Does this make me classless? Nah... I don't care, it made me laugh.
By Steven Schoenwald
Hello Cavaliers fans. Welcome to the emotional abyss known as Cleveland Sports Fandom. Chances are you've visited here many times before, but may have forgotten the sting of unconditional loss. Glad to see you're alive and (relatively) well.
If you're like me, you've 'witnessed' the departure of LeBron James and felt sick to your stomach when you saw him in a Heat jersey sometime over the past few days. You have no desire to see his face or read his name, yet you continue to read as many sports articles as possible in the hope you will see he was tampered with, changed his mind, broke his elbow, or decided to become humble. Chances are you cheered for the Comic-Sans linguistics of Mr. Dan Gilbert (even when misguided national 'experts' deemed it childish), and laughed at every Delonte West - Gloria James slam you saw posted on website forums. If you could stand extended torture from ESPN, you heard Bosh say how easy a decision it was for LeBron to leave Cleveland and you heard Big Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) mention that he would consider playing for the Miami Heat. Why are we willing to put ourselves through this daily torture?
As I mentioned in my previous article, true Cleveland sports fans are willing to sink with the ship, swim to shore, and hope for another chance at a Championship rescue. The city has been teased and tortured so many times, some fans get a twisted thrill out of getting knocked down just so that they can get back up and fight with renewed motivation. Whether fighting, sulking, or moving on, sports fans react according to their level of emotional investment in their teams. This leads to the question, "How is emotional investment calculated, and how can I properly invest to get the most out of my devotion to the city?"
If it wasn't already clear, investing one's emotion in sports is a poor choice. Depending on the sport you choose, you will have approximately 30 teams to compete against, providing each franchise a 3.33% chance of winning a championship. To make matters worse for Cleveland fans, the franchises are all small market teams with either stingy owners or uncircumventable salary caps that favor big name cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Miami. Add in high taxes, cold winters and overall unpredictable weather, and Cleveland has even a smaller chance of winning sports' grand prize because no top top tier free agents are willing to come here. These circumstances don't exactly spell out a recipe for success for winning Championships.
Unfortunately if you're like me, you still want to support your local teams, even of they are not poised for short term success. For teams in the beginning of their rebuilding stages like the Cleveland Indians, the best type of emotional investment to buy into is 'Casual Interest'. This means you have no problem going to a handful of games each season, but you don't go with the intention of seeing your team beat the pants off of the other each game; rather, you go because you enjoy watching the sport and seeing your team of the future slowly take shape. ( Will Travis Hafner rebound? Is Shin-Soo Choo all that? Did we really trade CC Sabathia and get Matt LaPorta in return...? ) Baseball is my favorite sport, yet this is the type of interest I am taking with our Tribe right now. Assuming that this team is a playoff contender is pointless and will only lead to heartbreak that can be much better used supporting better prepared teams. Teams very much like our very own Cleveland Browns.
The Browns are one of those teams that has been rebuilding seemingly forever. Fortunately for us, with some trades, a soft schedule, a new Uber-President in Mike Holmgren, and Joshua Cribbs, the Brownies will be competitive this season and have a very good chance at going 8-8. As a longshot playoff contender, it would be wise to invest some more emotion into this team because the chances of earning a return are much higher than the team's headdress wearing brother. For the sake of discussion, lets call this, 'Heightened Interest'. As long as expectations are considered reasonable, as in, "We have a chance of getting into the playoffs this year," your investment won't take a big hit. Yeah, the Browns may not make the playoffs, but you at least enjoyed the ride getting there. The risky part is getting too excited near the end of the season. If the Browns get into the playoffs, don't go all in with expectations of Super Bowl glory; rather, proceed one game at a time. If they somehow make it to the big dance using a Holmgren / Charlie Weis created Double Wildcat formation with Josh Cribbs and Seneca Wallace, then you can go "All In".
