Less than 4 months ago, on the heels of a heartbreaking loss to the modern incarnation of pure evil, the Cavaliers flew their squad, battered in body and mind, to Hustletown. And hustle they did not. The Rockets outrebounded the Cavs by more than 21 and outscored them by more than 37. This was not a herculean effort from The Beard, and there was no Linsanity. No, it was just a quiet 23/37 shooting with 33 rebounds from the Rocket bench.
Gone was the luster of the great Chris Grant heist of 2013. Gone was the faint whiff of an 8-seed. Harsh realities were closing in on the franchise. Any hopes of a 2014 playoff berth were being dashed. Even with good health, no one could (would?) defend. The best defensive centers in the upcoming draft came packaged with huge question marks, and plenty of bust potential. The biggest risk/reward, Nerlens Noel, would not even suit up until after Christmas, it was reported. The never-ending saga of sucktitude would continue, unabated, and some Cavalier fans (I stress some) had already begun to beg for a Return of the (former) “KNG OF OH”. Where was this franchise going? Would this rebuild fizzle out before it ever really took shape?
How quickly the NBA landscape can change! March 2013 featured a sweaty Omer Asik assaulting rag-doll physics-engine Tyler Zeller. March 2014 could feature a battle of mercurial titans: Dwight Howard vs. Andrew Bynum, with the Cavs and Rockets battling for favorable playoff seeding. Wow. How did we get here? And how great is this?! Step back in time to March 2013. Imagine yourself as the Cavalier GM (as we so often do), spending inordinate amounts of time studying advanced stats, reading scouting reports, and pouring over available free agents, your team’s needs, and your opponent’s needs. Can you imagine yourself adding Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, and the #1 overall pick in the draft? Can you imagine doing it without sacrificing any core players or future salary cap flexibility? I can remember March 2013. I remember pouring over the free agents, compiling their advanced stats, trying to gauge the salaries certain players would command, and the likelihood that they would suit up to play along the shores of Lake Erie. I never saw this coming.
Back in July, WFNY’s Scott wrote:
“For just $6 million in guarateed money—less than Luke Walton; less than half of what was paid to Davis, Selby, Harangody and Azubuike—the Cleveland Cavaliers signed Bynum, signaling not only the team’s desire to win, but that all of the waiting, all of the asset collecting and all of the otherwise baseless banter about Cleveland and free agency all came to a front.”
He heaps high praise on GM Chris Grant for all the team options and added draft picks – and rightly so – Grant has shown his moxy.
But let’s not forget Grant’s underwriter, the man who famously stated: “Money doesn’t lead, it follows”. The implication of that quote (I would surmise) is that money follows a good idea. In Dan Gilbert’s case, I think the money is following his insatiable desire to win. And I don’t mean win at all costs or win like the Florida Marlins. Gilbert is smitten with the Spurs – and as such he wants sustainable success and a commitment to excellence. It’s a tall order, but he’s fitting the bill.
Let’s follow the money for a minute. Since the inception of the luxury tax, the Cavaliers rank 6th in the NBA in tax paid. That all stems from a 3-year spending spree starting in 2007 and ending with LeBronmageddon. The same 3 year period that started with the opening of a new, 25 million dollar practice facility. The Cavs doled out almost 15 million dollars a year in tax for the right to spend money on minor upgrades like over-the-hill Ben Wallace for over-the-hill Larry Hughes, and then Shaq for Big Ben. Twenty million dollars a year so that Dwight Howard would not have to be double teamed. Who does that? Dan Gilbert spared no expense so that Danny Ferry could assemble the best team possible – this fact has been swallowed up in the wake of the Decision and the Comic Sans letter. Suffice it to say, Gilbert licked his wounds, and came back hungrier.
How hungry? Michael Rosenberg of SI penned the following before the start of the Kyrie Irving Era:
“Dan Gilbert has put his money where his mouth is, in a way that is almost unprecedented in the NBA. At the trade deadline, the Cavs traded in-his-prime point guard Mo Williams for prime-rib-loving point guard Baron Davis, who hasn’t tried in two years.The Cavs must pay Davis roughly $29 million over the next two seasons. Williams gets $17 million. (Jamario Moon, who was included in the deal, has a team option of $3.2 million that the Clippers can decline if they choose.) The Cavs also got the Clippers’ 2011 first-round pick in the trade. This means Dan Gilbert spent $12 million for one first-round pick. He was not done. The Cavs tried to acquire Rip Hamilton from the Pistons for a 2012 first-round pick. Hamilton had fallen so far out of favor with the Pistons that his line in the box score read “DNP-%&!#$!” Hamilton is owed a maximum of $25 million over the next two years. Gilbert didn’t care. Hamilton had zero interest in playing for the Cavs. Gilbert didn’t care about that either. Gilbert was willing to either let Hamilton play for the full $25 million (if Rip changed his mind about Cleveland) or buy him out, presumably for at least $15 million. Hamilton wouldn’t take a buyout, out of pride (which was dumb, since he would be playing for the Bulls right now, and would have made most of his money), so the trade got nixed.
Add this up: $12 million in the Davis trade, plus at least $15 million (I suspect quite a bit more) for the Pistons’ pick. Gilbert was ready to fork over around $30 million for two first-round picks — neither of which is likely to be in the top three in the draft.
The Clippers’ pick only had a 2.8 percent chance of moving up to No. 1 this year. Gilbert wanted that 2.8 percent, wanted it desperately. He wants as many chips on his side of the table as he can find. And his long shot came in: the Clips pick is the one that jumped to No. 1”
I get the feeling that Dan Gilbert took every blown pick and roll rotation personally the last few years. I credit him for having the patience to go through the painful rebuilding process and spend money on seeds instead of fruit. The Mike Brown hiring and the Andrew Bynum gamble are proof that Dan Gilbert is not just an “unprecedented” spender but an outside-the-box owner. How many people (much less billionaires) are cool with re-hiring someone they fired and admitting it was a mistake in the first place? How many NBA franchises were taking chances on long shots like Andrew Bynum? (There were reports the Cavaliers were also interested in Greg Oden) The Cavaliers may be limited in their pursuit of free agents (which makes no sense – Ohio is beautiful from June until October – who cares if it can be miserable during the NBA season – when you’re on the road, or in the gym, or playing…) but they are not limited in creativity or cash. They are building a reputation for doing everything possible to win. For 3 years Chris Grant convinced Dan Gilbert that the best course of action was to blow it up, collect assets, and put the franchise in a position to be competitive down the road. Now the mandate is to win, and if you think it’s crazy how much Gilbert has spent on lottery odds and late round picks, just wait for the next 5 years. I get the feeling the Cavaliers are on the verge of sustained success.