Mike BrownCavaliers Extend Head Coach’s Contract

Mike Brown doubters, get used to him. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The Cavaliers announced today that they have extended his contract through the 2010-2011 season.

GM Danny Ferry said in a statement,

“Mike Brown brings his high character, work ethic and talent as a coach with him to work every single day. He has been, and will continue to be, important to our continued growth as a basketball team as we work towards a championship. Dan Gilbert saw this in Mike Brown on his 1st job interview two and half years ago and it is evident today more than ever.

While the stats show that Mike has been the most successful head coach in Cavaliers history, it is his great leadership and his un-flinching focus on our core values and identity that continue to make him the right guy for the job.”

No further details about the extension were released.

I don’t know what it is about Cleveland, but all the sports teams seem to be in such a hurry to sign their mediocre coaches to extensions. Lets be honest here, does anyone really think Mike Brown is the reason this franchise has experienced the level of success it has in the past 2+ years? Or does it maybe, just maybe, have a lot more to do with a certain LeBron James?

Just as with Eric Wedge and the Indians, RAC and the Browns, and now Mike Brown with the Cavaliers, the Cleveland sports franchises are consistently winning in spite of some seriously questionable decisions on the part of their coaches. In no way am I saying that Mike Brown should have been on the hot seat…..he shouldn’t be. LeBron seems to be ok with the guy, and that’s really the most important thing. But why the rush? Why not take some time and make sure that these guys are really the guys who can lead the Cleveland sports franchises into a Championship era.

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Fortune Magazine Cover LeBron JamesFrom Fortune Slams To Varejao Quotes

While LeBron is still sitting out with a sprained finger, those of us going through LBJ withdrawal can get our fix by checking out the latest issue of Fortune Magazine. The article is a fascinating read, as it discusses LeBron, Inc CEO Maverick Carter, Warren Buffett, and Nike, amongst other aspects of the LeBron Empire.

The one disturbing aspect of the story, though, is the repeated slams of the city of Cleveland. We’ve become somewhat numb to the major media bashing of both the city and the organization, as they all seem to be in collusion together in an attempt to convince LeBron to get out of Cleveland ASAP. This was amongst the harshest criticisms I’ve read yet, though.

“Ultimately, LRMR’s future does not rely on research but on James’s winning an NBA championship, and in Cleveland’s current lineup he is getting little support. This is an issue, because the success of the Cavaliers – who at presstime were playing .500 ball in the early season – will dictate the success of LRMR. For better or worse, James is locked into playing for Cleveland until 2010 at least, based on a contract extension he signed in 2006.

Ohio may be home, but it is not a major media market. And there has been speculation within the league of his moving to New York or Los Angeles when his contract is up.”

Again, this isn’t anything we haven’t heard/read before, but after a while it starts to get old. I don’t know what LeBron’s going to do in 2010. I don’t think he has to leave Cleveland. He’s already the 3rd highest endorsed athlete, almost $10 million higher than the next closest NBA player, Kobe Bryant. I also think LeBron would be perfectly happy to stay in Cleveland, but he’s not going to do so out of charity. If Danny Ferry can build a successful team around LeBron in the next couple years, there will at least be a chance of LeBron sticking around.

Looking around the web, a lot is being said about Anderson Varejao now that he will be rejoining the Cavaliers. SI.com has already spoken with Varejao. For his part, Varejao is trying to take the higher road now (not that he has a lot of choice….he’s going back to Cleveland whether he really wants to or not),

“It’s good. I’m happy. I’m going to be back playing basketball. I am grateful to the Bobcats for signing me to the deal I wanted, but the rules … I was restricted. … But I’m happy to be in Cleveland.”

Andy also talked about his teammates, saying:

“They all know me and they love me. I love them. We have no problems. They understand me and the situation, and they know what was going on. I spoke with Sasha and Z. They are happy. They welcomed me back and said, ‘We’ll see you in a couple days.’ ”

Finally, he addressed his comments last week about now wanting to come back to Cleveland,

“I love the fans in Cleveland. I just was sad and upset with everything. It was negotiations. I’m looking forward to being back there and playing like always.”

The Sporting News has some quotes from Mike Brown, Danny Ferry, and Drew Gooden,

“”His size, his athleticism, his strength, his knowledge, all that stuff — yes, it’s an added bonus,” coach Mike Brown said before Cleveland’s game at the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

“We’re looking forward to getting him in Cleveland and getting him back on the basketball court,” Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said. “He’s a player we respect and admire and he’ll help us become a better basketball team.”

“I’m happy to have him back, especially now, when we are down guys,” forward Drew Gooden said. “He will be helpful for us.””

An awful lot has been written about Varejao’s holdout. The Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto asks what the point of the holdout was,

“What were the agendas?

1. His agent is Dan Fagen, who sees himself as the NBA’s Scott Boras. He hates restricted free agency and wants to challenge it. You can do that with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, impact players. But if you sit out a defensive specialist with marginal offensive skills, the league will be content to let your guy sit. Fagen picked the wrong guy to make his point.

2. Varejao is like most of us. We always see the people producing less and being paid more than us, and he focused on that. But it skewed his view of reality.

3. The Cavs were not about to pay this guy like an All-Star at nearly $10 million a year, nor did they want him to walk away after one season.

So where does that leave us?

