The Curse of Colavito began, the Miracle at Richfield ran into the Boston Celtics, the Kardiac Kids grew up, Bernie Kosar’s skills diminished, the Cleveland Indians found out that some modicum of quality pitching is needed to win a World Series and King James abdicated his Northcoast throne. I was just able to encapsulate a 48 (and counting) year reign of this cities sports team having championships evade them into one painful run-on sentence. Naturally that sentence has led there to be more skepticism about Cleveland earning a major sporting title than a politician following through on his campaign promises. (Read my lips: Market Realities.) In spite of all that hurt, the team that recently lost the greatest player in franchise history, is actually our best chance at a title. Thanks to edges in Ownership, Front Office, Coaching and their roster, the Cavs stand head and shoulders above the inept Indians and the brutal Browns as the cities greatest hope for ending near 50 years of misery.
I will be surprised if I hear an argument against Dan Gilbert as the best current owner in Cleveland. The Dolans with their penny pinching image have only taken a hit with poor performance, lackluster off-season’s and a Forbes article that stated the team had the highest operating income in baseball in 2011. The Browns say goodbye to the much-maligned regime of Randy Lerner and say breaker-breaker-one-nine to truck stop aficionado Jimmy Haslem. It’s impossible to tell what type of owner Haslem will be as he is just taking over the team in October. At the moment, he receives an incomplete with high potential due to southern charm and the potential for fuel discounts. Dan Gilbert has a track record of investing in his product and a passion that is unrivaled publicly by the Dolans, the Lerners or Haslem. When all is said and done, Dan Gilbert could end up being one of the greatest owners in Cleveland sports history.
All three general managers in Cleveland filled their current jobs around the same time. Chris Antonetti took power before the 2010 season and has been horseshoed by economic realities aka the Dolans safe locked checkbook. His most glaring mistake is the Ubaldo Jiminez deal that is only saved from consideration for worst deal in franchise history by the Rockies inability to develop Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. Of all the jobs, he might have the hardest due to the Dolan’s financial limitations. That being said, his track record with free agents and trades has been average at best.
In January of 2010, Tom Heckert arrived on the scene as the Browns new general manager. The cupboards were so bare when Heckert arrived, that he had to actually build the shelf before stocking it. As was his reputation in Philadelphia, Tom Heckert has built a solid core of talent that includes playmakers like Joe Haden and Trent Richardson. Many fans grumble about the team’s lack of activity in free agency but flashy spending has never been part of Heckert’s philosophy. With Haslem taking over and likely hiring Joe Banner to replace Mike Holmgren as team president, there is a decent chance that Heckert will not be able to finish what he started in Cleveland. For his work so far though, Heckert still gets a decent grade for drafting well.
Similarly to Heckert, Cavs GM Chris Grant has been hard to grade. He took over right around the time the decider went down to South Beach and had to suffer through a first season with no draft picks and Antwan Jamison as the top player. Still, thanks to the check book of Dan Gilbert, he traded Mo Williams for Baron Davis’ contract and the first round pick that became 2012 Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving. On his watch, the Cavaliers have shed contracts, stayed away from impulse free agents that wouldn’t make a major impact and have stocked the team with high draft pick. Going into next summer, the team will be in a position to pounce on an impact free agent, should one be interested in Cleveland. While it is still early, Grant gets the edge for patience and the influx of young talent with Heckert close behind.
On the coaching front, it’s easy to see that Bryon Scott is the cream of the coaching crop in Cleveland. Yes, the Indians just hired two-time World Series winner Terry Francona as manager. Francona is known as a great communicator and has titles that even coach Scott doesn’t have. However, he earned those in a big market with potential hall of famers like Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez. In a similar situation to the one currently in Cleveland, Francona had considerably less success in Philadelphia. Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur does deserve mention because we are comparing coaches, however, even the biggest Shurmur apologist will admit that he is far behind either of the other two. Meanwhile, Byron Scott is one of the most respected head coaches in basketball. He has been to the finals twice, the postseason with both of the other franchises he has guided and has the proven track record as a player that backs up his demanding personality. While Francona is a coup for Tribe, he is still in the process of changing zipcodes while Scott has built local loyalty with hard work and the development of Kyrie Irving into a dominant player.
