Commentary

Cavs taking big risk by firing Brown

Updated: May 25, 2010, 2:05 AM ET
By Brian Windhorst | Special to ESPN.com

LeBron James and Mike BrownDavid Dow/NBAE/Getty ImagesCavs at a crossroads: With Mike Brown out of the picture in Cleveland, where does that leave LeBron?

CLEVELAND -- Dan Gilbert is a man who understands risk. He made his millions by starting from scratch in the mortgage business, and he's soon to own casinos after pulling off a daring and unlikely bid to get Ohio's state constitution changed.

So the Cavaliers owner has to understand what is at stake in his firing of coach Mike Brown, which he made official on Monday after a 10-day grace period following the Cavs' disappointing ouster from the playoffs.

Already, the Cavs find themselves in the thick of an unprecedented situation because of the pending free agency of their 25-year-old two-time Most Valuable Player, LeBron James. Of all the teams chasing James, Gilbert's is in the most precarious position because James is his to lose.

Now the Cavs might find themselves in another awkward spot as they search for a new coach.

Any prospective coach knows that it's one of the most attractive opportunities anywhere if James is returning -- coaching a superstar in his prime, with an owner willing to spend on players and make his coach one of the highest paid in the world, if necessary.

But if James is leaving, it's just another coaching job -- one of six NBA openings -- with a team that's rebuilding.

Which makes firing Brown a pretty massive risk/reward situation.

It is that reward that Gilbert is after, and with good reason. Though he appears to be in an unenviable position, he does have one huge chip in the James game.

For the next five weeks or so, James is a Cav, and the team has the opportunity to try to keep it that way before other teams can officially communicate with James. That means Gilbert has a chance to execute a hire that will excite James and firm up his passion for playing in his hometown.

The Cavs owner, who was the driving force behind the firing of Brown, who had also lost the support of James and his teammates, has already shown that he will spend money on talent. And with that in mind, general manager Danny Ferry will attack the trade market like a corporate takeover specialist.

It was those types of moves -- trading for Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison in money-absorbing deals -- that appeared to have James on the brink of a title and likely on the brink of re-signing. Those types of moves will continue, perhaps even within the next month, as long as Gilbert owns the team and James is on it.

So before the Knicks can try to pair James with Chris Bosh or the Bulls can offer the future promise of Derrick Rose, Gilbert can strike in an exclusive negotiating position.

As a risk-master, Gilbert knows all of this well.

"The expectations of this organization are very high," Gilbert said in a statement Monday. "Although change always carries an element of risk, there are times when that risk must be taken in an attempt to break through to new, higher levels of accomplishment. This is one of those times."

Despite reports to the contrary, James is expected to take a back seat in the process. Just as he declined to call for Brown's head in postseason discussions with management, James does not want to give the impression that he's hiring and firing coaches. He'll take interest and indeed he'll be involved in some discussions, but Gilbert is going to have to do the closing on his own.

Can he outspend the Lakers to attract Phil Jackson? Can he use Ferry's Duke influence and the chance to coach the ultimate star to get Mike Krzyzewski to change his mind after years of saying no to the NBA?

To find out, the Cavs may have to wait until July -- until James makes his decision -- to get a commitment from a top-shelf coach. Like it or not, the Cavs might have to react to circumstances instead of calling the shots, no matter how proactive the Brown firing appears.

But Gilbert knows this is an unprecedented time. And therefore, while it may not work, count on him to take unprecedented action.

Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.