1. The Cavs need a big guy, and Varejao is back.

2. The Cavs will be a better team because Varejao is effective, especially playing with James — and his contract is extremely reasonable.

3. Varejao will be happy to be playing again, but he has to be asking himself, “Was all this worth it?” Sure doesn’t seem like it.”

Joel Hammond at Crain’s Cleveland writes that the Cavaliers were the real winners,

“Ferry had the eyes of the world on him in this negotiation, and comes out smelling rosy. In Varejao, at that price, he gets a) a player who can help the depleted Cavs compete this year, at a manageable price, and b) a deal that offers the ultimate flexibility. The Cavs, don’t forget, have draft picks again, and can stockpile young, energetic forwards for when they either trade Varejao’s expiring contract next year or lose him in free agency after the 2008-2009 season.”

John Ludden at Yahoo! Sports doesn’t mince words in strongly making his case for the Cavaliers as the side which came out on top,

“By staring down Varejao’s stubborn agent, Dan Fegan, Cavs GM Danny Ferry struck a blow for front office officials everywhere. Ferry didn’t just beat one of the league’s toughest negotiators — “Danny Ferry cleaned (Fegan’s) clock,” said one giddy rival agent — he prevented Fegan from setting a precedent for other prospective holdout candidates.”

Tom Ziller at FanHouse, though, isn’t so sure that Fegan won’t be the one with the last laugh,

“The reported deal is for the mid-level for three years; the third year, however, is a player option. I’d say it’s a brilliant ploy by Varejao’s agent Dan Fegan — the Andy camp wanted either huge money or a very short flyer which would get dude to unrestricted free agency ASAP. However, I’m not yet willing to concede this is the best Fegan could get; that call will be made in two years when Varejao (assumedly) does hit the market.”

Blogging for Yahoo! Sports, Kelly Dwyer says that while Fegan didn’t get his way, this was all a whole lot to do about nothing,

“The big man’s agent, Steely Dan Fegan, is notorious for getting great money for players who rarely deserve it, and, until last summer, he’d boasted a nearly perfect record of forcing teams to overshoot for his clients. This time around, Fegan more or less crapped out; and his NFL-style holdout experiment didn’t exactly produce the results he expected. Varejao signed with the Bobcats for around $5.5 million per year, only two years guaranteed (AV, likely flush with Fegan in his ear, will opt-out in 2009), and the Cavaliers will spend a week exploring trade options before matching the offer for the restricted free agent.

This is where I come in: Varejao isn’t really worth our time. He’s a solid big man who can walk and chew gum at the same time, which is good to have and worth the money he’s going to make, but that’s about it. Limited offensively, not a killer defensively, and he’s going to have a hard go of things now that the NBA is locking down on flopping and needless charge calls. Even worse, look who he resembles most in terms of sheer production:

AV, per 40 minutes of game action, age 24: 11.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks.

Scott Williams, per 40 minutes, age 24: 12.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks.

We’ve seen this dance before.”

Stan McNeal, in a blog for the Sporting News, says don’t look to Varejao for financial advice,

“The one perk in this deal for Varejao is that he will be able to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent after next season. So you can give him credit for being confident in his earning power. Just don’t look to him for advice on how to win a holdout.”

Meanwhile, while everyone is getting fired up one way or the other over the Varejao contract, the Cavaliers were on the court attempting to play basketball tonight. I suppose there’s good reason why everyone’s so easily distracted lately. The Cavs lost 105-86 to the Wizards tonight and are now 0-4 without LeBron. At least Drew Gooden is bothered by this,

“Being the caliber of team we are, even having this many injuries, losing this many games in a row is unacceptable.”

I don’t exactly know what kind of caliber this team is without LeBron, but I’m much more interested in what caliber this team is with LeBron healthy and AV back in the lineup. Hopefully by next week we can start finding out.

OMG I’m AwesomeAnderson Varejao Trying To Make Waves

This thing is officially a mess. With negotiations evidently going nowhere in the Anderson Varejao holdout, evidently AV has decided that the only thing left to do is to throw anyone and everyone under the bus by talking to the media and not holding back.

Lets start at the beginning. Anderson Varejao entered this offseason as a restricted free agent. He asked for a deal in the range of 6 years, $60 million. The Cavaliers, predictably, scoffed at this number, and basically told Varejao to go ahead and find someone to give him that kind of deal. The Cavaliers held all the cards, as they could match any offer anyone else made. After a lot of talk by Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan about several teams showing interest in giving Varejao the money he wanted, the only team that even considered signing Varejao was Memphis, who eventually decided to just sign Darko Milicic. This left Varejao all by himself, with an inflated sense of self worth and no suitors.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers did absolutely nothing. They brought in no plan B’s to replace Varejao. Danny Ferry just sat on his hands, and decided to keep holding all the cards. But not before making one major miscalculation. Ferry went down to Brazil and knocked on Varejao’s front door unannounced and unbeknownst to Fegan. He came with contract in hand and tried to talk Varejao into signing. The stunt was not illegal, but certainly taboo. Varejao was angered by the move, and basically told Ferry to leave and to call his agent.

Which brings us to today, with 2 sides who are angry, frustrated, and distrusting of the other side. All of this finally boiled over this week, as Varejao finally spoke out to the English speaking press. As Bob Finnan reported, as Varejao spoke, the Cavaliers began looking for other options. Finnan wrote,

“The Cavs have begun to aggressively pursue sign-and-trade deals involving the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder from Brazil, but a league source said they aren’t going to take back inferior players just so Varejao can be overpaid.”