Unfortunately for us Clevelanders, it looks like everyone (including myself) went "All In" with our Cleveland Cavaliers this past season. While I would like to tell you that this wasn't a good emotional investment, I can not. The Cavs had the best regular season record in the NBA, home court advantage through the playoffs, a guy named Shaq for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, Mo Williams for the Boston Celtics, and the league MVP for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. And the Cavs swept the season series with the Lakers. At times when a team is so close to a title that they can taste it, it makes sense to go all in. Unfortunately, either due to a certain player's injury, lack of effort, or collusion, it was not meant to be. With the departure of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, one will wonder how to appropriately invest their emotion into the upcoming Cavaliers season. With plans regarding free agency and trades not firmly in place yet, its difficult to judge how the Cavs will look at the end of this offseason. However, if I had to take a guess on how I will invest my emotion next season, I would without question go with "Heightened Interest" while being on the brink of going "All In".
Chances are many of you are on the brink of removing any credibility you may have thought I had. Please, bear with me. I have a valid reason for my prediction.
Intermission brought to you by flickr.com. Now that's a Fathead!
I consider Dan Gilbert a very intelligent person. With the founding of Quicken (as well as Fathead), he has turned himself into a self made billionaire. He was successful in his campaign to change Ohio's Constitution, allowing him to open up a casino in both Cleveland and Columbus. He is a fan like the rest of us in Cleveland, with the exception that he can actually hire players to make the team better. He does not worry about spending large amounts of money, as he paid over $100 Million on last season's Cavaliers roster. With his intentions to 'win now' clearly laid out in his address to the fans earlier this week, I think he has something up his sleeve. I think Dan Gilbert plans to rebuild like no team has ever tried rebuilding before.
That is rebuilding by not rebuilding at all.
Conventional wisdom suggests that in order to correctly rebuild a team, it needs to be stripped down to its core and replenished with young rising talent to place as cornerstones of the franchise. Veterans are then added to provide a mentoring presence, and role players fill any gaps that remain on the team. Radical rebuilding strategies, such as the ones the New York Knicks and Miami Heat tried, were somewhat innovative in the fact a team went from having one All*Star to having three. This strategy was orchestrated over months, and while creating a titanium reinforced foundation for one team, it kept another team in the dark ages for at least a few more years. There is always a risk when trying something new and unproven. Strategies that deviate from the norm often fail. Teams that try to win off of reworked foundations are almost never successful. Still, I believe the strategy Gilbert is constructing will work because of one unique factor: Money.
With one of Gilbert's new casinos scheduled to open within two years, there is incentive to make the Cavaliers as competitive as possible with the hopes of drawing crowds of people downtown. One could suggest it could be worth it for Gilbert to overspend and potentially lose money on the Cavs in order to draw bigger crowds downtown to his casino. One of Gilbert's biggest assets to the Cavs is that he is willing to spend as much as he is able to get a competitive team on the court. Because of this, I would look for the Cavs to acquire players with large contracts that terminate within two or three years. This would both increase the team's available tax adjusted salary for when the Cavs are able to use their newly acquired draft picks, and also allow the team to remain competitive in the interim. By the time these large contracts are set to expire, Gilbert can trade them for superior talent from teams that are looking to break apart and save money. The Cavaliers in their current state are a better team than their mid-2000s equivalents, which is a testament to the organization's ability to turn expiring contracts into good or even great players.
Of main concern is how this can be achieved with the NBA's rules regarding cap space. This shouldn't be too difficult, seeing as the 2010-2011 free agency period has already been dubbed as the 'Summer of Carmello'. First, the Cavaliers should trade away any large expiring contracts they have for a high end (preferably high salaried) player a team is willing to dump for salary reasons. Though it would be nice to acquire players like Danny Granger, Chris Paul, Jason Richardson, or Stephen Curry, the Cavs should look for players with large contracts that can be had for pennies on the dollar... Specifically Big Al's Contract and (dare I say it?) Agent Zero's Contract. No, I promise you I have not just lost my mind - the Cavs should acquire both Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Gilbert Arenas from the Washington Wizards. While getting Jefferson from the T-Wolves makes a ton of sense (young, talented PF-C who is great on the boards & his offensive game, with a full year of recovery time under his belt from knee surgery), acquiring Arenas seems more than slightly off. I understand the gun toting problems we have already had with Delonte West, but I think it is a calculated risk that should seriously be considered in the NEO-Rebuilding age. Arenas is 28 years old and put up 28.5ppg - 4.6reb - 6ast with 2.3 3ppg his last full season in 2008. His contract is large, ends in 3 years, and can be had for beans; great timing for a team with developing young players. His contract could be traded to a team in need of salary relief allowing the Cavs to acquire an even better player in two years.
