cavaliers will surpass the accomplishments of the Cavaliers clubs of the past 35 years. Perhaps one day when James’ No. 23 is raised to the rafters, it will be alongside NBA Championship banners.
This must sound like a grandiose plan for a team that was just eliminated from the postseason for the first two years of the Chosen One’s career. But they come directly from the Cavaliers’ top man himself:
“We’re looking for basketball people who have had a lot of success who understand what it takes to build (and coach) a championship team,” said Gilbert. “We’ve got, who we feel, is the best basketball player in the game, and we need to build the team around him that doesn’t settle for mediocrity. We want to win a championship, or more, right here.”
In a recent interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Branson Wright, the man who built a mortgage empire with $5000 compared to the Cavaliers’ current situation as surgery in that it’s messy and painful, but the results are both good and necessary.
The new era began the minute the New Jersey Nets dribbled out the clock in Boston, sealing Cleveland’s fate as a non-playoff team for the seventh straight season. The Cavaliers finished the season with a pair of wins – including a clutch win over the Raptors in Toronto in the finale – but it was too little, too late for Brendan Malone’s bunch.
The next day, General Manager Jim Paxson was relieved of his duties and Malone was informed that he won’t be a coaching candidate for the vacancy at that post. These moves, along with the March 21 dismissal of Paul Silas, are Gilbert’s first moves in re-shaping the franchise. There could be many more.
Clevelandcavaliers.com will take a brief look at what promises to be the most intense off-season in the history of the organization. Today we’ll focus on the front office and on Monday, we’ll examine the Cavalier players themselves, including a look at the free agent market.
Aside from the wine and gold threads and the young King, it’s nearly impossible to predict what the Cavaliers will look like at the outset of the 2005-06 season. The only thing to know for sure is that seismic changes are afoot. And they begin at the very top.
The new Cavaliers GM comes into an enviable situation. Not only does he have one of the league’s most charismatic young superstars in LeBron James, but he has mucho dinero to surround Akron’s prodigal son with complimentary talent.
It’s no secret that Cleveland has never been a big free agent destination. Until now.
It’s not just the cold, hard cash that will lure free agents to the North Coast, but the young King himself. Of the myriad of superior qualities LeBron possesses, one is his utter selflessness. He is a team-first superstar, a rare blend. LBJ knows how to share the wealth and wants to win more than anything. Two years without a postseason berth has only increased James’ hunger.
The new GM will have roughly $20-25 million in cap space to play with and the possibilities are endless.
“We felt that the team has made advances over the last two years – going from 17 to 35 to 42 wins – but to get to the level of a championship organization, we felt that we needed to bring in our own people,” Gilbert said of bringing in the new GM. “Right now, we’re very focused. We have a lot of work to do this summer. We intend to be big players in the free agent market and we have a lot of opportunities.”
There are many schools of thought on what the Cavaliers need going into next year. Is it one of the Unrestricted FA shooting guards; someone who can drill the three-pointer with regularity? Only Utah, Atlanta and New Orleans shot the three-ball worse than Cleveland this year. Defenses were able to pack in the middle and dare the Cavaliers to shoot over the top of them. For two seasons, the Wine and Gold have been week from the perimeter and lack the bombardier who could open lanes for LeBron, taking some pressure off the sophomore sensation to do it all himself.
Of course, there’s nothing that says this perimeter threat has to be a two-guard. Although the free agent market isn’t loaded with scoring point guards, don’t rule out a sign-and trade.
The Cavaliers could probably use another veteran big or two, as well. Opposing guards penetrated at will against Cleveland this season and it would be nice to add some muscle to the middle. (Although, penetration often has more to do with perimeter defense than interior strength.)
The new GM has some solid pieces to work with. Young guns like LeBron, Anderson Varejao, Sasha Pavlovic, Luke Jackson and Drew Gooden are lucrative pieces to begin with. Add a core of solid veterans such as Eric Snow, Ira Newble and Tractor Traylor and you’ve got the building blocks to Cleveland’s future.
Of course, the new general manager will have some difficult decisions to make on the Cavaliers’ free agents, starting (but not ending) with All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Jeff McInnis, DeSagana Diop and Dajuan Wagner will also test the free agent market this summer. Only Diop is restricted.
Again, the possibilities are endless.
“Just having LeBron on your team, alone, makes you a good coach,” quipped Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to figure out that the 2004-05 Cavaliers had their "difficulties." Even LeBron looked like an island in the season’s frustrating second half. Other players were simply working on their own agenda.
Perhaps the most painful – though accurate – descriptions of the Wine and Gold in the second half of last season would be “rudderless.” At times the team lacked direction and cohesiveness. It wasn’t until the final four games that the team looked like it had settled on a rotation. As the season wrapped up, the best combination of five on the floor seemed to be James, Snow, Varejao, Tractor and Newble with Sasha providing firepower off the bench.
The Cavaliers new head coach will have many of these players back as well as a few fresh faces from free agency and trades. Each coach shapes the team in the image he desires, so it’s impossible to predict which players he’ll bring back and which players he’ll bring in.
“Hopefully, it’s a guy who knows basketball and who comes in with playoff experience and knows what it takes to get deep into the playoffs,” said Traylor. “Not just to say we want to be in the playoffs.”
The rumor mill has been circulating since late March on who will head up the Cavaliers bench next year and as teams peel away from the postseason, expect more conjecture on the future Cleveland coach.
Fans are looking for a big name and that’s understandable. But it’s important to note some of the excellent coaching performances in the NBA this season – and there have been plenty – were turned in by previously “no-name” guys like Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, Scott Skiles in Chicago, Eddie Jordan in Washington and Nate McMillan in Seattle.
The Cavaliers new GM will have to choose. See: ‘endless possibilities’, above.