The problem with this, however, is that it’s too little too late. Sign and trade deals are just too tough to pull off this late in the season. Brian Windhorst touched on this in his blog this week, saying:

“As for a sign-and-trade now, who is fooling whom? The summer is for sign-and-trades, the summer is for doing contracts. You don’t think Fegan has been working on sign-and-trades since July? Of course he has and there is no deal to make. There one coming now just like there wasn’t then. See, so much of this is common NBA sense, which is why so much of this is nonsense.”

And often, nonsense breeds nonsense, and that’s what happened when Varejao spoke. In an interview with ESPN’s Chad Ford, AV absolutely ripped into the Cavaliers organization, from top to bottom, including teammates. From Ford’s interview:

“I wanted to come back. I love the fans and I really love my teammates. But there are others there that have made it very difficult. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t want to play there anymore. I’m just hoping for a sign-and-trade at this point.”

Several other teams told ESPN.com they would have offered Varejao their full midlevel exception (starting at $5.356 million per season), but Varejao has not been willing to sign for that amount because he believes (a) the Cavs would match, and (b) he’s worth more.

The Cavs’ popular forward wants considerably more than the team is offering. He turned down the Cavs’ one-year, $1.2 million tender offer. (To retain a restricted free agent, a team must make a tender offer.) He also refused Cleveland’s opening offer of five years, $20 million, and then its latest offer of five years, $32 million, with a starting salary slightly below the midlevel exception.

But Varejao said media reports that he’s asking for a contract averaging $10-11 million a season “just aren’t true. There are a lot of things being written that are wrong. I know they aren’t talking to me or my agent.”

Varejao says that the Cavs’ players support him, and that his conversations with James have been positive.

“He just says, ‘We love you and we’re waiting,'” Varejao said. “He keeps telling me he wants me back but to get the best deal I can and to take care of my family. He’s a great teammate. He always supports us on and off the court.”

That sentiment was confirmed by a source close to James, who said, “LeBron wants Andy back. He wants him to get a fair deal. I think his frustration isn’t with Andy, it’s with the fact that for the past two years, he’s been waiting for more help and he hasn’t gotten it. This is just a step in the wrong direction.”

If Varejao leaves, it will be a bitter ending for both parties. But at this point, that might be the most workable option.

“I’m willing to go and play in Europe if that’s what it takes,” Varejao said. “I know it’s a risk and I’ll be a restricted free agent next year, but at least I’d be happy. I don’t think I’ll be happy in Cleveland knowing that I was [almost] the lowest-paid player there for three years and am still paid much less than players on the team that I outperform. Life’s too short to be unhappy.”

That last paragraph is the one that really caught people’s attention and turned a lot of people against Varejao. The fact of the matter is, as long as there is no team willing to pay him the near $10 million he wants, and as long as no team is willing to give up pieces to overpay for AV themselves, this thing is likely going nowhere. As Adrian Wojnarowski wrote for Yahoo! Sports,

“Varejao had been asking for $60 million, an irrational request out of a player whom James made look much better than is. Privately, Varejao keeps telling James that he still wants to play for the Cavaliers. Yet, Monday, Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan, apparently set him up with a writer to say he wants a sign-and-trade out of Cleveland. He’s rejecting the reported $32 million that Cleveland has offered him, and he thinks there are bigger riches on the market for him.

Maybe there’s a few more dollars, but not much more. Fegan has his client talking tough and he’s committing career suicide. He’ll never have it as good as chasing championships next to James for years and years. Varejao is letting Fegan use him to get his reputation back after the Yi Jianlian draft debacle, and that’s a shame. To hear Varejao insist he wants out is troubling to James. As much as anything, LeBron seems offended that a teammate would no longer want to play with him.

“If he’s got a problem with the front office, then he’s young enough where he can go somewhere else,” James said.

Asked if he was resigned to going the season without Varejao, James responded, “It doesn’t look like I’m playing basketball thinking about Andy coming back, does it?”

And don’t be fooled. LeBron isn’t the only member of the Cavaliers who was angered and shocked by Varejao’s comments.

“There was already a little uneasiness with Varejao, because he seemed to be betting on the Cavs getting off to a poor start to drive up his value. That’s a bit of a gray area. But the quote on ESPN.com, in which he belittled some of his teammates’ performances, wasn’t. The statement irked some Cavs, many of whom already have been scratching their heads over the process.

”I think it rubbed some of us the wrong way. One of the things you don’t do in this league is compare your situation to someone else because everybody is different,” one Cavs player said. ”I almost don’t believe he said it because earlier in the article he says he loves his teammates.”

The bottom line in this matter is that there are certain things that just aren’t tolerated in team sports. In the same way teammates do not publicly question holdouts and contract disputes involving other teammates, so too are they expected not to lash out at those still playing when one is holding out. AV broke major protocol when he diminshed the performance of his teammates in an attempt to make himself look better.

But is AV solely to blame? Perhaps not. There are many who are questioning how much of this is AV and how much is Dan Fegan. Brian Windhorst, for one, laughs at the notion that AV never asked for $60 million,

“By the way, Varejao trying to indict the Cleveland media saying he never asked for a contract averaging $10-$11 million a year is rich. One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that Fegan asked for six years and more than $60 million a few days before training camp. Executives all over the league have been taking to each other and to media members about that figure. It’s not even inside information anymore, everybody knows it. Maybe that is not what they are asking for now, but they asked for it then.”

