If he had it to do over again, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said, he never would have promised that his team would win an NBA championship before LeBron James won one with the Miami Heat.
He wouldn’t have had to, because that whole business of James’ departure as a free agent in July 2010 would have been handled much differently. The Decision would have been Gilbert’s, not James’.
With another crack at it, Gilbert said, he and then-GM Danny Ferry would have peddled James sooner, getting back some assets via trade before he left the Cavs as an unrestricted free agent. The lesson provided most recently by Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti in his pre-emptive trade of James Harden apparently caught Gilbert’s eye.
Speaking with reporters prior to the team’s opener, a 94-84 victory at Quicken Loans Arena, Gilbert said he regretted waiting until his superstar could leave with no return to the Cavs:
”The key thing, whoever you are and wherever you are, you can not wait,” Gilbert said. ”The big lesson was if a player is not willing to extend, no matter who they are, no matter where they are playing, no matter what kind of season you had, you can not risk going into a summer and having them leave in unrestricted free agency and get nothing back for it.”
That would have shifted the bad-guy status to the team, Gilbert acknowledged. “I’m sure the player or whoever would have said, ‘Of course I would have stayed. You guys screwed up and ruined the whole franchise.’ You’re in a no-win situation,” the Cavs owner said.
Had he and the Cavs gotten out in front of James’ decision to leave, it also would have spared Gilbert the embarrassment of his angry letter to Cavs fans, which he came to regret almost immediately. Famously printed in Comic Sans font, it was an attempt to soothe the locals’ hurt feelings by lashing out at James. The bit of bravado was silly from the start and factually wrong the moment Miami dumped Oklahoma City in The Finals in June.
“Looking back now, that probably was not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Gilbert said Tuesday. “If you’re going to predict something that doesn’t happen and you’re going to do it publicly, you’d for sure take it back.
“When that happened when they won, it was the end of the end of the end of that whole thing. Now there’s nothing more to talk about. In a way it was like a little bit of a relief. If they didn’t win it, it would’ve been still another thing of who’s going to win it [first]?”
A better question now: How many rings will James win before the Cavaliers actually win one. Print that one out in Comic Sans.