Cavs and Boozer, Part 3
This has gotten far longer than I intended. It was going to be a simple evaluation of what happened with the Boozer mess, but when I got to the subject of Jim Paxson...
Now here’s the kicker. I’m not even a Cavs fan. I’m a 76er fan.
Jim Paxson, President and General Manager of basketball operations, Cleveland Cavaliers
You have to wonder if he has dirty audio of Gund (more cheap blind jokes
)? Gund absolved Paxson of any blame in the Boozer mess, but he may be the only one doing so.
Paxson joined the front office in 1998 as the VP of basketball operations. He assumed GM duties the following year.
He is the one who makes player personnel decisions. He is the one who should have been able to have a better idea about the market for Boozer, and what the risks were. Paxson is the one who assembled a sub-.500 team with no cap space to spare if a bidding war on Boozer arose. His reputation as an executive was not that stellar before the Boozer mess.
I will discuss what he has done to recover afterwards, but since I’ve asserted that Paxson is less than a solid GM, I should back it up.
Up until the 2003 draft when Cleveland selected LeBron James, there has been no cohesive plan or direction in Paxson’s drafts, trades, free agent signings or coaching hires.
The 2003 first pick of the draft was a no-brainer. By my count, this was only the 5th time in the last 20 years that there was a clear, no questions asked, consensus #1 pick
1985 – Patrick Ewing
1992 – Shaquille O’Neal
1997 – Tim Duncan
2002 – Yao Ming
2003 – LeBron James
The thing about that list. James is the only one under 7' who can’t play Center. So, you can’t give him much credit for not screwing up
the #1 pick in 2003.
Here are the Cavs’ drafts from 1999 to 2004. Where appropriate, I’ve noted some of the players Cleveland passed on drafting.
Andre Miller, 1st Round (#8)
Trajan Langdon, 1st Round (#11) – passed on Shawn Marion (#9), Maggette (#13), and Ron Artest (#16)
No 2nd Round Pick
Chris Mihm, 1st Round (#7) – Actually had #8 pick and took Jamal Crawford, but then traded to Chicago along with $3 million for Mihm
No 2nd Round Pick
DeSagana Diop, 1st Round (#8) – passed on Richard Jefferson (#13), Troy Murphy (#14), Jason Collins (#18) and Zach Randolph (#19)
Brendan Haywood, 1st Round (#20) – traded that night to Orlando for Michael Doleac
Jeff Trepagnier, 2nd Round (#36)
Dajuan Wagner, 1st Round (#6) – screwed up draft for Cavs because they were trying to make a deal with Clippers. Ended up missing Chris Wilcox (#8), Amare Stoudemire (#9) and Caron Butler (#10)
Carlos Boozer, 2nd Round (#35)
LeBron James, 1st Round (#1)
Jason Kapono, 2nd Round (#31)
Luke Jackson, 1st Round (#11)
No 2nd Round Pick
The 2004 draft just happened so you can’t judge that yet. That leaves 9 drafted players to evaluate
No matter how you look at this list, it is a damning indictment of Paxson as a talent evaluator for the draft. Only two players proved to be good to great draft picks – Miller and Boozer. Neither is with the team any longer. Miller was traded (more about that later).
Only two players on that list remain with the team. Diop is an unqualified bust. He will either be released /traded this season or allowed to leave as a free agent at the end of the season. On draft night, 2001, I tuned in to the local sports radio station (WKNR
) for the reaction to the draft pick. They were broadcasting from Gund Arena where the Cavs were having a draft party. When the Cavs announced they picked Diop, the reaction by the broadcasters was, "Who?" No one saw that coming, and then you started hearing the boos from the crowd. After 2 seasons and no progress in his game, the masses had it right.
Wagner will also be traded, if possible. He has been continually injured since drafted, and plays the same position as James. Attempts to teach him to play point guard have failed miserably. It seems unfair to call him a bust since he does have talent, but he is so raw (and tends to just hoist shots) and continually injured. Still, it isn’t like he has much trade value so you have to at least whisper the word.
In the present NBA, though, poor drafting is not necessarily the end of the world. Wise trades and shrewdly playing the free agent market can still make a team better – provided you have a plan. The Minnesota Timberwolves, following the Joe Smith mess, have only had 1 first round pick and a few 2nd round picks the last 5 years. Yet they made the playoffs in the very tough Western Conference the last 5 years, and this year they got to the Western Conference finals because they had a plan and built around it (yes, the plan equals Kevin Garnett, but that was part of the long-term plan that they followed and didn’t screw it up).