The truly fascinating thing about this is how polarizing of a figure Fegan really has become. His mere involvement seems to indicate that this is going to drag on for a very long time. Amongst his detractors are former clients and peers alike. From Branson Wright’s article in the Plain Dealer today,

“Former Cavs guard Ricky Davis said he is positive Fegan is behind this stalemate. Fegan was Davis’ agent for two years.

“He doesn’t need to be an agent,” said Davis, about Fegan. “He does dirty stuff, under-the-table things. [Varejao] needs to change agents immediately if he wants to get this thing done.”

Fellow agents seem to share a similar viewpoint of Fegan:

“He’s a crazy guy,” said one agent, who did not want to be identified. “He’s known for picking up guys in their contract years, and that’s taboo in our industry. He did that with so many players, including Varejao. He’s not well-liked among other agents. . . . His biggest problem is that he doesn’t care about relationships. It can’t always be about the money.”

But is it really just about the money? There seems to be more at stake here, as this unprecedented restricted free agent hold out situation is being closely watched, as the outcome has ramifications for everyone involved.

“Another agent, who also didn’t want to be identified, said there’s a bigger issue on the table.

“Fegan’s whole reputation is based on what happens with Varejao,” said the rival agent. “Fegan’s trying to show how tough of an agent he is. Every agent, every GM and every player is watching to see how this works out. If the Cavs budge, Fegan will sign a hundred clients.”

That’s the flip side. Fegan is respected for his tough negotiation tactics, and many agents admire him. Those same agents also want to see if this holdout by Varejao transpires into dividends.

“If this works, we’ll all have our players hold out,” said the agent. “It’ll change the face of negotiations in the NBA. So what’s going on between the Cavs and Fegan is very important because if it works out for Fegan, this will change the whole game. But if he fails, he’ll look like an idiot.”

Which makes this whole thing seem to be more than just “nonsense”, but also transparent. This isn’t about what Anderson Varejao is truly worth. This isn’t about doing what’s best for a client. This isn’t about basketball as a sport. This is about pride, ego, and pure business. This is about manipulation of the system. This is about outsmarting. Which is really why Varejao would have been better served to have just stayed out of it. He’s obviously frustrated, but it seems a bit of that frustration is misguided. Not that he’s not entitled to be angry and frustrated with the Cavaliers, but he has to see that some of that should be pointed at his agent as well. Dan Fegan isn’t doing this for Anderson Varejao, he’s doing this for Dan Fegan. It’s just unfortunate that it was Varejao who got caught in the middle and who stands to lose the most, including the respect and trust of his teammates.

Andy VarejaoTalkin’ Contracts

As I’m sitting here watching the Cavaliers take on the Golden State Warriors tonight, I decided now would be a good time to talk about a few issues I’ve been meaning to get to lately but have been unable to due to a busy work schedule in the past week. The first thing I wanted to discuss was the Cavs’ obvious two biggest topics lately, the Sasha Pavlovic singing and the Anderson Varejao holdout.

First off, I said I’d discuss my thoughts on Sasha’s signing once we knew the final numbers on his new contract. His new contract is as follows: The first 2 years are guaranteed, with Sasha bringing in $4.2 million in year 1 and $4.5 million in year 2.  The third season totals $4.95 million, but only $1.5 million of that is guaranteed. So in total, the contract is worth $13.65 million over 3 years, with only $10.2 million of that being guaranteed. So in total, the contract is closer to $4 million per year than $5 million per year. By no means is this a light contract. $4 million per year to a player of unknown potential is perhaps a bit much, but obviously it could have been worth a lot more. There’s been a lot of discussion as to which side blinked on this issue. I found it to be particularly interesting that even the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Cavs writers seemed to have pretty different takes as to which side won this battle. Patrick McManamon thinks the Cavaliers got the upper hand, writing:

“One day before the Cavaliers’ season starts, Sasha Pavlovic joined the fold.

In reality, what he did was fold.

Like an old pair of underwear.

The day before the opener, Pavlovic blinked, and agreed to a contract that will pay him between $4 million and $5 million per year.

It’s a good deal, and better than the one-year qualifying offer Pavlovic could have signed, but it’s also a deal he and his agent and the Cavs could have agreed to a month ago. All Pavlovic missed was a month of learning a new offense.”

Brian Windhorst seemed to have a bit of a different take, saying:

“The accord was the product of intense talks over the weekend as the Cavs pressed to get a deal done. The team is also believed to have intensified talks with their remaining restricted free agent, Anderson Varejao.”

So which side truly blinked first? Well, to be honest, I think this was a deal born out of mutual neccesity. The deal allowed Sasha Pavlovic and his agent to save some face, by being able to say they made the unprecedented move of turning down a qualifying offer and holding out as a restricted free agent. This was neccesary for them because, frankly, they had absolutely no leverage in the negotiations. For the Cavaliers, this was nexxesary because they needed to get Sasha on the court. Regardless of how good of a player Pavs really is, he certainly makes this team better than they are without him. In the end, the truth is, neither side so much blinked, but rather was finally willing to concede enough to get the deal done. As Windhorst wrote,

“According to insiders, the Cavs were willing to increase what they were offering Pavlovic in the first two years of the deal, but the third year of the pact is not fully guaranteed, which gave the Cavs the flexibility they were seeking in the talks with both Pavlovic and Varejao. Because of those terms, both sides were able to claim a victory after they’d been entrenched.”

