NEW ORLEANS: Dan Gilbert has a theory. Actually he has as many theories and “isms” as he does companies, but this one is related to pilots and flying.
In the world of aviation, there are two sets of rules: Instrument Flight Rules and Visual Flight Rules. The difference is self-explanatory: IFR pilots use gauges and VFR pilots use their eyes.
“If a pilot uses only IFR or VFR, sooner or later he’s going to crash,” said Gilbert, who just participated in a morning full of lecture panels on, among other things, the use of advanced statistics in the NBA.
Gilbert views advanced stats similar to flying. There are old school coaches and scouts who use only their eyes while new age numbers crunchers swear by eFG and PER. In order for an NBA franchise to be successful, Gilbert believes it’s imperative to incorporate both.
As he picked over a plate of scallops inside the Windsor Court Hotel on Friday, the Cavaliers owner sat down with the Beacon Journal to discuss the future of his franchise, the upcoming trade deadline, any regrets over The Letter and the future of Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
Q: Why has this season been such a disappointment?
A: Well up until the last week and maybe the road trip before that, you’re absolutely right the season overall has not hit our expectations. It’s hard to pinpoint the reason. We needed to figure out who we are: Who we are as a team and as a franchise and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. I think it has taken a little bit longer to gel from a chemistry standpoint. Some of that is non-tangible, but to me not just basketball but all organizations there has to be a chemistry where people trust each other, believe in each other from the front office to the coaching staff to the players. There was a lot of static this year. A lot of that is expected as normal growing pains from a young team, but I think there was more than people expected. Hopefully now we see here within the last week, that’s beginning to change in a significant way.
Q: Do you regret saying at the lottery, ‘We’re not coming back here,’ because it seemed to really speed up the clock?
A: I think that was in response to questions. Obviously when a reporter asks you a question when you’ve been at the lottery three years in a row, I don’t think it shows much confidence to your fan base or anything that you’re not going to fee pretty good about not being there for the fourth year in a row. When people say that about the Yahoo article, is it really an unrealistic, arrogant position to say that you’re going to be in the top 55 percentile of teams to be in the East after four years? We didn’t go pump our hands and say, ‘We’re winning the NBA championship this year!’ I think it’s a good goal to say we’re going to make the playoffs. No one said make the playoffs, do or die. I think it’s a reasonable goal, so no, I don’t regret it.
Q: Why is it so important to make the playoffs this year, given what should be a talent-rich draft class this summer?
A: It appears to be a rich class at the top, but nobody knows for sure. It’s not just being in the lottery. Most likely you’re going to have to be among the worst five to seven teams in the league to have a significant chance. We didn’t view it as, ‘You’re either going to get one of the top five guys or be in the playoffs.’ We didn’t think we’d be anywhere near the worst five to seven teams, so we think it’s a good goal to make the playoffs. Plus for these young guys, it’s going to be an important step to take to feel the organization is on the right path to feel confident about where we’re going and they’re going. I think it was a reasonable goal. And it turns out, three games out (of the final playoff spot), it’s still a reasonable goal.
Q: What are you looking for in your next GM, whether it’s David Griffin or an outside hire?
A: That’s a great question. In fact, it has taken this amount of time, eight or nine years, for me to really know the answer to that question. In all the time here we’ve only had two GMs until now. We’re looking for somebody besides the basketball knowledge, who understands the human equation. Understands and feels the importance of culture and chemistry and connectivity and openness, is open to ideas from anywhere and anyone, from all places, and can connect with people and can understand how important it is. Just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it’s not important. Sometimes some of the most important things in the world are things you can’t measure. Going back to my earlier metaphor, IFR and VFR, can fly by gut feel and can also look at the numbers. Someone who will turn over every possible stone and be open to every possible innovation, creativity, idea from anywhere to give us that edge that we’ll need.
Q: If you bring in a new GM, he may want his own coach. Can you foresee any scenario where Mike Brown is not the coach next season?
A: I think it would be foolish of any owner to make an absolute type of determination or statement on anybody in the organization. But we feel good about Mike Brown and we feel Mike Brown is as hard working as they come, is as intellectual on basketball. Obviously everybody at the end of the day, especially if you’re a head coach, will be evaluated by your win/loss record over a period of time. I’ll leave it at that.
Q: What does David Griffin have to do to keep the job?
A: I don’t think there’s any set thing. Griff just has to remain undefeated the rest of the season [laughs]. I joked around with him after the game [in Detroit]. When he walked into the room I said, ‘I want to introduce to you the general manager with the best record in the history of the National Basketball Association. He’s undefeated. Look, there’s enough time in the season here with the trading deadline and all the stuff going on around that … Keep in mind a trade takes two parties. It’s not totally fair to judge a general manager on did he make a trade or not. If he had a lot of great options he was thinking over and the other side didn’t agree … Griff has a legitimately good shot at this job. He brings a lot of experience and I think we’re already feeling a difference in a week, surprisingly, but we are. You have to give him some of that credit already. So we’ll see.
Q: I can’t sit down with the owner of the Cavaliers and not ask a LeBron question. What kind of relationship do you have with him now, if any, and have you had any communication with him since he left?
A: I just can’t get into that because he’s under contract to another team.
