On Delusion

Donald Sterling is unconcerned that the Clippers effectively traded away the rights to Kyrie Irving this past February. He thinks the cap space he cleared by unloading Baron Davis’s contract will be used to sign Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to a max deal next summer. He thinks a young core of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Big Name Free Agent X will rapidly cohere, and L.A.’s other team will vault into championship contention. Sterling’s aspirations are characteristically quixotic. Last summer, he was positive the Clippers could effectively court LeBron James. The rest of the league politely chuckled.

Sterling’s delusion—paired with the fact that he’s, like, an awful human being—is one of the key reasons the Clippers have been one of the least successful franchises in NBA history. He has heckled his own players, brought women into his team’s locker room to ogle his players’ “beautiful black bodies,” and stated that he does not like to rent his properties to African-Americans because they ”smell and attract vermin.” How he believes that anyone with a conscience—let alone a black superstar—would want to play for his organization is a riddle only a syphilitic mind can solve.

Cavaliers fans are not burdened with an owner of horrendous moral fiber, but Dan Gilbert’s volatility has the potential to be destructive. The construction of a championship contender is a lot like building a fire—one cannot set ablaze an entire woodpile by throwing matches at it. It’s a slow process, the type of activity best enjoyed with a glass of Scotch and someone to chat with while the smoke thickens. It can also be boring to the wrong type of person. The 2011-12 season is when the embers stir, and Cavs fans should be able to envision what might be. There will be no playoff push this season, but there should be a palpable future.

It is imperative for Dan Gilbert to understand this. He was justifiably elated when the Cavaliers snagged the number one pick in the NBA Lottery, but one worries he might allow that elation to consume him, skipping past the “new beginning” of which he spoke and forcing roster moves that favor minor, short-term successes. This week, Memphis rejected a trade proposal in which the Cavs offered the number four selection in the 2011 draft and a Rudy Gay-sized chunk of their trade exception in exchange for the Grizzlies’ injured star. Andre Iguodala’s name keeps floating around in unsubstantiated trade rumors; presumably the Cavs would offer or have already offered Philadelphia the same type of deal. These whispers sketch an unsettling picture: I sense Gilbert’s giddy tentacles creeping into the frame and meddling with the Cavaliers’ future.

The prevalence of 27 year-old Andre Iguodala’s name in trade rumors over the past couple seasons is the Sixers’ implicit admission that the Iguodala and Brand Era was a mistake. If the Cavaliers were to add him to their squad, their starting lineup would look something like this: Varejao-Hickson-Iguodala-Gibson-Irving/Davis. The last Iggy-centic team was the 2009-10 Sixers. That squad juggled their starting lineup quite a bit, but the most heavily employed one consisted of Samuel Dalembert, Elton Brand, Thad Young, Iguodala, and Lou Williams. The ’09-’10 Sixers won only 27 games. Iguodala played 39 minutes per game in all 82 games, averaging 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.7 turnovers, and 17.1 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 53.5%. Iguodala made $12 million that year, and he is scheduled to earn another $44 million over the next three seasons. If Oklahoma City has established a viable blueprint for rebuilding in a smaller market—acquire players at or below value, stockpile assets, embrace youth, and don’t be afraid to lose for a few seasons—then Iggy is the opposite of a building block.

The Rudy Gay trade—which we can speak about in hypothetical terms because, by all accounts, it’s not happening—would have presented similar problems. Gay is a better, younger player, but he has four years and roughly $67 million left on his current contract. He is a borderline all-star with the salary of a savior. I want the Cavaliers front office to remain as active as possible. By all means, field all phone calls and consider all offers. Maybe Sam Presti will get drunk while watching tapes of the OKC-Memphis series and offer Westbrook for J.J. Hickson and a first-rounder. But the Iguodala and Gay trade rumors are the fever dreams of a team attempting to accelerate an inaccelerable process.

I wrote earlier this year about how desire is essential to fanhood. This is true, but when desire becomes the driving force behind front office decision-making, it’s poisonous. Dan Gilbert sometimes employs a fan’s desire in areas more suited for an executive’s restraint. Gilbert, like all Cavs fans, is correct in being optimistic about this upcoming season, but that optimism can easily transform to disillusionment if he views this team through the wrong prism. Last year, the Cavaliers were a bad team. This year’s incarnation is going to be younger, better, but probably still bad. Their ceiling is an eight seed and a swift first-round exit. It makes no sense to pay Rudy Gay $14.3 million for the privilege of finishing seventh. There is no player for which the Cavs can trade that will change their fate considerably.

Here’s where we—joyous, friend-hugging optimists on Lottery night—must unhinge ourselves from our delusions. Wanting to win now and being able to win in the future are mutually exclusive if the former dominates the latter. So, I implore you: enjoy the flashes of brilliance, enjoy the sporadic wins, enjoy the weirdness of watching young players get their sea legs. Adjust your appetite, and enjoy the process. The victories will come, perhaps precipitously in the coming seasons, but this offseason is about assessing reality and bending its path in our favor. This offseason is about the tedious first steps of firebuilding. We must do this because the margin for error in the Cavaliers’ rebuilding process is slim. In the future, when we desperately need it, we may have only one match to throw, and it would be a shame to waste it this summer.