So if I had to name a victor, I would actually say it’s probably more Pavs than Cavs. Pavlovic held out as a restricted free agent, and was able to get more money out of the Cavs than the qualifying offer that was tendered. Once again, Cavaliers general manager essentially was bidding against himself. He held all the cards and all the leverage, and he gave in a bit. The hope now is that Sasha can get back into the starting lineup and kick start this team similar to the way he did last year when he moved into a starting role. Pavs got the start tonight, as Larry Hughes is out with an injury. Otherwise, as I’ve said all along, the better route in my opinion would be to throw away this season and cut off the dead weight (including Pavs if need be) and keep clearing cap space to make a real splash in the free agent market over the next two summers.

What To Do With Mr Varejao

The second topic I wanted to discuss is what the Cavaliers should do about the Anderson Varejao holdout. According to SI.com today, Varejao is starting to make some concessions, being willing now to accept a 1 year deal for the mid-level amount of $5 million. Thanfully, it appears that Danny Ferry is not biting. What would be the Cavaliers’ incentive in accepting this? Other than the simple end goal of getting AV on the team ASAP, there’s no reason to give in to this. First of all, it allows AV to become unrestricted after this season. Second of all, is AV really worth $5 million this season? That’s the tricky question. Henry Abbott posted some information on some different metrics that are being utilized to gauge AV’s real worth, other than the standard box score methods everyone’s familiar with. Abott writes,

“But of course everyone knows that assessment is lacking. It’s lacking passing. It’s lacking defense. It’s lacking how well the guy sets a pick, or how many loose balls he collects. It’s lacking field goal percentage, decision making, shot blocking, closing out the shooter, fouling, turnovers, and a million other things. In fact, it’s only measuring some of the things things a player does within a second or two of some of the times someone shoots. The rest of the time the clock is ticking — points and rebounds measure nothing.

Can all that other stuff add up to be more important than points and rebounds? All those statistical experts are finding that, increasingly, the answer is yes.”

Henry’s not the only one who feels that Varejao offers more for the Cavaliers than most people realize. In his ESPN.com chat last week, Chad Ford said,

Chris (Broadview Heights, OH): Is there a sign-and-trade market out there for Anderson Varajoe at this point? However, I don’t think any team is dumb enough to give him 9-10 million a year.

SportsNation Chad Ford: You’d be surprised. Varejao is so important to the team on the defensive end — things that don’t show up in box scores. He’s big, he’s young, he’s athletic, and unlike so many other big men, he’s filled with energy. How many guys are there in the NBA like that? I think Memphis would’ve given him that if he wasn’t a restricted free agent. If Cleveland doesn’t want to pay him what he wants … that’s fine. It is a lot of money for a guy like that. However, to sit and do nothing makes no sense to me. If he wants that much and you don’t want to pay it, let his agent find a team that does (I’ve heard Fegan has several) and work out a sign-and-trade that brings back players you want. From what I’ve heard from a number of people, this is as much a Danny Ferry problem as it is a Dan Fegan/Anderson Varejao problem. The pride that’s getting in the way of making a great team goes both ways and with LeBron getting angrier and angrier, I don’t think it’s smart. Sometimes you pay a little more for a guy because he’s a great fit on your team. I think there’s no question that after LeBron, the most valuable young player on the team is Varejao.

A little later in the chat, Chad went even further:

Andrew: (New York, NY): Chad, With the way Cleveland’s front office has not helped LeBron’s team improve his chances of winning a title based on they’re handling of Varejao, is Cleveland endangering themselves of a potential Kobe Bryant-like fallout with King James in a few years before his 3-year deal expires?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I want to get back to this point with the Cavs. I think there are already signs that something is brewing. Now the truth is LeBron’s locked into a three year deal. He doesn’t have great leverage. But Danny Ferry’s track record hasn’t been great. He overpaid Larry Hughes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall. He gave Zydrunas Ilguaskas too many years. The team is capped out and on the verge of the luxury tax which has tied Ferry’s hands. And he’s not a great people person which I’m told has alienated some players in the organization. That sounds a lot like the Lakers … or the Timberwolves for that matter. With the LeBron the Cavs will always be pretty darn good. But good enough? I think they ‘ll take a step backward this year. 

Those are some pretty major points to take into consideration. Some people will say that this is precisely why the Cavaliers should just give AV the 1 year mid-level deal he wants and use his Bird Rights next year to sign him to a longer deal when he’s an unrestricted free agent next yeat. I disagree with this logic. I think AV’s value is precisely why the Cavaliers should stand firm and make AV sign a long term deal at an amount the Cavs want to offer. I know you don’t want to alienate the guy and make him unhappy to be playing for the team, but at the end of the day, Danny Derry isn’t in the business of making sure not to hurt feelings. The fact is, the Cavs hold all the power, and if AV wants to play in the NBA again, he better start thinking about sitting down with the Cavs and coming back to earth a bit. He’s not going to get $9-$10 million per year. He needs to realize this. But a 3-4 year deal at around $5-$6 million per year (4th year being team option) seems to be more than a fair deal for both sides, considering where the leverage in this deal lies.

