Nothin' but Net: The fantasy in Cleveland

12:17 PM, Apr 25, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers have endured some rough sledding.

LeBron James failed to win the city a championship, then bolted for warmer climates and board shorts. Their owner lost his mind for a brief period of time, and the organization has struggled.

In the three seasons since James bolted, there were highlights such as drafting Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Irving is one of just a handful of players a team can legitimately build around.

Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters joined Irving in recent drafts. Anderson Varejao was enjoying an amazing season until a leg injury begat a serious blood clot.

The post-LeBron era netted a 64-166 record under Byron Scott. To the surprise of no one, Scott was shown the door.

What shocked some was who walked through the other side.

It was new/old head coach Mike Brown, the very man who guided the Cavs through the great years of the mid-2000s.

"When I had this opportunity come across my table, initially it was a shocker," Brown admitted at his re-introduction. "But I got back to what I thought was the foundation of what (owner Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant) have done and what they believe. And once that happened, for me, it was easy."

Brown was unfairly canned as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers early this season. He won the Pacific Division with Kobe and the boys a season ago, then was allowed five games to integrate both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a new offensive philosophy and to playing with two other future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Why did this Cavaliers reunion -- the most exciting since the "Saved by the Bell" gang got the band back together -- take place?

Defense.

The Cavaliers were the worst defensive unit in the NBA last season in terms of opponents' field-goal percentage. They were 25th in opponents' scoring.

Brown's teams always played great defense, except for this season's Lakers team. Although, we've all had sneezes that lasted longer than that tenure.

If Brown immediately helps Cleveland's defense, what will he do about the offense? Irving is a transcendent talent, but Brown has never been one to take the reigns off a team and let them explore offensive creativity.

That was a big problem for James under Brown's stewardship. The two seemingly patched up any differences, but Gilbert axed Brown thinking that would help him re-sign James in the summer of 2010.

"You get the benefit of hindsight right now, and in hindsight, (firing Brown) was a mistake," Gilbert admitted. "That summer that we went through three years ago was a unique time for us as a franchise; there was a lot of uncertainty on all levels. And we're very happy we get to rectify any position we took back then by Mike being available right now."

So why bring Brown back if the Cavaliers are just going to try to sign James again?

Oh, forgot that part.

The Cavs believe they could be players for James, who can opt out of his contract after next season. Various reports have cited various league sources who say James has even floated the possibility.

Gilbert, Grant, Brown, Cavs' front-office people, Cavs' front-office janitors, the Indians, Drew Carey, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gift shop employees and Dennis Kucinich himself better disavow themselves of this notion. Stat.

Why would James leave the Heat? Sure, he could file the opt-out for a restructured contract, but he has one title already and probably another one in two months. Miami will be the favorite next season. Why?

Everyone loves their hometown to some extent. But Cleveland isn't as warm as Miami. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won't follow him to Cleveland like they (sort of) did to South Beach.

And even if things go south into Havana between James and the Heat, there are other teams to worry about, namely the Lakers. There have always been rumors of flirtations between the two and the weather is, once again, much nicer than Cleveland. So, once again, why does James go to Cleveland instead of sunny Los Angeles with, probably, Dwight Howard?

Those questions are too much to answer. For Cavs fans, the reality is James isn't going back to Cleveland, at least not any time soon. Could James finish out his career in Ohio? That's very possible, but in the prime of his career, that's just not happening.

And, is signing a coach James had something of a bumpy, albeit mostly solid, relationship with the true way to his heart?

The Cavs have some things going for them. Irving is as dynamic a player in the league and here's how young he is - he just transitioned from Shirley Temples to Rob Roys in late March. To be that young, and that good, is terrifying for the league.

But, the organization will need to make sure it bolsters the roster so Irving isn't the one going to L.A. instead of LeBron. Waiters, Thompson, Zeller and Varejao are fine, but not much better than that, no matter where the Cavs drafted them. The Cavs will have another high pick in this draft, although there isn't a single sure thing anywhere this year.

Cleveland also will have oodles of cash, presumably being saved for a run at James. Only Varejao and Alonzo Gee are under contract for the 2013-14 season. Irving has a team option I already feel confident saying will get picked up. Thompson, Zeller and Waiters also have team options.

Brown is a capable NBA coach and a darn good defensive mind. He will help Cleveland immediately. Irving will continue to improve. Varejao, who led the NBA in rebounding at the time of his injury, will be back.

The situation is not bleak in Cleveland.

It's just fantasy to think James will be back in a year.

The Sports Network

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