One thing that Cleveland teams do have in common is that they do have considerable talent. The Indians have several good players in the form of Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Shin Shoo Choo and Chris Perez. The Browns have Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, D’Qwell Jackson, Ahtyba Rubin, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. The Cavs roster includes Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyson Zeller and James-era holdover Anderson Varejao. The issue with the Indians roster is that they have largely underperformed and the one impactful trade that has happened ended up negatively affecting the team. Moreover the Tribe lacks a dominant hitter or pitcher that would strike fear in opponents. The Browns are plagued by limited talent at tight end and wide receiver. Additionally, they plan in one of the toughest divisions in the nfl and perhaps all of sports. That leaves us with the youthful Cavaliers squad. Kyrie Irving is their only proven current superstar quality player. Varejao is a veteran hustle player and Thompson is athletic, unpolished and still very young. Zeller and Waiters have yet to even play a game in the NBA. The key to this team is the fact that they are young, talented and have room to add a veteran superstar next summer if they feel ready to contend. The current youthful talent and the fact that they are going to be in a position to snag a big name free agents puts the team far ahead of the Indians or the Browns.
There is one more factor that makes the Cavs the team in Cleveland most likely to break the title drought: organizational proficiency. The Indians are run by Ivy league educated men. These guys view baseball as not just a game but a case study as well. However, no matter how smart you are, if you’re ownership group will not keep its proven superstars and forces you to rebuild every five years, eventually you run out of luck. Eventually, you trade CC Sabathia for Matt Laporta and Michael Brantley. You make desperation deals like trading two top 50 pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jiminez. Every move they make is based on the best move for their business model, not the best baseball decision.
If there has ever been a shining light of incompetence in sports, it’s the Cleveland Browns since returning in 1999. From not protecting their investment in Tim Couch, to running through regimes an average of just under every three years and finally to having an owner who cared more about his footy team in England than he did about the browns, no one has screwed up over the last fourteen years like the Cleveland Browns. If Jimmy Haslem has any shot of turning this Cleveland team around, he has to pay attention to the mistakes of the Lerner ownership group.
All the Cavs have done with Gilbert is nearly win an NBA title, watch the greatest superstar in team history annihilate the spirit of a whole city and then rebuild the team and organization as one. Time and time again, Dan Gilbert has put up the money to make big moves and he has hired people he believes in and put them in a place to succeed. Chris Grant has quickly stacked the team with young talent and brought in a proven, respected coach to lead this team back from the abyss. Coach Scott has earned the trust of his young superstar Kyrie Irving and has people excited about this young team. The unity the Cavaliers organization has shown is impressive, especially in a town known for organization instability.
None of this means the Cavs are on the path to the playoffs, even this year. They are very young and have only one proven superstar in Irving. Dion Waiters hasn’t been getting the best of reviews this summer and Tristan Thompson was up and down in his rookie season. All of those are valid reasons to be pessimistic about the Cavaliers THIS season. In fact, it is probably best that the Cavs do struggle this year to get one more year of a high draft picks. That’s yet another point of what makes the Cavs a serious threat to contend in the future, willingness to suffer through a few bad years to get back to being elite. If the Cavaliers are anything to the other two teams, they should be a learning experience. The current Cavaliers organization is what you can do with financial support, organizational stability and a commitment to winning. The Indians might flirt with the playoffs in the next two years and the Browns future will be decided by the actions of their new owner which could affect the team dramatically either way. Judging by history, the Indians will fail because they won’t fully invest in a championship caliber team and the Browns will likely falter because, well, that’s what they do best. In the end, that is probably the biggest reason why the Cavs will end the championship famine in Cleveland.