And Larry Hughes?

Finally, one last funny thing to note. Gilbert Arenas has some advice for the Cavaliers on how to improve Larry Hughes’ production,

“I know Mike Brown came in and tweaked the defense and stuff like that, but if you want to utilize what Larry Hughes is, you need to open the floor and let them run more. With that team, your defense isn’t going to go anywhere. But you want to bring the tempo up. You keep hearing his name in trade rumors and fans going, “We want him out of here, he doesn’t fit the system.” Well, sometimes you have to change the system for your players. I know a lot of coaches say the players need to fit their systems, but sometimes you have to tweak the system a little too. It’s a 50-50 thing.”

Hmm, thanks for the advice Gilbert. He brags in the same post about how he made Larry Hughes such a better player. Well, maybe Gilbert would like to come play for Cleveland next year and show us how it’s done (making Larry Hughes good). Until then, perhaps Gilbert should stick to worrying about Washington’s pathetic start to the season. The only 3 people in the NBA who think Larry Hughes is a good player seem to be Danny Ferry, Gilbert Arenas, and Larry himself, although lately, even Larry looks like he’s doubting how good of a basketball player he really is.

LeBronThe Sky Is Not Falling…

…Or is it? It’s hard to imagine how a season could get off to a worse start. Remember that stellar defense that carried the team through the playoffs last season? That was gone. Remember that new offense we’ve been hearing about all off season? That didn’t show up. Remember that insane shooting performance LeBron showed off in international play this summer? That was missing. In LeBron’s new Nike commercial, he says at the end, “You don’t wanna be me, you wanna be better than me.” Well, this team is gonna need LeBron to be better than himself, too. His line last night? 2-11 from the field, 6 of 10 from the line, for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls.

It’s so unfair of us all to place such a burden solely on LeBron’s shoulders. It’s not like anyone else played particularly well last night. But that’s the point….we don’t expect anyone else to play well on this team. Let’s face it, this roster is weak. That’s why we need LeBron to do more than is fair of us to expect from him. And perhaps the blame for this “unfairness” falls squarely on Danny Ferry’s shoulders. There’s no denying the disservice the Cavaliers front office has done to LeBron. Bloated contracts for overaged and underperforming veterans and a lack of any real draft savvy has set this franchise back. Brian Windhorst talks in his latest blog entry about the way this team got to this point, where the team looks so unbelievably distant from each other,

“The natural progression of things has changed and the Cavs family is now feuding as they deal with the transition. Young players are holding out because they want their money now. Veteran players being eased aside are angry about playing time, some wanting more, some wanting to be traded. Mike Brown’s attempts at teaching offense have been bumpy to say the least. The front office is keeping a closer eye on the future than the present.

All of this is combining and has been since the Cavs season ended last June. It was a storm on the horizon. It is the undercurrent of why the Cavs are playing sick since the start of training camp, because they are sick. It shows in they way they conduct themselves, it shows in what they say to the media and to their family members about the team, it shows in the effort and focus level they are putting out on the floor for the last month.”

And that reflects an ugly truth that we have to accept. For this team to get better in the future, and I mean really better, not stop-gap better, it’s entirely possible that we have to go backwards this season. Nobody wants to think this way, especially with a player like LeBron on the roster, but it may be true. There were a lot of risky options for Ferry this summer. He could have overpaid another aging player (Allan Houston, Juwan Howard, etc) just to give the appearance that the team is getting better, but would that have really helped? How is that significantly better than the signings of Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones and Eric Snow, or the Ilgauskas extension? I would make the point that the best way to get better is to sit back and get these ridiculous contracts off the books. In the Plain Dealer today, Bill Livingston writes,

“A long West Coast trip follows Friday night’s game at The Q against New York. Unless the Cavs win that one, is management prepared for an oh-fer of what might become Stepienesque proportions to begin the season after The Finals?

If that happens, will Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry stay the course on Anderson Varejao, the last holdout? Or will they compromise the future in regard to the salary cap to try to salvage a season that could be badly damaged at that point?”

To me, we are facing a worst case scenario here. If the Cavliers overreact and actually give Andy Vaerjao and his career 5.6 ppg and 5.7 rpg the apporximately $10 million per year he’s reportedly asking for in some phantom attempt to salvage what could be a rough season anyway, then we can kiss the future of this franchise goodbye. If Ferry can sign Varejao for a number closer to $6-$7 million per year, than so be it. If not, let him go. It’s time to rebuild this team in the next 2 off seasons. Clear the roster of the likes of Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Eric Snow, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The amount of cap space those contracts would free up will go a long ways toward restocking the franchise around fresh younger players who can actually make something happen on the court. The 2008 unrestricted free agent class could have names like Jermaine O’Neal, Gilbert Arenas, and Shawn Marion in it. If the Ferry can free up some space by moving some of these expiring contracts, it’s not unreasonable to think that the Cavaliers might be able to land a real player next off season. And that’s why it is imperative that this team not overreact to a rough start to this season. Is LeBron really going to want to re-sign with this team when 3 years from now they’re still try to put together a mismatched roster of overpriced veterans? I just don’t see it.