It is easy to speculate that Arenas will not be the same player he was in 2008, and that this move would have the Cavs suffer for two years. I respectfully disagree with this notion. Assuming Arenas has any interest in repairing his reputation in order to gain one final long term contract, it would be in his best interest to shape up when playing for a team next season. The new not-so-lenient Mr. Gilbert will make this very clear to Arenas. There is also reason to believe that the players around him will significantly improve. For years now, when a player was brought in to assist LeBron's Cavaliers, his overall numbers would decrease. (Parody Page from '06) This is unusual, because when better talent is brought in, players get better looks and usually perform better. Unfortunately, Mr. James's shot selection was poor, and his frequent dribbling late into the shot clock didn't help the Cavs at all. Take a look at last year's Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Delonte West, Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon, and Anthony Parker all had poorer seasons than in 2008-2009. In contrast, LeBron James's statistics improved to Michael Jordan -esque levels. This is not a coincidence. Seemingly every time LeBron was out during the season, Mo Williams would take over and have a great game. However, when he was playing on the court with LeBron, he looked unsure of himself and passed the ball around. Shaq and Z were both efficient last season when they got the ball, but too often LeBron was dribbling down the shot clock and wasting opportunities for teammates to score and improve. Because of this style of play, it would not surprise to see all of the Cavs' numbers increase. By bringing in Jefferson, the Cavs would have a very talented (though somewhat undersized Center at 6'10") with the Wild Thing coming off the bench. JJ Hickson would be allowed to start at Power Forward and continue to develop, allowing him to have his best statistical season to date. Leon Powe should provide a very useful backup if given the chance to play. Filling in at Small Forward would be Antawn Jamison. This may seem like odd position placement at first, until you consider two things; the Cavs would have a plethora of talented PF with long contracts. 'Twan can create his own shot and shoot the midrange jumper, spreading the court out for his teammates. He would not need to drive to the basket like LeBron, which can actually help the C and PF perform better. Also, having played with the team for a few months should help him readjust to the player he was before the Cleveland trade. Mo Williams, not a true PG but forced to play there due to lack of depth, can finally return to his tailored position at Shooting Guard. I expect Williams will have the most improvement over any of the Cavaliers regardless of who is added; if he is able to play his own game, seeing 21ppg with 7ast is a legitimate possibility. Finally, Gilbert Arenas would be able to play his usual position at Point Guard backed up by Boobie Gibson. A motivated Arenas could potentially fill the void of LeBron is he exhibits his talent and keeps his head on straight. If he ends up faltering, his large contract would still provide valuable support in acquiring better talent along the road.
This NEO-Rebuilding process Gilbert appears to be conceiving looks to be expensive, but surprisingly not very risky. Jefferson, Arenas, and Jason Richardson can all be had on the cheap and can be traded in a year or two (with Jamison if need be) for top end talent. With the salary cap completely blown out of the water, Gilbert could theoretically afford to trade for multiple top tier free agents while still having a strong set of players around those stars. Gaps in the roster can be filled in with his newly acquired draft picks (if they had not already been traded) or by using the mid-level & bi-annual exceptions whenever they are available. If Gilbert is truly serious about the Cavs winning a championship before the self proclaimed 'King', then this is the path he must take. A team with the core mentioned above would surprise all the national pundits and keep us on the edge of our seat.
And that is exactly what Mr. Gilbert wants.
via WOIO Channel 19, Cleveland
Since Dan Gilbert has made it known he is willing to spend as much as he needs to in order to get a championship, would you support the style of NEO-Rebuilding mentioned in the article?
Yes! This would allow the team to remain competative while also allowing for the team to trade for better players in the future. (177 votes)
I'm not sure. The idea sounds good but I'd like the team to sell it to me at a press conference. (35 votes)
No. Cleveland has waited this long for a Championship, we can wait a few years to rebuild the traditional way. (30 votes)
242 total votes