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Cavs’ Gilbert can be own worst enemy

07/17/2017, 12:03am EDT
By By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

A month after helping GM out the door, team's direction still in question


The story of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is devolving into a tale of money, power, and ego. ASSOCIATED PRESS

It took more than four decades, but the Cleveland Cavaliers at last came upon the foolproof plan for championship success.

Call it the Billionaire’s Seven-Step Guide to the NBA.

1. Wait for generational superstar to be born down the road.

2. Fall backward into the No. 1 pick to draft said superstar.

3. Surround superstar with mostly marginal talent, then, after the franchise value skyrockets, play the victim when he leaves in 2010. (Bonus points if the owner fires off a bridge-torching, Comic Sans missive to “GUARANTEE THAT THE [INSERT TEAM] WILL WIN AN NBA TITLE BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE.”)

4. Lose the most games in the league the next four seasons.

5. Win the draft lottery three of those years — the odds of which are longer (1-in-13,467) than those of a person getting struck by lightning (1-in-3,000).

6. Pray for LeBron James to come home.

Really, it was the infallible blueprint ... if not for the one last step.

7. Get out of your own way.

Anyone else wondering what is going on in Cleveland?

If anyone should appreciate their incomprehensible sports fortune, it is Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, his team was so perfectly inept three summers ago that the best player in the world chose to return. It was the greatest confluence of serendipity in NBA history, and it has resulted in three straight trips to the finals — including the 2016 title — and a reported franchise valuation of $1.2 billion.

Yet, Cleveland’s free-spending but impetuous boss still can’t help himself, the fairy tale devolving into the more familiar American story of money, power, and ego.

It has been nearly a month since Gilbert all but fired general manager David Griffin, and still Cleveland remains headless — and aimless — in this pivotal offseason. If he is trying to convince the soon-to-be-free-agent James to stay beyond 2018, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

Look, with anyone, you get the good with the bad. Take Indians owner Paul Dolan, who maybe you once pilloried for his penny pinching — a gripe that no longer holds water — but appreciated for the way he empowered the front office. 

Gilbert is just the opposite. Cleveland will become the first $200 million team in league history next season, paying out $140 million in salaries and $69 million in luxury taxes. The guy cares. A lot. 

But he does himself no favors. In fact, it is hard to choose which episode from this slapstick summer makes Gilbert look more out of touch. Was it him posing for photos with the Cubs and their World Series trophy at the White House last month? Was it his tweet last week making light of a Cavs summer league win over the champion Warriors? (“Ok, series is 4-2. Let’s make it best of 9.”) Or was it low-balling — in salary and role — the veteran GM who James respected, only to be spurned by the novice Chauncey Billups? 

If the narrative of an organization in chaos is overblown, the speculation on James’ future in Cleveland is not.

Although limited by its salary cap hell, the Cavs this offseason needed to get creative in pursuit of the Warriors. Instead, they thrust a 34-year-old, third-in-command assistant into the big chair and have made no moves of note to upgrade the 2018 roster. You can faintly begin to see the writing on the hardwood.

Just don’t blame Gilbert. The same man who admirably spends the big bucks passes every one of them. Blame always falls elsewhere, be it the “cowardly betrayal” of James in 2010, or every one of his coaches and general managers. In 12 years, Gilbert has never extended a GM’s contract and canned four coaches five times, twice hiring and firing Mike Brown in a page borrowed straight from the George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin playbook. The guy is harder to work with than Bill Lumbergh. 

In Gilbert’s world, it is everyone else who just doesn’t get it. Maybe it is time to look in the mirror. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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