Here are the free agents signed by Cleveland in the Paxson years:
Mark Bryant August 1999
Bimbo Coles August 2000
Bryant Stith August 2001
Kevin Ollie August 2003
Ira Newble August 2003
Jelani McCoy October
2003 (released in November 2003)
Not much of a plan so far. Still he was active on the trade front (acquired in bold, traded in italics):
Mar. 11, 1999, Andrew DeClercq and 1999 first round draft pick
from Boston to Cleveland in exchange for Vitaly Potapenko
August 4, 1999, Lamond Murray
traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to Cleveland for Derek Anderson and Johnny Newman
August 2000, Matt Harpring
traded from the Magic to Cleveland for Andrew DeClercq
June 27, 2000, Robert Traylor and J.R. Reid
traded to Cleveland in a three-way deal that sent Jason Caffey and Billy Owens to Milwaukee from Golden State, Vinny Del Negro from Milwaukee to Golden State and Bob Sura
from Cleveland to the Warriors.
August 2000, Shawn Kemp
traded from the Cavaliers to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of three-way deal in which the Trail Blazers sent Brian Grant to the Miami Heat, the Heat sent Chris Gatling, Clarence Weatherspoon, a future first-round draft choice and cash
to the Cavaliers, and the Trail Blazers sent Gary Grant
to the Cavaliers
January 2001, Jim Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson
traded from the Hawks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Brevin Knight
June 27, 2001, Michael Doleac
traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers (left as a free agent after 01-02 season) in exchange for the draft rights to Brendan Haywood
(#20 pick in the draft).
August 2001, Matt Harpring, Robert Traylor and Cedric Henderson
traded from the Cavaliers to the Philadelphia 76ers for Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones.
October 2001, Chris Gatling
traded by the Cavaliers to the Heat in a three-team deal in which the Cavaliers received Ricky Davis
from the Heat and Brian Skinner
(left as a free agent after 01-02 season) from the Toronto Raptors, and the Raptors received Don MacLean and cash from the Heat.
June 26, 2002, Wes Person
traded by the Cavaliers to the Memphis Grizzlies for Nick Anderson
(who retired) and draft rights to Mark Barnes
(2nd Round, #46 – waived in October 2002)
July 2002, Andre Miller and Bryant Stith
traded by the Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Clippers for Darius Miles and Harold Jamison
August 25, 2002, Lamond Murray and a future second-round draft pick
traded by Cleveland to Toronto for Michael Stewart and a future first-round draft pick
September 17, 2002, Milt Palacio
(left as FA after 02-03) traded from Phoenix to Cleveland for a second-round draft pick
Jun 2004 acquired forward Sasha Pavlovic
for a future first-round draft pick
(previously acquired from Toronto in 2002 for Lamond Murray) from Charlotte, after "losing" Jason Kapono
in expansion draft to Charlotte.
There are 4 additional trades made within the past year that will be discussed separately.
The overriding theme on most of Paxson’s trades has been to rid the team of bad long-term deals (Sura, Knight, Murray and Kemp). As part of a plan, this would be considered a good thing. As the only plan, not so much.
The unloading of a bloated, unmotivated Kemp along with his extremely bloated contract alone essentially gave Paxson a 2 year grace period with Cavs fans. Everyone in Cleveland, and most other places, believed Kemp and his millstone of a contract would be in Cleveland for the duration. Keeping the Cavs down in the basement of the standings. Virtually untradeable it seemed. Paxson had to and did find a way. Kemp had become the Cleveland poster child for everything wrong with the NBA. He had lots of talent, but was completely out of shape and didn’t care (and it later turned out addicted to cocaine). Adding to fire was the Sports Illustrated. Cover story at the time about how many NBA players had multiple children from multiple women. Kemp had some absurd number – I want to say nearly double digits.
The rest of the trades (except for two) were essentially just rearranging chairs. They didn’t help or hurt the team. They were mostly minor moves that didn’t really change anything.
Paxson made one good trade in this period. Acquiring Ricky Davis from the Miami Heat in a 3-team trade in 2001. Davis quickly blossomed as a talented scorer – but with an ego and divisive in the locker room. Davis became a restricted free agent in 2002, signed an offer sheet with Minnesota, but Cleveland matched. Davis had been upset at the way Cleveland dealt with him, announcing in the media that he didn’t want Cleveland to match the offer. The Cavs ignored his whining and Davis had no choice but to re-sign. Davis, though, became even more selfish a player after that.
Paxson also made one horrible trade around the same time that Davis was re-signed. Exiling Andre Miller to the Clippers for Darius Miles. Miller was Paxson’s only good draft pick, the best player on the team, an all-star point guard; but Miller was also entering the final year of his contract and started making noises about how much money he expected. The move by Cleveland was clearly made to try and get something for Miller rather than lose him to free agency. An incredibly dumb and shortsighted move. Talented, pass first, all-star point guards are very rare. He could run any offense and make sure all the scorers got touches. Add in the fact that Miller was also the most popular Cavs player with the ever dwindling fan base and Paxson’s good will for the Kemp deal was all gone.