For his part, though, LeBron says he will not let this team fail. As posted in Windhorst’s blog,

“LeBron James, who has a good of a feel as anyone, has said two things of interest to me in the last week. One is “If we don’t get this fixed, we’re going to keep getting blown out.” He’s right about that one. And “‘I’m not going to allow our team not to play well. I won’t let those guys not work hard in practice or not work hard in games.” That one is going to be an extreme test of his powers based on what is going on right now.”

And that’s all we should really expect of this team. At the end of the day, this team will only go as far as LeBron takes it. I still stand by my prediction that if LeBron plays like he’s capable of, then even without Varejao there’s no reason this team can’t win 45-48 games. As John Hollinger said this week in his chat,

Jason (Northfield): John, The Cavs added future hall of famers Devin Brown and Cedric Simmons (note heavy sarcasm), and are currently without the services of Pavlovic and Varejao. Do they have any hopes of being anything better than a 5 seed in the east?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Of course they do. But LeBron will have to play out of his mind to do it. He’s more than capable — if he hits jumpers the way he did this summer, they’ll win 50 no matter who else is on the floor.

There are plenty of people who think this team won’t even make the playoffs, such as Bill Simmons. And there’s a chance they’re right. But I can tell you one thing I won’t do, and that’s bet against LeBron. No matter how bad this roster may be, I feel that we can afford to ride it out, let LeBron lead us as far he can, and then in the next couple of summers go out and build a real team around him. The sky doesn’t have to be falling, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Cavs PumpkinFriday Night Tidbits

So, I’m sitting here on a slow Friday night at home, watching the Cavaliers take on the Celtics in preseason basketball. You know it’s a slow Friday in all ways when you’re watching preseason anything let alone basketball. So I decided I’d take a few minutes and give my thoughts on a few Cavaliers articles I’ve had lying around that I’ve been meaning to comment on.

Look, I was so focused on the great Indians season and playoff run, and now I’m drawn into the heart of the Browns season. I’m not left with much to say about the Cavaliers yet. Normally the Browns are 1-5 or 2-4 at this point and so I’m usually just ready for some meaningful Cleveland sports and thus I’m anxious and excited for the NBA season to start. Well, this year’s Browns team is actually fun to watch….they actually look like a real NFL offense, and as a result, I’ve somewhat neglected the Cavs with the exception of a few LeBron posts because, well, it’s always fun to discuss LeBron. But anyway, I promise to do a full (somewhat) Cavaliers season preview sometime before the start of the season on Wednesday.

So, on to the articles I mentioned….

First up, lets talk about Donyell Marshall (who’d you expect me talk about first, LeBron James?). Ok, so in case you hadn’t heard, Donyell’s passport got lost when he was in China, creating travel issues for he and his wife. Well, you’ll have to excuse me if I must admit that I caught myself kind of wishing it had prevented Marshall from getting back into this country. And now, guess what? Donyell’s not happy with his role on the team. Please. Has anyone been happy with Donyell’s role on the team? Frankly, I’ve always felt that his role on the team was a little too BIG, not small. Anyway, here’s what Donyell has to say about this matter,

”I’m not going to say I’m going to retire after this contract, I plan on getting another deal. Hopefully, somebody will take me. I won’t play until I’m 40. I know my time is running down. I’m older now….I definitely have a key role on this team, whether Andy is here or not. There are going to be games where I’m needed to spread the floor. You look in Game 6 (in the Eastern Conference finals) against Detroit when LeBron (James) had 48 points, I didn’t score in that game. But I was effective because I helped spread the floor. You look at a couple of those plays, the reason he got to the rim was because I was spread out on the floor. They wouldn’t leave me.”

Oh, wow…I never realized how much credit Donyell Marshall deserves for LeBron’s performance in that game. I’m sure the Pistons were terrified of Masrshall beating them. They’d MUCH rather have LeBron run off 25 consecutive points on them. Sure. I’ve never really understood Donyell’s demeanor or attitude since day 1 when he and Damon and Larry were introduced at that press conference. There was something about his posture and his comments. He seemed almost slightly aloof. And to this day I still don’t think he gets how little of an impact player he really is. I also doubt there will be too many Cavaliers fans having to dry their eyes when his contract expires. If Donyell wants to improve his role on this team, he can start by proving me wrong and actually making an impact in the games this year. John Hollinger at ESPN projects Donyell’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) to drop under league average (15.00) to 12.99 this season. In a nutshell, what that means is that by plugging in an average NBA player to replace Marshall, the Cavs’ performance should actually increase. Interesting thought, huh, Mr. Ferry? When Donyell Marshall is happy (meaning, no longer in Cleveland) I’ll be happy too. Nothing personal against the guy, I just don’t think he was ever a great fit with this team.

Ok, enough about Donyell Marshall. I’ve said my two cents. Lets talk some more about LeBron James. Bob Cook wrote a great article for msnbc.com about LeBron’s off season and the way he’s handling the Varejao and Pavlovic situations with grace and general silence. He touches on some of the same points I made last week regarding the different scenarios and the way they might play out for LeBron. According to Cook,

“But if James were seething, you’d never know it. Unlike Kobe Bryant, he hasn’t gone on the radio to demand a trade, called his owner an “idiot,” or ripped his general manager or any teammates on a video leaked like a celebrity sex tape. James has acknowledged to reporters that the team would be better if Varejao and Pavlovic were on it, but he’s not inserting his considerable influence into the negotiations.”

