Daily Herald
Even while winning 61 games, Cavs made huge mistake
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 6/9/2010 12:01 AM

A chaotic front office doesn't figure to help Cleveland's cause when it comes to retaining LeBron James this summer.

In many ways, it's a sad situation. After producing the NBA's best regular-season record for two straight years - 66 and 61 wins - coach Mike Brown was fired and general manager Danny Ferry resigned.

What more could they have done, right?

Well, it's always easy to second-guess. But Ferry and the Cavaliers made a baffling miscalculation during the past few seasons and it may cost them the two-time MVP.

The Cavs could have had cap room to spend during the greatest free-agent summer the NBA has ever seen. They were on target to bring Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson or someone to serve as LeBron's sidekick.

Instead of being patient and waiting for 2010, the Cavaliers spent that money with the intention of winning a championship before James hit the open market. Needless to say, it didn't happen. The Cavs suffered their third straight early exit from the playoffs last month.

They gave a long-term contract to Daniel Gibson that pays about $4 million next season. Remember him? He got hot from 3-point range when the Cavs went to the 2007 NBA Finals, but rarely played last year.

Last summer, they split their mid-level exception between Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. Those moves helped Cleveland's defense and athleticism on the wings, but Moon was probably underutilized.

The Cavs might have overpaid to lock up Anderson Varejao long-term. He'll make $7 million next year, which doesn't sound too bad until considering he averaged just 6.5 rebounds and 5.7 points in this year's playoffs.

Delonte West is signed for next year, but the deal is mostly non-guaranteed, so he won't cost the team much money. He was arrested in Washington for carrying guns while riding a three-wheeled motorcycle, so we can only imagine what he was like in the locker room.

The Cavs blew up their salary structure completely by trading for Antawn Jamison in February. After failing to show for the Boston playoff series, Jamison is owed $28 million over the next two years.

Instead of building a title contender, Ferry recreated the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers - one superstar surrounded by subservient role players. That Sixers team was good enough to lose in the Finals once and never return.

In the Sixers' case, Allen Iverson was going to do most of the shooting anyway. James is one of the game's greatest team players. He doesn't need a bunch of teammates standing around waiting for him to take over when the going gets tough in the playoffs.

The Cavaliers promoted assistant general manager Chris Grant and are trying to pry coach Tom Izzo away from Michigan State, but it will be difficult to improve the product on the court.

The Cavs don't have much in the way of attractive trade bait, while several key players are getting old. By the start of training camp, Shaquille O'Neal (who is unsigned) will be 38, Parker and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (also unsigned) 35 and Jamison 34.

In the days after the playoff loss to Boston, James' people made it clear that he's interested in joining the Bulls, and the Daily Herald confirmed his phone call to Derrick Rose stating as much.

James looks at Rose and sees a star-caliber player who stepped up his game in the playoffs. It's possible James could choose to stay loyal to Cleveland, but winning a title in the next few years will be a tall order and he'd miss out on a great chance to partner with a quality sidekick, whether it's Rose in Chicago or Bosh in New York.

The Cavs had a chance to import a quality wingman this summer and passed. It's a decision that might haunt basketball fans in Cleveland.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com