Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

From the editor’s notebook …

cavs dan gilbertWith revenue down at the Horseshoe Casino in January, casino owner Dan Gilbert had some free time on his hands and that helped him remember that he also owns a basketball team in town.

Without the casino distracting him for a few minutes, Gilbert discovered that the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently in the midst of their fourth consecutive dismal season and realized that he need to make some kind of move to show that he still cares about what happens inside Quicken Loans Arena.

Once Gilbert decided to do the ever popular “something” to show the fans that he still cares, the question became what to do.

The Cavs already made their big player move this year when they turned a lazy and injured Andrew Bynum into Luol Deng, so a big trade was out.

And after seeing the backlash the Cleveland Browns received for firing their head coach after just one season, getting rid of Mike Brown was not really an option.

So Gilbert decided to fire general manager Chris Grant on Thursday, just a day after an embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the eighth loss in nine games since the team returned home in mid-January.

We weren’t so much surprised that Grant was fired – after all, in his almost four years on the job the Cavs’ record is on par with the worst of the Ted Stepien-era teams – but we were a bit surprised by the timing.

Like most fans, we expected the Cavs to be better in this, the fourth year of the current rebuilding project. No one certainly expected a 60-win team, but we also didn’t expect the Cavs to once again be battling for the league’s worst record. (Or second worst – no one is catching Milwaukee for the worst record.)

Coming into the season the thought of the Cavs challenging for a playoff spot, even if it meant a first-round sweep, had its charms. The young players that make up the Cavs roster were going to have to get a taste of the playoffs sooner or later, so why not this year?

That all seems so silly now that the Cavs are sitting at 17-33, especially when you consider that they play in an Eastern Conference that boasts just two good teams. If the Cavs can’t compete on a nightly basis against the likes of Charlotte, New York and Detroit, should they really be thinking about trying to make the playoffs this year?

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise,” Gilbert said in announcing the move to replace Grant. “We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group.

“I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.”

Left unsaid by Gilbert is the fact that Grant was primarily responsible for the “young talent, seasoned veterans and recent all-star addition” that Gilbert will certainly use to lure a new general manager to the team. (The Cavs are turning into the Browns more and more every day.)

With 32 games left on the schedule heading into Sunday evening’s contest with Memphis, we’ve reached the pragmatic portion of the Cavs season. At this point, it really is probably better for the team to get as high of a draft choice as possible in this summer’s draft. Anyone who watches the team even casually knows the Cavs have holes to fill, and winning a couple of extra games to grab an eighth-seed isn’t going to help them achieve that.

We figured the Cavs would play out the rest of the schedule and then start cleaning house, with Grant being the most-likely target. In that regard, you can look at this as Gilbert getting a start on another reboot.

As for the roster, outside of Kyrie Irving and (probably) Anthony Bennett, there are really no untouchables among the current Cavs players. The Cavs will have to decide who is worth keeping and who may be able to bring some value back in a trade. (Dion Waiters, perhaps?) They also have to start thinking about whether or not they want to resign Deng (who reportedly has already decided he’s seen enough of the Cavs) and what they want to do in free agency.

Who will be making those decisions remains to be seen. Gilbert promoted David Griffin to take over as interim general manager, but he presumably shared a similar philosophy to Grant when it came to building the team, so the Cavs are in a bit of limbo right now.

Much like how Jimmy Haslam described this off-season as one of the most critical for the Browns, the same can be said about the upcoming one for the Cavs.

If the team continues down its current path, there is not telling when or if they will get this thing turned around. They’ve tried doing this the right way going on four years now, only to discover it is harder than it looks to build a successful NBA team.

It will be four years this summer since Gilbert issued his guarantee that the Cavs will win a title.

Right now, it seems as if the Cavs are as far away from proving Gilbert right as they have been at any time in the past four seasons.

A game-changing win?

liverpool duoOne minute.

That is all it took for Liverpool to wash away seven years of frustration on Saturday against Arsenal.

Martin Skrtel scored 52 seconds into the game, added another goal 10 minutes in, and by the time Daniel Sturridge’s goal made it 4-0 after just 20 minutes of play, it was no longer a question of whether or not Liverpool would gain its first home win over Arsenal since 2007, but only how bad they would beat the Gunners.

It was arguably the best 20 minutes that the Reds have played this season.

“I am trying to think of a performance, especially in the first half, that I can remember like that in the last 15 years,” Steven Gerrard told The Guardian. “Maybe one or two in the Champions League got close but that was as explosive as it gets. That is right up there. That’s definitely in the top three performances I have been involved in. You are talking about a side that is top of the league with world-class players, ones who are worth £42 million; Jack Wilshere, one of the country’s big hopes who we are looking to perform at a World Cup; (Santi) Cazorla – a World Cup winner. We absolutely demolished a top team there from start to finish.”

And maybe, just maybe, the win gave notice that the squad hasn’t given up the Premier League title chase just yet.

Liverpool has been able to stay near the top of the table all season because manager Brendan Rodgers has once again turned Anfield into a true advantage. The Reds have won 11 times in 13 home matches this season, their best record since 1987-88, and with home matches still left with Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, they may still have a few surprises left in them.

“The objective has always been to finish as high as we possibly can,” Rodgers said after the win. “This year was going to be another big step for our development. It’s a very young side with a wonderful appetite for the game and a wonderful ability to learn.”

Rodgers may have downplayed the victory a bit, but there is little doubt he is building something special at Anfield and that this current team has quickly become one that is easy to like (which is saying something when Luis Suarez is on the roster). This team can score thanks to the duo of Suarez and Sturridge – Liverpool has the second-best goal differential in the league – but they also play as a team, one that succeeds when everyone is working together.

“Let’s get to 10 games to go to see where we are at,” Rodgers said. “The level of performance was incredible but we cannot get carried away. I just want the players to concentrate on the performance and I’ll manage whatever expectation comes with it.”

Liverpool is six points back of Chelsea with 13 games to go. There is still a lot of work to be done before the season comes to a close, but Saturday’s win is a big step forward for the club.

They have the momentum. Now they just need to hold onto it.

(Photos by The Associated Press and The Daily Mail)

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