By Pat McManamon, Senior NBA Writer, fanhouse.com
Jun 6, 2010
(Note: Quoted below in this story regardng LeBron James’ decision to go on CNN’s “Larry King Live”)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have officially entered shakeup mode.
How it shakes out remains to be seen.
Less than a month before free agency and the draft, GM Danny Ferry announced that he would not extend his contract when it runs out at the end of the month. Ferry resigned immediately on Friday, a move owner Dan Gilbert said was made by mutual agreement.
Assistant GM Chris Grant was promoted to replace Ferry, which provides a notion of stability in a tumultuous offseason. With LeBron James set to appear on Larry King and embark on a nationwide free agent tour — hasn’t he already seen Madison Square Garden? — the Cavs press on without a coach, with a new GM and without knowing the future of the two-time MVP.
“Sometimes the risk of change, you feel, gives you better odds than staying the same,” Gilbert said in a conference call. “You could be wrong. You may not be right. But you’re willing to take the risk.”
Gilbert offered few specifics on Ferry’s departure.
“Organizations evolve, and people’s thinking evolves,” Gilbert said.
Translation: Ferry was not going to have the same kind of influence he had the first five years. And he was not going to work for the Cavs under terms different than his first contract, which gave him total authority over basketball moves. In the five years of the Ferry-Brown tenure, the Cavs did great things. But they never won a championship with LeBron James, which makes any move worthy of second guessing.
Asked if Grant would have final say on personnel, Gilbert said: “We have always operated on that front together, and trying to come to a consensus.”
The decision to fire Mike Brown as coach could have been the beginning of the end for Ferry. Ferry liked and supported Brown, and said at a pre-draft camp in Chicago he was happy he was still the coach. Two days later Brown was fired.
“I made that decision to fire Mike Brown. Frankly we didn’t go around polling everybody individually. We had very healthy, lively debate … At the end of the day Danny supported that decision.”
Ferry made plenty of money in his playing career and certainly did not need to work. With the coach he favored gone, with James’ future uncertain, with his duties perhaps changing and his contract expiring, with Grant — a friend and man Ferry trusts — ready to take over, it simply seemed the right time for the proverbial “parting of the ways.” Gilbert said the front office and he had to be 100 percent in agreement on philosophy.
The team’s release about Ferry’s departure pointed out that his tenure included an “NBA-high 127 regular season wins over the last two seasons” and stated Cleveland was “the only team in the NBA to advance past the first round of the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.”
The coach of that team is now fired, the GM of the organization resigned. And the future of the guy who seems to be as responsible as anyone for that record the past five years will be on Larry King Friday night, but not saying much about his future.
Despite that, Gilbert said the team’s season-ticket, sponsorship and suite renewals are at “an all-time high.”
Grant now finds himself in the same peculiar limbo Ferry was in, with many wondering what moves the team can make without knowing James’ future. James has done little to clear the murkiness either.
He played the most puzzling game of his career in the Cavs’ Game 5 home loss to Boston, then spoke of his “team” after the Game 6 loss, referring to his advisers (Gilbert said Friday he didn’t think James’ “team” was probably just starting to meet to discuss free agency). James declined interviews with the Cleveland media at an event held by one of his sponsors, but did appear with Larry King — going to the point of having King into his home.
Transcripts showed the most significant thing James said was that Cleveland had an “edge” in signing him, but FanHouse reported James will make a free-agent tour to New York, New Jersey, Chicago and possibly Los Angeles and Miami.
The tour seems aimed at promoting James, who has fashioned himself as a global icon. So does the interview. But experts in media and press relations do not find it at all odd for an NBA player to appear on Larry King the same week as Lady Ga Ga (James even addressed a question on her).
“This is a national story,” said Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “Everybody is paying attention to it. I’m sure if you’re a Cleveland press person then this might not be how you want things to go down, but the bottom line is if you can get on Larry King, you do Larry King.
“It’s a national audience. People who do interviews on Larry King, or for that matter Oprah, you do that once and it gets talked about. You get a lot of bang for your buck.”
“It makes some sense,” said Kevin Sullivan, who runs Kevin Sullivan Communications and who has worked for the Dallas Mavericks and the Bush White House communications office. “The one thing with Larry is you get that long-form, very open conversation, which is a good thing. They’re not softball questions. He asks legitimate questions. But he gives you a chance to answer in long form.
“Doing Larry King in and of itself I think was a fine idea.”
Thompson chuckled at the notion that James was blurring lines between celebrity/entertainment and news, saying: “LeBron James has been a superstar since not too long after he started shaving.”
James’ detractors would say “superstar, yes; champion, no.” Because while James has won many regular-season games and two MVPs, and has made himself a marketing and entertainment marvel, he has yet to win a championship. This week while James is talking to Larry King, Kobe Bryant is playing for his fifth ring in Los Angeles.
“Every one of these stars who do kind of jump the game itself and become media celebrity presences, each has their own story,” Thompson said. “LeBron James is at a different point in his career, but the character he plays in the entire mega-universe is a different one. He has a different story. We’ll have to see where this goes.
“If LeBron James doesn’t deliver, doesn’t win, Larry King will quit calling.”