Stunned Cavaliers Look Ahead to Next Season
Posted Jun 16 2007 11:11PM
CLEVELAND, June 16 (AP) -- Long after the Cavaliers locker room emptied out, Zydrunas Ilgauskas sat discussing what went wrong - and how to make sure they'll be the team popping champagne next season.
"For me personally, the thing that hurts so much is to see the other team celebrate,'' Ilgauskas said.
Not long after Cleveland was swept in the NBA finals, losing 83-82 to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 Thursday night, Cavaliers players, coaches and owner Dan Gilbert started looking ahead to next season.
"We have to win a championship,'' Gilbert said. "The city of Cleveland deserves a championship and we'll keep driving until we're there.''
Cleveland needed to look no further than the team holding up the Larry O'Brien trophy on the Cavaliers' home court to envision what they need to become.
The winners of four title in nine years, the Spurs have solidified themselves as the league's model franchise.
"San Antonio taught us another great lesson this finals,'' Gilbert said. "This is a team that's had a strong culture for years and years and knows who they are and knows how to win. We have one more step to go.''
Ilgauskas, who will be entering his 10th season next year, said the distractions of the finals disrupted the Cavaliers' focus and factored into their poor performance. So did the Spurs.
"They were better. They were more experienced. They beat us in every aspect of the game,'' said Ilgauskas, who averaged 7.8 points in the series and led Cleveland with 41 rebounds.
Gilbert wouldn't comment on what the Cavaliers will do about restricted free agents Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic or whether coach Mike Brown would be given a contract extension, saying those decisions would be left to general manager Danny Ferry.
He defended Brown, whose offense had been criticized all season and particularly during the finals.
"I don't know how you can argue that a guy who gets your team into the finals in his second year hasn't done a great job,'' Gilbert said.
LUCKY SEVEN: Robert Horry is an NBA dynasty unto himself.
The San Antonio forward became one of only eight players in league history with seven or more championship rings.
He's the only player from that elite group who's not a member of the Boston Celtics, moving into a tie with Frank Ramsey for seventh on the all-time list.
The 36-year-old Horry won two championships with Houston (1994, '95), three with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-'02) and two with the Spurs (2005, '07).
What will he do with all his rings?
"I'm going to put them in a little case and sit back and tell my kids, 'your daddy did a couple of good things in the NBA,''' he said.
"I gave the game ball to Mike. He had tears in his eyes,'' Horry said. "To be in the league as long as he has ... I'm so happy for him.''
Horry had one point and three rebounds in Game 4. He finished the series with 12 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists.
But it was players like Horry, Vaughn and Brent Barry that gave San Antonio an advantage in depth and experience, something the Cavaliers sorely lacked.
REFUGEE GUESTS: Cavaliers reserve swingman Ira Newble hugged and shook hands with 15 refugees from southern Sudan, his special guests for Game 4.
Newble has become an activist for Darfur, a region of Sudan where four years of warfare have left more than 200,000 dead and 2.5 million people displaced.
"A lot of people are losing lives right now. This needs to stop,'' Newble said. "This is a form of genocide. It's no different than the Holocaust.''
Newble has been gathering signatures from fellow players for a letter he plans to send to China, a major backer of Sudan. China is also the host of the 2008 Olympics, an event in which NBA players will participate.
China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports, sells the African country weapons and military aircraft and has blocked efforts to send U.N. peacekeeping forces to Darfur without Sudanese consent.
So far, Newble has 15 signatures on the letter. He said more are to come.
Newble decided to take action after reading about the conflict, including the involvement of professor Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College in Massachusetts.
"He's a guy who could have easily looked away,'' said Reeves, who attended the game. "Ira has fashioned a dream team of consciousness.''
Newble, who was inactive for Game 4 and has only played one minute in the series, invited 15 of Sudan's "Lost Boys,'' orphaned and made homeless in Sudan's civil war, to Quicken Loans Arena.
Ngor Aguen, 27, came to Cleveland six years ago from Sudan with help from Catholic Charities. Wearing a blue Cavs hat and a wine-colored "Rise Up!'' T-shirt, he met Newble for the first time Thursday night.
"He's got a heart,'' Aguen said. "He can see outside of here and say, 'What can I do to help?' God put it in his hands. I think he will be a messenger.''
Newble plans a trip to Darfur in August.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudanese leaders are accused of unleashing the pro-government Arab militia, the janjaweed, to fight them - a charge they deny.
HUGHES SITS AGAIN: Cavaliers starting point guard Larry Hughes was inactive for the second straight game with plantar fasciitis and a tear in his foot.
Hughes played through the injury in the first two games of the finals and looked slow, struggling to defend the speedy Tony Parker. He was 1-for-10 from the field.
Rookie Daniel Gibson again started in Hughes' absence. Gibson, a second-round draft pick from Texas, had been a pleasant surprise in the postseason, scoring 31 points in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Nicknamed "Boobie,'' he averaged 15.5 points in the first two games of the series, then went 1-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range, in Game 3.
Gibson was 4-for-10 and had 10 points in Game 4 and averaged 10.75 in the series.
MARRIAGE OF TWO MINDS: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said his relationship with Spurs anchor Tim Duncan, besides that of player and coach, is like wedded bliss.
"I think when you've been with a player for a long time I think it's in a way like a marriage where respect grows, and that respect and trust is important to make it work,'' Popovich said before Game 4.
Popovich said a basketball relationship gets old over time. Duncan has been with the Spurs for all of his 10 seasons in the league.
"That's the way it's been with Timmy. Obviously I've been with him the longest,'' Popovich said. "Often times we don't even have to speak. When you're with your best buddies, sometimes you don't say anything, you're just in the same room and you don't need to talk.''
Associated Press Writer Elizabeth White contributed to this report.
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