Who Should Run the Cavs? Part I

February 6th, 2014 by Nate Smith


Who’s in charge of the Spurs?

Who’s in charge of the Heat?

Who runs the Celtics?

Who runs the Pacers?

Who saved the Corleone family?

If you’re any kind of NBA fan, you answered Greg Popovich, Pat Riley, Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, and Michael (far left) all within milliseconds of reading the questions. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who’s in charge of those organizations.  Heck, I bet there’s only one owner you can name out of those four teams.  If I asked you two days ago, “Who’s in charge of the Cavs?” who would you have said? Chances are you would have thought about it for a minute, and said, Chris Grant, Mike Brown, or Dan Gilbert.  And therein lies the problem.

No one was quite sure who was running the Cavs.  The Mike Brown hire: was it a Chris Grant or Dan Gilbert move? The Anthony Bennett draft: Chris Grant or Mike Brown? Earl Clark: Mike Brown? Jarrett Jack: Gilbert or Grant? Now that Chris Grant has been fired, there’s little doubt that Dan Gilbert is in charge of the Cavs… for now.

Look, all comic sans kidding aside, I love Dan Gilbert.  The guy has consistently supported down-on-their-luck American cities: Cleveland and Detroit. He articulated the emotions many of us, as loyal fans, were feeling after the LeBrocalypse.  Was it an error in business judgment? Probably. Would I have been any less hot-headed? Probably not. If you look at the statements that Gilbert made yesterday, it’s clear that it pained him to have to fire Chris Grant, an employee and confidant he probably talked to five days a week.  It’s clear that he wants the Cavs to be better, and he believes that the product should be better. Does he have unrealistic expectations?  I don’t think he does.

Like me, and like many of us, Gilbert can deal with the losing. What he does not find acceptable is the lack of effort and the lack of professionalism on the court. The Cavaliers are an organization that has treated their players and their staff extraordinarily well, by NBA standards. Look at what ex-Charge coach, Alex Jensen said of the organization.

“It really is a first-class organization. The owner, Dan Gilbert, makes sure you have everything you need… When I was there, they were obviously going through a rebuilding process. But it’s a great practice facility, great people. It’s only a matter of time before they are really good again — year in and year out.. Whether it was facilities or means, I had everything at my disposal. It was a great situation where you could only blame yourself if you didn’t succeed.”

As an employee, that is all you can ask for: that your boss gives you everything you need to succeed. For Chris Grant and Mike Brown,  I don’t think either of them ever lacked what they needed to succeed, except possibly one thing, autonomy.

That is the problem. As Colin wrote last year we are all amateur documentarians. We have an incomplete view of the inner workings of the Cavs. Save a scathing tell-all, we’ll never know if Anthony Bennett was Chris Grant’s Edsel, if Dan Gilbert insisted on giving $24 million dollars to zombie Jarrett Jack, or if Mike Brown was the one that predicted Earl Clark was going to be even better than New Coke. But we, as fans, need to know where the buck stops. The players need to know it. The coach needs to know it. When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. Insert another cliché about leadership here.

The Cavs need to hire a guy who is the undisputed head of the franchise. They need to hire someone who will chew out Mike Brown when his team doesn’t know how to defend a pick and roll, and who will send Anthony Bennett to the D-League to learn how to play.  They need someone who is not so invested in his own legacy that he can’t trade the players he drafted — someone who understands what a sunk cost is. And dare I say it, they need someone with the gravitas to save Dan Gilbert from himself.

I try not to get on the bad side of billionaires, especially ones who have made it their life’s work to invest in the rust belt. So let me say it again. I love Dan Gilbert… but Dan is too emotional.  Excuse me for a minute while I while delve into the ultimate in clichéd profiles of leadership, The Godfather, but Dan Gilbert has too much Sonny Corleone in him and not enough cold, calculating Michael. He needs a Michael. Heck, Dan is loyal to a fault. He needed someone to tell him that LeBron was going to go Moe Green on him. And when he got hot-headed, Dan needed someone to tell him to write that comic sans letter, and then crumple it up  and burn it the next morning(and to have Tom Hagen on standby to sue Pat Riley for tampering). Dan Gilbert needed someone to tell him that no one else was going to give Mike Brown a contract, and that a five year deal (and not interviewing anyone else) was just bad business. Dan needed someone to put a team option in the fourth (ugh) year of Jarrett Jack’s contract.  Chris Grant clearly wasn’t that guy. (Correction. Jack’s fourth year is only guaranteed for $500K — It’s still a year too long.)

Godfather references aside, the Cavs are Dan Gilbert’s. He can do with them what he wishes. The Cavaliers are his toy boat (worth nine figures). But if he wants the Cavs to be successful, then he should should turn them over to someone who will act as the undisputed boss of this franchise. I just want someone to save Sonny Mr. Gilbert from being metaphorically shot to pieces at the Loop Parkway toll by Daryl Morey and the Dork Elvis mob. But does this Don of Basketball exist, and would a person of this gravity come to run the Cavs? Who should be the GM/VP/Grand Poobah/Godfather of basketball in Cleveland?

Stay tuned for Part II, later today, where we discuss the candidates.