Miles was the #3 pick in the 2000 draft, straight from high school. Lots of "upside," which was showing in LA, but still too raw. With Miller gone, there was no reliable point guard to distribute the ball. Miles’ development regressed as a Cavalier.
The 2002-03 season was an unmitigated disaster. Fans stayed away from Gund Arena in droves. The latest head coach, John Lucas, was openly complaining about the front office decisions and was all but begging to be fired. He was obliged less than halfway through the season.
Cleveland finished tied for the worst record in the NBA and then won the draft lottery. James was the pick, and for the first time since the 80s, it would appear that Cleveland had someone they were actually willing to build around.
They still needed a coach, and actually fell into Paul Silas. Silas was stupidly fired by the New Orleans Hornets (a franchise that appears to aspire to take its place among rudderless NBA franchises).
The team expected to improve by virtue of James and a possibly finally healthy Zydrunas Ilgauskas at Center. Unfortunately, the talent was still not good. There was no solid point guard, as Kevin Ollie couldn’t handle it as a starter, and putting James at the point was a waste of scoring talent.
Ricky Davis was not handling having LeBron James be the focal point of the offense, to the point where he was delusionally claiming that the Cavs were his team. He was openly fighting with Coach Silas. Darius Miles was sulking on the bench because he wouldn’t play defense, so he wasn’t playing much.
Paxson had to do something about both players. They were killing the team and there was a huge the risk that their attitude and behavior could affect the franchise savior (see also
, the New Jersey Nets with Derrick Coleman taking Kenny Anderson under his wing as Exhibit A) . Paxson managed to pull off two big trades at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004:
December 2003, acquired Tony Battie, Kedrick Brown and Eric Williams
from the Boston Celtics in exchange for guard Ricky Davis, forward Chris Mihm, forward Michael Stewart and a second-round draft pick
(previously acquired from Boston)
Jan 2004, acquired point guard Jeff McInnis and center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje
from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for forward Darius Miles
These were stunners and they turned the season around for Cleveland. Battie and Williams were team players that contributed off the bench or starting. They played tough defense first, and got along well with the head coach. Jeff McInnis fit right in as the point guard. He did everything right, and helped spark the team into the playoff mix until he got hurt.
Paxson had pulled off two trades with his back against the wall. He actually got pieces that fit into what the Cavs needed, rather than just guys who were available or merely had potential.
This offseason, the Cavs were not expected to be active in the free agent or trade market. The trades they made during the season, coupled with the fact that they didn’t have much in the way of salary cap space made them unlikely to do much. Then the whole thing with Boozer occurred.
Suddenly, Paxson’s back is against the wall again. The team has taken major steps back with the loss of Boozer, and doesn’t have the cap space or the time to get someone comparable in the free agent market. Paxson makes a trade:
July 2004 acquired guard Eric Snow
from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for forward Kedrick Brown and guard Kevin Ollie.
A nice move, but it doesn’t resolve the gaping hole at power forward. The Cavs take advantage of a salary dump by the Sixers to get Snow to help run the point. Snow is not as good a scorer as McInnis, but is a better defensive player. McInnis is in the final year of his contract, and can be prone to ego fits, so this seems like a good insurance policy.
Then, a couple days later:
July 2004 acquired Drew Gooden, Steven Hunter and Anderson Varejao
from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Tony Battie and two future second-round picks
A huge move. Gooden was the #4 pick in the 2002 draft. A power forward with plenty of upside along with Anderson Varejao (possibly even better than Gooden) from Brazil, playing in Europe. Again taking advantage of a salary dump by a team, Cleveland makes significant upgrades, at very little cost. Considering Boozer was the only 2nd round pick of the Cavs to last more than one season, losing 2 picks is not much of a cost.
And this is the big question. Why can’t Paxson make deals when he isn’t under the gun? His best trades have come in desperate points. Unloading malcontents mid-season. Losing the starting power forward unexpectedly, and needing to find replacements. Getting rid of a contract that looks to sink the entire team for years.
The fact that Paxson has proven unable to act pro-actively to improve the Cavs suggests he misreads the talent and the situation at hand until it reaches a clear crisis.
The best GMs – like Jerry West, Kevin McHale, Rod Thorn and Greg Popovich – see things coming down the pipe. They recognize talent early, but don’t just wait and see. They seek to tweak and improve in the present, but with a clear eye on staying good in the future. The bad GMs are either too obsessed with winning now (Isaiah Thomas with the Knicks) or are always talking and looking to the future. Paxson seems to have fallen into the latter category.
Cavs and Boozer, Part 1
This has become a much larger beast of a post than I intended, so I have to break it up into slightly smaller sections.
