To say the Cleveland Cavaliers organization is in a bit of a turbulent state right now only begins to describe what’s going on. The front office has recently been overhauled, there are question marks around several key players (most notably Kyrie Irving and his future with the franchise) and they are still trying to find a new Head Coach – which will make their third Head Coach in three years. At the helm of this ship is owner Dan Gilbert. The majority owner since 2005, Gilbert endeared himself to many fans with his blistering open letter to Cavs fans following the LeBron James Decision. Up to that point, and even in the year or two after, Gilbert was a beloved owner by many Clevelanders. He invested in the city, his Cavs team was winning games and he was active, often sitting courtside for games. Life was good for Cavs fans. Life was good for Dan Gilbert. It’s now 2014 and we might be realizing something, Dan Gilbert is a problem.
I’ll follow that up by saying I absolutely loved Gilbert, and to some extent still do. I was absolutely on board with him when he worked to bring a casino to Cleveland. I loved his willingness to spend money on the team. I loved that he invested money into the City of Cleveland. To borrow a phrase from his son Nick, “what’s not to like?” Then Gilbert lost his biggest asset, a northeast Ohio kid who happened to be one of the best basketball players in the game, and things started go downhill for Gilbert and the Cavs. The aforementioned letter guaranteed a Cavs championship before LeBron would win one. In the first year post-LeBron the Cavs went 19-63, including a streak of 26 consecutive losses, under new Head Coach Byron Scott. Scott was brought in to replace Mike Brown, his hiring viewed as a dramatic overcorrection of Brown’s defensive focused system and thought of as the first of many potential moves to try and bring home LeBron. Meanwhile, the Heat made it to the NBA Finals in their first season as a super team, eventually losing to the Dallas Mavericks. Since then the Cavs have continued to lose, the Heat have continued to win (championships now), and Dan Gilbert has increased his meddling.
Especially recently, rumors and reports have been circulating that Gilbert is taking a Jerry Jones approach to ownership. He is supposedly in on draft picks, player decisions and coaching decisions. I get it, he’s a very rich owner of a professional sports franchise. He’s going to have an opinion. If I owned a professional sports franchise I’d have an opinion as well. Gilbert needs to realize something – he’s not a general manager and he isn’t a “basketball guy”.
The biggest concern currently with Gilbert was the pursuit of University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. There are conflicting reports about the timeline, which you can read here and here. There are concerns, however, no matter which guys sources you believe (for the record, and with all due respect to Joe Lull, I’ll go with Adrian Wojnarowski all day).
Let’s start with Lull’s contention that Dan Gilbert offered Calipari the Cavs coaching job (and a co-title as President) before David Griffin was made the full time GM. This is clearly not very meddling, however it’s valid to question the intelligence of this move. John Calipari is a fantastic college coach, no disputing that. However he failed as a Head Coach in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. The bigger concern is what makes Dan Gilbert think Calipari is qualified to be a Head Coach and team President in the NBA? There is no indication that Gilbert has any sort of NBA intelligence that would allow him to assess whether or not Calipari is qualified for such a position as President – a position he has absolutely no experience with. Recruiting five star high school prospects is much different than being the General Manager of a professional basketball team (Calipari wouldn’t be GM in title, but would’ve had final roster say). Furthermore, how can Dan Gilbert evaluate whether or not Calipari has the tools to be a successful NBA Head Coach, especially after he failed once already? Simply put, Dan Gilbert has zero business offering anybody a Head Coaching position. For proof, on Gilbert’s watch Mike Brown has been hired twice and fired three times by the organization. He’s fired four head coaches (Paul Silas, Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Mike Brown) and three GMs (Jim Paxson, Danny Ferry and Chris Grant). The majority of those firings have come within the past five years. Go ahead, find the common denominator.
Now, we go with Wojnarowski’s contention that the offer to and rejection from Calipari was much closer to the present day, and was done without the knowledge of General Manager David Griffin. This is a something that the Akron-Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd echoed. If this is true, it’s obviously the bigger concern. Look at it this way, David Griffin has already been made the General Manager. Then, Dan Gilbert goes out behind Griffin’s the front office’s back (according to the report) and offers Calipari a contract to be the Head Coach and President of the Cavs. This would cripple Griffin’s ability as a GM as Calipari would have the final say on the roster. There is also absolutely no consideration given as to whether Griffin and Calipari could work together philosophically. If this report is true (and again, I’ll believe Wojnarowski over Lull) then this is a huge problem for the Cavs. What they have is a Jerry Jones type of owner, a guy with all the money, all the power, some success, a gigantic chip on his shoulder and minimal knowledge about the sport in which he owns a team. Dan Gilbert is unqualified to make these moves.
And in either scenario, well let’s just call it what it is. Gilbert is going after higher profile, recognizable by name coaches (Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Byron Scott) with LeBron James at least in the back of his mind. Put any bias you have for James aside for a minute. You’re flat out kidding yourself if you don’t recognize he’s one of, if not the, best player in basketball right now. There are 29 other NBA teams that would love to have James. But for Gilbert to make a coaching move that even slightly includes the potential plans of James, or any other NBA player not on the Cavs roster, is asinine and a disservice to the players currently on the roster.
The best professional sports owners are the ones who don’t move the team, spend money and get involved only when required than step out of the spotlight. Dan Gilbert seems to be failing to understand this. It’s easy to love a guy (Gilbert) when his team is successful. Winning covers up a lot. But right now, Gilbert is not doing himself any favors.