Q: How about The Letter? As a whole, do you regret sending it?
A: I would’ve reworded the language in The Letter, but I don’t regret sending a letter out to our fan base. People forget the letter was not to LeBron, it was to our fan base. If I had to do it again, for sure, I would’ve reworded several parts of it. But I think it definitely needed a strong statement from me at that time. I keep a couple binders on my desk and I have a binder of the responses to The Letter from the people of Cleveland. There’s thousands, maybe 2,000 from every facet of life, from CEOs of big companies to hand-written letters from 94-year-old ladies, from street sweepers to policemen and firemen. The response went way beyond. For some reason, it appealed to this generational Cleveland thing. If you want to talk about books, someone should publish all the responses to The Letter. It was like, ‘We’re from Cleveland and we’ve been rejected.’
Q: Were you surprised by the reaction? Did you know it would cause that type of firestorm?
A: No, not to the extent that it did. I didn’t think it would. Going back now and looking, yeah probably. But at the time? I didn’t think it would become sort of the thing that it did.
Q: Has it had any negative impact on your organization over the last four years?
A: You never know for sure, but I haven’t felt it or been aware of it. People said nobody would come here, that’s not true. Do I think any players are going to not come here because Dan wrote a letter three or four years ago? I don’t think so.
Q: That leads right into free agency. Cleveland has always struggled to get a max-level free agent in here. You built Cleveland Clinic Courts and it’s spectacular, but you still haven’t been able to draw in a max free agent. Will Cleveland ever be able to lure a marquee free agent?
A: I think there’s a misconception in the NBA. I think that players, for the most part, care about the team itself, the franchise and where it’s going and who the other players are vs. whether it’s in Cleveland. Now all things equal, if it’s a glamorous city maybe that puts them over the top. If there is a marquee guy like a Kyrie Irving or others who are here actively helping you recruit and the team is looking good, it’s just like Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant. I think they could get a marquee free agent to play there if they want to win championships. The real competitive guys, that’s going to motivate them more than the city. Plus, how many marquee free agents have really ever left without it being through a trade? How many were available? There was the LeBron thing and Shaq, but Carmelo [Anthony] was a trade. When people say that, how many marquee free agents have the Lakers and Knicks signed? I can’t think of any besides Shaq in L.A. and that’s the only one. Maybe there’s others I can’t think of, but I think that’s a little bit of a misnomer.
Q: Has this four-game winning streak changed your approach to the trade deadline in terms of buyers or sellers?
A: It’s hard to know for sure because you can’t live it two different ways. I don’t know if we’d lost four more what we’d be thinking now. Everyone thinks there’s long periods of time to think about the trade deadline, but you really don’t have that. Things are so fluid and changing and those other teams don’t show their hands until a day or two before. You can only have as good of a trade as your options or opportunities.
Q: How important is it to re-sign Luol Deng?
A: We love Luol Deng for a lot of reasons, which everybody knows. Besides the kind of player he is, the kind of person he is and the kind of leader he is by example. But you can’t make these decisions in a vacuum. You have to look at all the pieces and see where you’re going to be.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about Kyrie and Dion and if they can coexist? Do you think they can start together, play together and succeed?
A: Yeah, I do. In fact I can make a case that as they both mature, and we’ve seen that even more recently, that kind of threat at the perimeter and driving and shooting ability of both of them, it’s going to be a hell of a load for any defense to handle. I think they can and I think there’s other examples of that in NBA history. We’ll see what happens, but I think they’re both extremely talented players and they genuinely like each other. People think they don’t like each other, they genuinely like each other. That’s sort of made up. Look, they’re both 21, 22 years old. There was a little bit of feeling out of who’s going to do what, but I do believe like I said in the news conference, I think the talent on this team is so good, but they’re so young. We’ll see what happens.
Q: Are you confident you’ll get Kyrie to sign an extension this summer? There has been a lot of speculation about that.
A: We believe Kyrie is committed to the Cavaliers for the long term. We haven’t heard anything otherwise. When the season is over, we’ll be talking to him right away.
Q: This looks like a pivotal summer with the Kyrie contract extension and all the other existing variables. How important is this upcoming summer to the future of the Cavs?
A: You always have options and maneuvers and things at your disposal. To Chris Grant’s credit, he set us up with that Memphis pick. It’s a great pick maybe in ’15, we’ve got all our picks, we still have the Miami pick in ’15 — and who knows what happens there, by the way — there’s a lot of things that can happen. We have a lot of assets, and they may be picks, but they also can be trading assets, too. That was something at the beginning of the rebuild. We didn’t have the personnel or the assets. We didn’t have either. We were starting below zero.
Q: Chris did a terrific job of building up the assets.
A: There’s no question. I told Chris, ‘There’s some great things you’ve set us up with and we’re going to be grateful for that forever.’ We’ll see. It’s an important summer. I never like to be absolute because I’ve learned in my life not to be absolute, especially when predicting the future.
Q: There’s a difference in a playoff contender and title contender. You’re a playoff contender this year by virtue of the East, but how long until you’re a title contender?
A: Tough question to know for sure, but you could certainly make a case depending on what happens this summer that we could be a title contender as early as next year. It’s hard to know. This summer will provide a lot more clarity on the answer to that question.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.