CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers chairman Dan Gilbert is preaching patience during a transitional season that has gotten off to a bumpier-than-expected start.
“Our future plans are, as they’ve always been, commit to keep building the franchise into a perennial team that competes for a championship,” Gilbert said during a wide-ranging conference call on Friday with Wine and Gold United members that cleveland.com dialed into. “I have no doubt that if we continue the path here that we will be competing in a shorter period of time than people think. As you build this thing for the long term, I think you are going to see something emerge here in the next couple of years that will be a core and base.
“So take the next two, three years, including this year, and create a core, system and organization that will sustain itself in a competitive nature for maybe six, seven, eight, nine years or whatever from that point. I believe in the mission and the plan. Think we have the right people to lead it.”
After LeBron James left in free agency this summer, the Cavs knew staying near the top of the conference was unlikely. Gilbert had gone through a complete rebuild once, seeing the challenges firsthand when James bolted for Miami in 2010.
But the organization felt they were in a better spot than eight years ago. Given that, the Cavs entered with a plan to compete, signing Kevin Love to a lucrative contract extension and keeping a few of the veterans remaining from the four-year championship run.
The season took a sharp turn the wrong way early, as the Cavs started 0-6 and replaced head coach Tyronn Lue with Larry Drew.
The front office has also made a few bold moves in the first few months, trading Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz and recently sending George Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team trade that brought back John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova and a pair of future draft picks. JR Smith was also exiled, a move best for both parties while the Cavs continue to explore trade options.
“I know there’s been a lot of change and sometimes people don’t like change,” Gilbert said. “But you have to move fast and make changes in this world to get ahead.
“I think the front office is in the best shape it’s ever been. At least, in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been in Cleveland. You have people who are very, very smart, very dedicated. Understand metrics, understand the game, understand drafting, understand trades.”
Gilbert says his willingness to spend money won’t change even as the losses add up. The franchise will continue to “explore every possible angle,” to improve the team while he provides the front office necessary resources to turn the Cavs into a winner once again.
Gilbert also thinks there are ways for general manager Koby Altman, assistant GM Mike Gansey, Brock Aller and the rest of the staff to move salary around if needed to create more flexibility in trades, much like they already have in a pair of deals.
Still, Gilbert admitted improvement during the season can be tough because two of the three primary avenues (free agency and the draft) happen in the summer.
The Cavs dropped to 7-22 Friday night, the third-worst mark in the Eastern Conference. With Love sidelined until sometime after the new year and Tristan Thompson, one of the team’s most productive players this season, possibly missing a month because of a sprained foot, it’s sometimes hard for fans — and players — to stay positive.
Gilbert said on the call he gets frustrated as well. But is excited about the young talent acquired over the last few years, singling out rookie Collin Sexton who has elevated his play since becoming a full-time starter.
Cleveland’s 3-4 mark over the last seven games is another sign of progress.
“I know the record doesn’t reflect it if you judge everything on record this year, but I really believe from a business standpoint and across the basketball operations it has the best people, more people swimming in the same direction than we’ve ever had,” Gilbert said. “It just feels way different, way better, more optimistic (than the first time LeBron left). We feel we have more assets, more talent to trade, not necessarily to trade but more assets to deal with, options to trade if we want to or to make moves to improve the team so, that’s the good news.
“The first time we did end up making a ton of moves and being able to deliver a championship to Cleveland and a lot of that work started in those four years. I don’t think it will be four years here before you start seeing significant improvement.”
The other thing that happened during that first rebuild: plenty of draft luck. The Cavs won the lottery in 2011, 2013 and 2014. But snagging Kyrie Irving first helped set the foundation.
Speaking of Irving, Gilbert once again defended the Irving trade without actually referencing him by name and spoke about the importance of this upcoming summer.
“When you look at this draft coming up, it would be nice to get one of those top players here,” Gilbert said. “If we’re in the lottery, we have a good shot to grab some talent up top.”
The Cavs have laid out their plan. It doesn’t guarantee success. It’s a long road back to the top. Everyone recognizes that. That’s part of the reason Gilbert said season-ticket holders will see a decrease in price if they renew next season.
“We feel they deserve a break,” he said.