More to the point, Cook goes further in explaining the possible motives for LeBron’s silence. He makes an excellent point that this is, really, a win-win situation in the long run for LeBron.

“James won’t say anything about Varejao and Pavlovic because, in a sense, he wins no matter what the Cavaliers do. If the Cavaliers sign Varejao to the six-year, $60 million deal he’s seeking, and if Pavlovic gets the long-term deal he wants, then James at least doesn’t have to worry about the roster turning over for a while. The Cavaliers at least would contend again in the Eastern Conference this year.

But if the Cavaliers don’t sign the two of them — by god, what insane person would give a six-year, $60 million deal to a player whose most marketable skill is flopping? — James might have an even more inferior cast, but he also would have a better shot at getting some serious help in a few years.

After next season, $25 million worth of contracts in the persons of Eric Snow, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones come off the books. Another $10.8 million would disappear if Zydrunas Ilgauskas decided not to pick up his player option, though in his mid-30s, he may well find that’s his best option.

Those $25 million in contracts would be desirable assets entering 2008-09 for a team who might want to get rid of a pouty star with a long-term contract, such as Memphis (Pau Gasol) or Indiana (Jermaine O’Neal). Or they could open up cap space after that season to sign a free agent such as Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Mike Bibby or Gilbert Arenas.”

The point here, as I’ve been saying all summer, is that LeBron is a smart guy. He knows what’s at stake for this franchise and for his career. I’ve always gotten the impression that LeBron would like to stay in Cleveland, but he’s not going to do so out of any kind of altruistic sense of loyalty to the community he grew up in. He needs incentive to stay, and the only incentive that matters to LeBron is winning, and so Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert’s currency to buy LeBron’s loyalty comes in the form of championship caliber players to bring in who can play with LeBron and help the team get where it needs to go. Again, Cook touches further on that point,

“James also has one more reason to stay quiet. He has meant so much to a previously irrelevant Cavaliers franchise, and means so much to Northeast Ohio as a whole, that he doesn’t have to tell owner Daniel Gilbert and general manager Danny Ferry to do right. They know, James knows, and everyone in the 216, 330 and 440 area codes knows that while James would love to stay, he also needs the Cavaliers to give him reasons to stay.

In fact, the biggest difference between James and the other, more petulant superstars is that James doesn’t have to say a word to get what he wants. If James is unhappy, when the time comes he can just put a “See Ya Later” sign on Gilbert’s door and walk out — with his reputation intact.”

And that’s the bottom line. I can sit here and type out scenarios and coulda, shoulda, woulda’s until my fingers are crippled with arthritic pain, but at the end of the day, this thing is going to play out organically in the way Danny Ferry sees fit. And after Ferry makes his chess move, LeBron knows he will get the last move, and he can wait to decide on his move until he sees the way Ferry plays his trump card. Until that time, LeBron’s going to sit back, keep quiet on these matters, and continue to play simply amazing basketball for this city and this community.

Oh, and in case you wondered, the Cavs fell to the Celtics in the final preseason game of 2007 for the Cavs. Just another Cleveland loss at the hands of a team from Boston. At least this one doesn’t hurt so much.

 

LeBron - Global IconTrouble In Happy Waters?

LeBron James doesn’t seem particularly happy these days. It would be nice if he was just cranky still because his beloved Yanks fell to the Tribe in the playoffs this year, but unfortunately for us all, there’s some actual merit to his gripes. I said last week it would be interesting to see how LeBron handled the absences of Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao, who are holding out for ridiculous amounts of money they’re probably not going to get. Well, we’re starting to see some of that come to fruition. I wondered whose side LeBron would take on this matter, and as reported in Chronicle-Telegram today, LeBron hath spoken:

“We’re worse,” James said following the Cavaliers’ first workout since an eight-day stint in China. “We’re not as good when we don’t have those guys. We all know that. Those two guys are a big part of our team.”

LeBron would continue,

“We didn’t do any reshaping,” James said matter-of-factly. “We didn’t do any regrouping. You start to think a little bit, ‘How are we going to continue to get better?’”

“Me being the leader, I am geared for them not being here,” the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder said. “As an individual, I know I am ready. When I’m ready, I know our team is ready. Their names are still in the locker room (above their lockers),” he said. “They’re still a part of our team. At the same time, we have to go with who we have. … Some things are going to happen in the next week or so where we know for certain what is going to happen with those guys.”

I actually empathize with Danny Ferry and his situation. He simply cannot bid against himself and sign the two players for more money than the market seems to be dictating that they are worth just to appease his biggest star and most valuable asset, no matter how much it must hurt to hear LeBron’s pleas for help. And for what it’s worth, I also empathize with LeBron and the situation he finds himself in. Here we are about to enter year 5 of the LeBron James Era, and is the team really any better than they were in year 2? Consistently carrying this team all by himself year in and year out has to be exhausting. It has to be frustrating. So maybe it’s a bit simplistic and a bit of a reach to read too much into any kind of deeper meaning in LeBron’s comments other than to state the obvious….we got embarrassed in the NBA Finals last year. We had zero chance of winning a single game, let alone an entire series against the Spurs. And LeBron knows it. And to look at this year’s team as it stands at this exact moment and to see that it is clearly weaker than last year’s team, perhaps LeBron really is only asking for the help he deserves. It will just be up to Danny Ferry to decide what the best way to get some help in here will be. Choose wisely, young man. Choose wisely.