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9 Comments on "On Delusion"

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John
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John
2011-05-29 12:24 pm EDT

Sadly, Gilbert is also a terrible human being.

Hardwood Hype
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2011-05-28 6:29 am EDT

Beautifully written and 100% correct in sentiment. Great work, as always.

Keith
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Keith
2011-05-28 6:06 am EDT

Trading for Gay or Iggy doesn’t help us one bit. Great article.

People can write all they want about Gilbert’s money or our TV viewership…those are good things some small market cities don’t have. BUT, we will never be able to get rid of the winters here.

Miami, Dallas, LA, Houston, San Antonio, and Atlanta will always be warmer than Cleveland…then cities like NYC and Chicago trump us in the fun factor NBA pro’s are looking for.

Rebuild through the draft. More picks. More young players with potential.

Robin Beck
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Robin Beck
2011-05-27 7:23 pm EDT
I love what Colin and Pete are saying. Let’s be blunt: we need to lose games for a few seasons. That’s the only way you accumulate the talent needed to be a true contender (especially if you are not a magnet for FA divas — Dwight Howard will never come to Cleveland). The beautiful thing is, our exciting and talented young lottery picks are very unlikely to hurt our chances of getting back to the lottery next year. Only the most historically special young players help their teams win (significantly) right off the bat. In fact, that may have been our problem when we had LeBron: he was too good too fast, and we never had a big enough window to build a core through the draft (of course management squandered the few picks we had), leaving the team constantly scrambling to acquire value for nothing–ultimately coming up with very little. And that makes a win-now trade (i.e. 4th pick for Iguodala) doubly destructive. Not only does it take away the future productivity of that younger player who’s in the trade, but it kills our chance to finish building this core in the coming years, precisely because we’d be acquiring… Read more »
Alex
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Alex
2011-05-27 7:15 pm EDT

If the Cavs plan on drafting Valanciunas, I would definitely expect another lotto pick next year. Big V would probably stay overseas for another year while the Cavs lose and hopefully draft a big time wing scorer in 2012. Beal, Rivers, Lamb, Barnes, Miller, and Gilchrist are all viable options and could fill a big hole on the team.

As long as the front office doesn’t make one of these stupid trades to pick up an overpaid borderline all-star, we will be in good shape for the future.

Dennis
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2011-05-27 7:01 pm EDT

1. The cavs have a hudge TV contract and still sold out the season. They are not a small market Team. Just because the ribe cries about being a small market does not make it true. No we are not New York but we hold our own with every ther city.

2. Dan Gilbert spends money like we are the largest market team. He has never once complained about money and only thanked the fans for their support.

3. Since the Cavs act like a big market team normally win like a big market team then maybee they are a big market team. Wait a second they are the only NBA team in Ohio 20 Million People and the clossed team to Bufflo, Pittsburgh and some of West Virginia. Maybe they are a big market team after all. Look at the facts. I am backing Gilbert’s Managment team whatever they decide to do.

Kevin H
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Kevin H
2011-05-27 5:27 pm EDT
Building through the draft isn’t as easy as the Thunder make it look. It takes a lot of luck. The Thunder had top 5 picks in four straight drafts. They were able to draft one player that was 1st team all NBA by his third season and another that was 2nd team all NBA by his third season. I hope the Cavs are able draft a couple of top – 10 NBA players, but counting on that may be delusional. If Davis and Varejao are healthy all year in 2012, and then Irving and the #4 start developing; top 5 picks could be over for the Cavs. Then it will be even harder. I agree that trading for Iguodala or Gay with the 4th pick is not a good idea. I support using the trade exception and several of the Cavs 15 draft picks over the next 5 years to doing something huge. Trade the 32nd pick in 2011, and the 2012 1st rounder to get iguodala. After Philly has accepted the 2012 1st rounder thinking they’re getting a lottery pick, then the Cavs trade Jamison, Hickson, Sessions, #4 pick, and the Miami picks for Dwight Howard (then Howard signs… Read more »
Matt
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Matt
2011-05-27 3:09 pm EDT

Uh…but Donald Sterling is actually right in this case. Their pick ended up having a 2.8% chance of winning the lottery. Clearing cap space was the right move, especially since the Clippers could have 2 top 10 picks in next year’s draft which many believe will be considerably more talented than this year’s crop. And on the topic of protecting the pick…http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/columns/story?id=6564663

Pete
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Pete
2011-05-27 2:53 pm EDT

I’m looking forward to next season with far more excitement than this past one, but I’ll be damned if I don’t expect us to have a top 10 selection in the 2012 draft. Not only do I expect it, I want it.

As you say, there is no way to make this a quick turnaround. We need to embrace youth for a bit, take some lumps, and grab what talent we can (at good value).

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