Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gilbert graded

Recently, The Plain Dealer posed the question, "is the leadership for the three pro teams in Cleveland the best it has ever been at the same time?"
I'd say yes, for one reason: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
The ownership and front offices of the Browns and Indians have the standards of prior leadership to live up to. No matter who runs Cleveland's football and baseball teams, they will be measured against Paul Brown and Blanton Collier, Artie McBride and Art Modell, Dick Jacobs and John Hart. So even though they appear headed in the right direction with their teams, the aptitude of Randy Lerner and Phil Savage, Larry Dolan and Mark Shapiro is still up for debate.
For the Cavs, that haunting presence doesn't exist. The Cavs, with no extended track record of success, are essentially a blank slate for anyone trying to make it a true first-class, initiative-taking organization.
Gilbert took over the Cavs a year ago this month. Already, we can say the Cavs -- and maybe Cleveland sports as a whole -- has never seen a franchise owner like this.
Gilbert took over the Cavs at the beginning of a catastrophic slide that cost them a playoff berth. Almost immediately, media-fueled whispers of meddling began slithering around him. He fired coach Paul Silas after he feuded with ornery point guard Jeff McInnis. The firing was deserved. With the Cavs struggling, Silas benched McInnis for a game in Toronto and didn't lift a finger as LeBron James scored 56 points and the Cavs lost.
But for Gilbert, the firing was a bold risk that only made the meddlesome-owner rumors intensify.
Interim coach Brendan Malone led the Cavs to a 10-8 record, but it wasn't enough to hold off the surging Nets for the final playoff spot.
Several weeks after the season, Gilbert fired GM Jim Paxson. The meddlesome-owner rumors continued.
Gilbert chased storybook names like Larry Brown, Chuck Daly and Phil Jackson at the start of his first off-season at the helm of the Cavs. He was branded a wannabe-fantasy-league owner who wouldn't know a good basketball decision from a coconut.
But a funny thing happened on the way to terminal Stepienitis. The giddy sports-nut-turned-owner ceased running the show, and Gilbert the serious businessman emerged.
Gilbert started addressing the Cavs' weaknesses, both on and off the court. He started meticulously analyzing the Cavs the way he did with his company, Quicken Loans.
Gilbert went back to the principles that made him an incredibly rich man in the first place. He strived to put talented, motivated people in the proper places, and keep them motivated. He started asking questions. He paid attention to detail. He gained the trust of those working for him by proving he is willing to go the extra mile with his legwork and his pocketbook.
The Cavs didn't play defense down the stretch, so Gilbert hired a young, defense-minded coach in Mike Brown. He tapped a local connection in the stacked San Antonio Spurs organization when he hired Danny Ferry as GM.
Gilbert used his wallet to enable Ferry to upgrade the talent on the roster, signing free agents Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones, and re-signing all-star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
How much of a statement did Gilbert want to make to Z? He and Ferry flew to Los Angeles to meet Z just before he embarked on an off-season vacation to Asia. They expressed to Z their strong desire and intention to re-sign him. This less than two years after Silas had wanted to trade him.
Most importantly, Gilbert has quickly realized that keeping LeBron in a Cavs uniform long-term is a more intricate process than winning some games and sliding a contract under his nose.
He and his ownership group have invested time and money in building the team and organization up around LeBron. They have developed relationships with LeBron's managers, and have given he and his teammates creature comforts like TVs and Xbox game systems at their lockers.
Gilbert has worked hard to show LeBron that, both on a large and small scale, the Cavs will be a winner he will want his name and talent associated with for years to come.
Nothing is for certain until LeBron actually inks the extension he will receive this summer, but Gilbert's efforts seem to be solidifying LeBron's confidence in the organization. In January, he told ESPN The Magazine he "wants to stay in Cleveland and build a champion."
In other media accounts, LeBron has said he "can't wait to sign my contract extension."
Off the court, Gilbert has invested millions in the Cavs' home. He bought the naming rights to what is now Quicken Loans Arena, purchased a new scoreboard, and financed the replacement of all 20,562 blue seats in the arena with wine-colored models.
This week, he unveiled his plan to build a state-of-the-art practice facility for the Cavs in suburban Independence.
It doesn't just stop at basketball. Faced with the loss of the minor-league Cleveland Barons hockey team, which is moving to Worcester, Mass. this summer, Gilbert has investigated the possibility of buying the dormant Utah Grizzlies and moving them to Cleveland.
No Cavs owner, maybe no owner in the history of Cleveland sports since Bill Veeck, has made his upgrade efforts so all-encompassing.
A year after he took the helm of the Cavs, we now know that Gilbert is more than a sports-crazy rich guy. He is a serious owner who wants a top-notch organization that will provide Cleveland with a sense of pride, and provide him with big profits, and hopefully, some hardware down the road. And he's doing more than just talking about it.
Dan Gilbert looks like the right owner at the right time for the Cavaliers.

1 comment:

theMike said...

I couldn't agree more. I have not disagreed with one decision Gilbert has made to date, even at the time he made them. Great Post.