LeBron James has fallen into Dan Gilbert’s lap twice. Could Gilbert return the favor by falling into LeBron’s lap?
Would the Cavs owner consider selling the Cavs to the Cavs’ greatest player? The greatest player ever?
That delicious speculation raised its gorgeous head last week, during an interview between LeBron’s business manager Maverick Carter and ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
“I think,” Carter told Nichols, “if this team was up for sale, he’d definitely be one of the people who’d look at buying it, for sure.”
(Insert spit take here).
It’s hard to say which side of that pleasing potential purchase is more appealing, the possibility of LeBron owning the Cavs or the possibility of Gilbert not owning the Cavs.
That both of these outcomes could possibly be resolved by a single history-making business transaction is in itself beyond tantalizing, given that it would stand unmatched as the greatest case ever of a fan base having its cake and eating it too.
At the very least, it’s an intriguing scenario worth considering, right?
When Gilbert bought the Cavs in 2005, LeBron was already on the team, which constituted the first time LeBron fell into Gilbert’s lap. Then, five years later, LeBron left for Miami, which wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of how the Cavs were being run.
Gilbert responded with his infamous, and juvenile, letter to Cavs fans, filled with raging invective toward James, which made LeBron’s return to Cleveland four years later — the second time he fell into Gilbert’s lap — even more astonishing.
On the other hand, in his 13 years as owner of the Cavs, Gilbert has done some good things. Actually, he’s done the same good thing multiple times, which is to spend large piles of money in pursuit of a championship. That’s no small thing. And it worked. In 2016, thanks partly to Gilbert’s aggressive spending, but mostly because of LeBron, the Cavs won the championship.
But it was clearly an uneasy alliance — even though Gilbert apologized for it, the contents of that letter are never going away — between the owner and icon.
The way the Cavs were run following that championship season didn’t help. Firing widely respected general manager David Griffin was the first domino to fall. The almost immediate, and wholly unnecessary, cave-in to Kyrie Irving’s trade demand was the beginning of the end, leading to the constant roster and chemistry chaos that followed, and then the 2017-18 season-long franchise panic attack.
It ended with LeBron leaving again, and the Cavs, predictably, tumbling into another death-spiral this season, in which they may struggle to win 15 games.
Dysfunction, obviously, still abounds, as evidenced, following the firing of coach Tyronn Lue, by several truly bizarre days in which the Cavs technically had no coach at all, until they could finally iron out contract details with Larry Drew.
Now the franchise is back to square one. The Cavs are essentially an expansion team. The most pertinent games in their season aren’t their own, they’re Duke’s, whose bountiful freshman class almost certainly contains the Cavs’ next top pick — perhaps No.1 overall — in next year’s draft.
Gordon Gund owned the Cavs in LeBron’s first two years with the team. In the nine seasons in which LeBron has played for the Gilbert-owned Cavs, the team’s record is 483-255 (.654). In the four years LeBron was in Miami, the Gilbert-owned, LeBron-less Cavs went 97-215 (.311).
Those latter numbers will be even worse by the end of this season. The last time LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavs, in their first year without him (2014-15), went 19-63 (.232). So far this year they were a look-out-below 3-14 heading into Saturday’s game against the Rockets.
So it’s pretty simple. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the Cavs work with LeBron, but they’re broken without him.
This year they are without LeBron, who is now bigger than the Cavs, bigger than the Lakers, bigger than the NBA. He is the single most powerful man in the league. He’s also apparently open to the possibility of someday owning a team. Like (why not?) the Cavs, starting (why not?) next year.
OK, that’s not going to happen. Not next year. Maybe (probably?) not ever. There are no indications Gilbert is willing to sell the team, although owners of professional sports teams rarely issue a press release announcing, “OK, everybody! I’m ready to sell the team!”
The Cavs’ home, Quicken Loans Arena, is under renovation. You don’t renovate your house with the intention of selling it, do you? Well, OK, you might.
But you certainly don’t renovate your house with the intention of selling it to somebody who, despite “Cleveland! This is for you!” doesn’t particularly care for you personally, and vice versa.
Yet the thought of LeBron one day becoming owner, or — you know, just for fun — owner/player of the Cavs is, let’s face it, too titillating to trivialize.