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Clock runs out on Cavs coach and franchise…

May 24, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Sports, Weekly Columns

( Nearly two weeks after the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, owner Danny Gilbert fired head coach Mike Brown Sunday evening.

The Cavaliers had until midnight on Sunday to fire Brown or pay his $4.5 million salary for next season.

With Brown out the door after a disappointing end to the Cavaliers season and LeBron James eligible for free agency, we could be looking at the demise of a Cleveland franchise that made great strides the last two years.

The uncertainty with the Cavaliers started the morning after the Boston Celtics knocked them out of the playoffs when a report claimed Cleveland head coach Mike Brown had been fired.

Owner Danny Gilbert refuted the story during a press conference. “That’s not true,” Gilbert said. “We are right now just going through the evaluation process.”

The evaluation process Gilbert is referring to probably went something like this:

Dan Gilbert: “Hey LeBron, do you still want Mike Brown as coach?”

LeBron James: “No.”

Dan Gilbert: “Done.”

James didn’t give any signs which way he was leaning following the 94-85 Game 6 loss on May 13.

I’m going to approach this summer with the right mind-set,” James said. “Me and my team are going to figure out what’s the best possibility for me. I love the city of Cleveland, of course. It was a disappointing season, to say the least, but at the same time, we had a great time together. We’ll see what happens.”

We’ll see what happens” is not exactly what you want to hear if you’re a Cavaliers fan.

If it comes down to money, Cleveland has the advantage, with the ability to offer James $30 million more than any other club.

But locking up James to a multi-year contract won’t be enough for this franchise to turn the corner and be a serious threat for the NBA Championship.

Heading into this season, Shaquille O’Neal was expected to be the final piece of the puzzle. Not only was O’Neal providing another decoy for James, he was expected to contain Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. Instead, O’Neal continued to rapidly age before our very eyes and he missed the last two months of the regular season with an injured right thumb.

When general manager Danny Ferry had the chance to improve his team before the NBA trade deadline, he failed to acquire the one piece that could have put them over the top in Amar’e Stoudemire. James would’ve had the superstar sidekick that he’s lacked since his debut in 2003 and more incentive to stay with Cleveland. The deal, involving young forward J.J. Hickson, fell through and Ferry had to settle for Antawn Jamison instead.

At the time, the three-team deal that landed Jamison in Cleveland from Washington looked like a solid plan B on paper. Jamison was a legitimate scorer that could complaint James at the forward position.

Instead, Jamison went 0-for-12 in his Cavaliers debut against the Charlotte Bobcats and was a non-factor in the playoffs. The 33-year-old forward, who hasn’t advanced past the conference semifinals, is not exactly the guy you want to build your franchise around.

Not counting James, the Cavaliers have nearly $50 million in salaries committed for the 2010-11 season. Assuming James returns, is there anyone who doesn’t think we won’t see a repeat performance next year of an outstanding regular season record followed by an early exit from the playoffs?

You know things are bad when the Los Angeles Clippers core group of Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and rookie Blake Griffin would be a better fit for James over Mo Williams and company.

If James leaves the Cavaliers, “The Departure” would rank near the top of the list of heartbreaks for the city of Cleveland. More painful than “The Shot” in 1989 when Michael Jordan drained a 15-footer over Craig Ehlo or “The Drive” in 1987 when John Elway led the Denver Broncos on a 98-yard game-winning drive in the AFC Championship game over the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland, I’ll have the Kleenex ready for you on July 1.

Written By Marcus Vanderberg

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