INDEPENDENCE: Mention “five-year plan” to a Browns fan and you risk a pelting of dog biscuits and batteries unearthed from the glory days of the 1980s.
Just imagine the wallop a 25-year-old chew bone could pack.
The phrase that became the mantra for rebuilding in Berea now carries with it a level of disdain directed at outgoing Browns president Mike Holmgren and former owner Randy Lerner.
But a few miles away, the Cavaliers are in the midst of the same such project and owner Dan Gilbert, General Manager Chris Grant and coach Byron Scott hear hardly a whimper from their fan base.
It has been 899 days since LeBron James took off his jersey in the tunnel of TD Garden after a series-ending playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, 899 days since the Cavs last sent out a team with the talent to reach the postseason. Since then, the Cavs have turned in records of 19-63, which included an NBA-record 26-game losing streak, and a lockout-interrupted 21-45.
With their 2012-13 debut set for Tuesday night at home against the Washington Wizards, they are likely another year and another lottery pick away from making the playoffs.
It might be a four-year plan instead of five, yet a double standard remains.
Browns fans get angrier and more critical with every loss, harping over unchallenged spots and wasted timeouts. Cavs fans, either still shell-shocked by “The Decision” or reliving fond memories of back-to-back 60-win seasons and a 2007 NBA Finals appearance, remain relatively content.
Part of that has to come from the goodwill built by Gilbert with his post-Decision letter and irreverent Twitter posts. His son Nick, considered the team’s lucky charm, enchanted all with his 2011 draft lottery quip, “What’s not to like?” The fact that Dan Gilbert brought jobs to Cleveland and might spark a downtown renaissance with his Horseshoe Casino, no matter how big a cash cow it becomes, adds a few more years to his free pass.
Fans also admire Scott, who won three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers during his 14-year playing career. As a coach, he led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 and rejuvenated the New Orleans Hornets. The Browns’ Pat Shurmur is decades away from such credibility.
There is also the perception that the Cavs haven’t whiffed as regularly as the Browns with their first-round picks, even with the second-guessing of 2012’s Dion Waiters and 2011’s Tristan Thompson. Grant’s future will be tied to the success of Waiters and Thompson, both taken fourth overall, even with a gold star on his resume in Kyrie Irving, a perennial all-star in the making.
By April Fool’s Day, Grant might be on the hot seat. But until then, the Cavs might enjoy another season of the fans’ patience and trust while Browns fans obsess over the 2013 draft.
“I think we’re all patient because we all understand it’s a process and it’s going to take some time,” Scott said Thursday after practice at the Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We’re trying to build something special and we’re trying to build it for the long haul, not a quick fix. With the draft picks we have and some of the young players we have and their work ethic, we think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The notion of being headed in the right direction, most recently uttered by Holmgren on Tuesday, drew howls of “We’ve heard that before” from Browns Town, and with good reason. That’s been the claim of many regimes, including ex-GM Phil Savage, who thought quarterback Derek Anderson was piloting from “a nice cockpit” after the 2007 season.
In Gilbertville, the Cavs believe they’ve methodically restocked the roster with a point guard (Irving), a shooting guard (Waiters), a power forward (Thompson) and a center (Tyler Zeller), three of those coming in the top four picks. They believe they lack only a small forward, with Grant’s attempt to fill that spot with Omri Casspi a flop so far.
But going into this season, the Cavs can’t score, can’t defend (especially up to Scott’s standards) and can’t rebound, aside from Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Zeller.
They lost their second-leading scorer in Antawn Jamison, now with the Lakers. Even those who have been around the team on a daily basis are hard-pressed to name who will finish second in 2012-13. It could be C.J. Miles, a seven-year veteran guard/forward signed as a free agent in August.
Scott might not be able to count on double digits every night from Waiters and Thompson. Alonzo Gee, although athletic and energetic, might have reached his ceiling. Varejao, if healthy, could be moved by the trade deadline. Their best 3-point shooter, Daniel Gibson, is coming off foot surgery and a season when he shot .396 from behind the arc, second-lowest in his six years.
Then there is the matter of the Cavs’ early schedule. After two home games, they embark on a six-game road trip to Milwaukee, the L.A. Clippers, Golden State, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn. That’s enough to make conspiracy theorists believe the league office is stacking the deck to help the Cavs get that lottery pick.
On Thursday, Scott refused to predict that the Cavs could fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, saying only he wanted them to “get better and improve.”
Varejao wasn’t bursting with optimism over the season ahead, either.
“I’m kind of anxious to see how it’s going to be,” he said. “I know we have a young team, but I know we can surprise a lot of people if we play good basketball. That’s what we’re looking for. Once everybody understands what they have to do to be important for this team, we’ll be OK.”
Browns fans would hear such lukewarm comments and flood sports talk radio stations with calls of anguish.
Cavs fans appreciate the honesty and continue to patiently wait.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.