Thursday was the day that Carlos Boozer officially became a member of the Utah Jazz. The loss of Boozer was widely perceived to be a major setback to the Cleveland Cavaliers
– while not at the level of the LA Clippers or Golden State Warriors – could fairly be compared to the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington
Wizards in their front office (and on-the-court) success. The team has managed to make several moves that appear to have made up a lot of ground (that I will discuss later). I am first going to look at several of the players in the Carlos Boozer soap opera.
Gordon Gund, Team Owner
You almost have to believe this ended up being the best thing that ever happened to Gund’s reputation as an NBA owner. All of the sudden people are acting like he was just a well-meaning, kindly owner trying to do right by one of his players, only to be betrayed.
This historic revision blindly (I know, cheap shot
) ignores everything he did before. The ignore how Gund only began putting an effort into building a good team again when the money pit of an arena bearing his name started reaching record lows for the league in attendance. And it is a whole other rant on the arena lease deal with the City and County that has meant Gund hasn’t paid any rent after all the offsets, while still keeping all the concession, skybox, and ticket money.
We are talking about an owner who hired his last couple of head coaches based on their affordability after firing Mike Fratello with several years left on his contract. An owner who this past year tried to avoid paying deferred money on the contract
by arguing that because Fratello was working as an analyst for TNT he was not devoted to his Cavs coaching duties. Remember, the Cavs fired him!
An owner responsible for the hideous Knicks-lite Cavaliers uniforms (the rumor has always been that his wife liked the orange and blue because she grew up a Knicks fan) that were finally junked.
Now he puts out an aggrieved letter to the fans
taking the blame for letting Boozer go, writing about how he was betrayed for trusting Boozer at his word, and he is a saint.
Carlos Boozer, Power Forward, Utah Jazz
I said it earlier
, and it still applies. It’s not the cash grab, so much as it is the ass-covering lying about it. Boozer’s rambling rationalization and after-the-fact excuses were not being believed by anyone. He cast about for others to blame: Gund, Paxson, even Paul Silas – the Cavs’ head coach. It was not his fault he became a restricted free agent and took the big money deal. He didn’t ask to become a free agent. Everyone was pushing him away from Cleveland.
Here’s something like what he should have said:
When my agent and I approached the Cavs about making me a restricted free agent this year, it was done with the full expectation of re-signing. I felt that my rookie contract was ridiculously below the market value considering how much I was contributing to the organization. My agent and I wanted to get a new deal done now to hedge against the uncertainty after next season when the present collective bargaining agreement expired.
The market realities, however, were not what we believed. My value on the open market was far greater than expected. Faced with the choice of re-signing at below market value or accepting a contract offer with an additional year and was more than 50% above the mid-level exception in cash value, I decided to take the money. This is my career and I may never have a chance to earn this much money again.
Some may say I should stand by my word, and that I have betrayed and backstabbed the Cleveland organization. I feel that I made that promise to them with mistaken assumptions as to my market value. I will have to live with that and enmity of the Cleveland fans.
It may not make everyone in Cleveland feel better, but it would be far more honest and he would have been lauded for coming out and saying, “Yes, it was about the money.”
He didn’t, though. Instead, he looks like a weasel and an ass for not keeping his word then trying to justify it. Stubbornly sticking to his claims, despite being undermined by...
Rob Pelinka & SFX, the Former Agent and Sports Agency
Things didn’t quite work out right for them. It all looked so good at first. Get the Cavs to release one of their clients a year early with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge handshake agreement to re-sign at the mid-level exception. They find out that he is really, really wanted in free agency. To the tune of $68 million over 6 years. For the agency, this would be about $2.7 million in fees. Over $1 million more than they would have gotten in fees from the deal from Cleveland. No-brainer all around. SFX
is a subsidiary of Clear Channel Entertainment
, part of Clear Channel Communications
. Plenty of pressure to keep profits high on all fronts.
Problem is that sports contracts involve egos everywhere. They also depend strongly on personal relationships and a level of trust. The thunderous condemnation from all corners – press, NBA teams, other agents – was more than expected for SFX. Suddenly SFX can’t be trusted at their word. All future gentleman’s agreements are in jeopardy, according to rhetoric. The ensuing bad publicity was more than the boss at SFX, Arn Tellem, could stand so they cut Boozer loose and let it be known that they wouldn’t collect their representation fee for the contract – letting Boozer keep the $2.7 million in return for abandoning him – as penance. Pure ass-covering.
I’m at a loss to see how that fixes things, though. Pelinka and the agency has had no comment since everything happened, other than to let it be clearly known that Boozer was not part of the SFX family any longer. When was the last time you heard “no comment” from a sports agent? I mean, Pelinka definitely negotiated the deal with Utah. He was Boozer’s agent. SFX didn’t stop any of this. The fact that they have been dead silent as to what happened and then cut Boozer loose, completely undermined the claims of their former client.