Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Learning curve hits Dan G.

In the haze and humidity that camped over Lake Erie Monday, Dan Gilbert's private jet bounced around like a pinball on his way into Cleveland for his press conference to introduce Danny Ferry as general manager.

He showed up at (Your Ad Here) Arena looking a little green and with some sweat on his brow. For the first time, I felt like he was grasping exactly what he'd gotten himself into. The long, hard process he'd just gone through showed all over his face. And, frankly, I think that's a good thing.

Four weeks ago when we assembled at the arena for Mike Brown's press conference, it was grandly staged on the practice court on the fourth floor with fine Danish and orange juice, stages for cameras and the honored guests. Gilbert was in a well-selected and wonderfully tailored suit. He had props and jokes prepared and he drilled the media for the Larry Brown rumors and their so-called lies. He explained away his decision to hire a coach before a GM and told us how he was going to hire a president and a vice president/general manager.

Monday no one wore a suit in a cramped room deep in the arena bowels and there were no props or fancy foods. It was done on the run, just like Gilbert's hiring of Ferry as owner now explained that no, he didn't need a president now. Peaking around the 8-ball, he admitted he could no longer wait on Larry Brown and do so in the humblest of manners.

Everyone I spoke with who interviewed with Gilbert and his fellow owners praised him and said they think he'll be a great owner. I said I didn't think he knew what he was getting himself into at all and his brashness resembled Nero fiddling as Rome burned.

He thought he could sell his team with confidence, energy and slick marketing like it was an interest-only loan. But in the end it was Ferry holding Gilbert over the fire. Ferry doesn't need Gilbert's money and really didn't need a job, even though he wanted it. So he laid down the terms and Gilbert, feeling the intense pressure of holding his shredded plan together, and made the deal.

I think this was a very, very valuable learning experience for the new ownership, one that will ultimately help them as they move forward. Gilbert became a better owner after going through these last six weeks and it will show up down the road. It was something that needed to happen.

Danny Ferry and Mike Brown are two of the best young minds in the NBA and the Cavs have some bullets to fire that could make this next month and upcoming season very exciting. The problem is, this next month may largely determine how their tenures go. So stay tuned.

For some great stuff, also check out my notebook from today with stuff on Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Brown and more.

Take care,

Monday, June 13, 2005

Getting Moody in Chicago

There are people who set their whole year up around the NBA Draft and are enthralled with it all. I am not one of them.

Understanding that, I returned from the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago this weekend feeling like I'd just been through a sausage grinder. First off the Cavs, as you may know, don't have a pick in the draft but they want one and may indeed make a trade for one. For the life of me, I don't why. After watching three days of bad basketball I was running out of Moody Bible Institute ASAP.

I'm not a trained observer so I don't pretend to evaluate talent, ahem, unlike some of my media brethren. So I watch the games with NBA assistant coaches and scouts that I know who do know what they're talking about. They point out stuff like the angles point guards deliver passes, the post footwork of power forwards and the importance of "length" on defense. It is for these reasons that listing the stats of players at the camp means nothing, yet this is what most media outlets do without thinking.

Yet, I still find it very difficult to evaluate anything at the camp. I've been to several pre-draft camps and they remind me of what I saw at the ABCD Camp I attended in New Jersey when LeBron James was a high school junior. Just a bunch of athletically-gifted players trying too hard to impress on hastily-organized teams. How they will react when they get into an organized NBA setting feels nearly impossible to judge. I assume the private workouts teams use provide greater insight.

Plus you look at the group knowing there are perhaps just a handful of first rounders and you wonder why you bothered fighting the heat and traffic to get into the damn place.

But, like I said, I'm no draftnik. For them it is pure heaven on earth.

Instead, Moody is a place where just about every general manager, coach, and scout gather. It means it is a great time to talk to sources, which is why I was there. Mostly, I was chasing Kiki Vandeweghe. That and to eat at Harry Caray's, which is certainly one of my favorite restaurants in the country. I recommend the chicken parmesan, but ABJ compatriot Tom Reed, who did this interesting story from Chicago, couldn't speak more highly of the salmon.

We actually tried to eat at Harry's twice in one day (it's a huge menu and I love the bread). In the afternoon in downtown and late night in Rosemont, near O'Hare airport where we were staying. But the hostess denied us seating at 10:02 p.m., saying the kitchen closed at 10. An angry Reed issued the following retort: "You'd never make it downtown, sister, you're staying in the bush leagues forever!"

Instead we went to a Greek greasy spoon nearby and had a terrible meal. News-Herald scribe Bob Finnan -- of "Planes, Trains and Bob Finnan" fame, and if you don't know what I mean and are new to the Blog, please refer to December entry "A series of unfortunate events" for a real hoot -- and I made the mistake of ordering spaghetti. After asking for additional sauce, which more resembled Manwich than marinara, he resorted to salt and pepper to make it edible.

When the waitress, who fairly warned us before the meal that she never actually ate there herself, looked down at him and asked if he was done, Finnan deadpanned: "Well, no, I guess I'm still trying to make something of it." This from the man that got on the elevator at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas with me in March and politely said to a group of German tourists near the control panel: "Six, please."

Maybe you had to be there, but after 72 hours of Moody blues, I nearly slid off the booth to the floor in stitches, my own neglected spaghetti not noticing.

Take care,

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Writing the tough one

Normally the more people you interview when your working on a story, the more clear the subject/topic becomes. At least that's what they teach you in journalism school. Sometimes that simply isn't the case.

I just completed a very complex story on a man name William "Wes" Wesley. The roots of this story started more than a year ago when I started noticing Wes around the Cavaliers and especially LeBron James.

Well, I was very late in picking this up, he'd been around LeBron for years and the Cavs, too. Recently, though, I have been hearing lots and lots of things about Wes. Especially when I was learning about why LeBron dropped his agent, Aaron Goodwin. Then I learned that he helped Cavs owner Dan Gilbert get in touch with Larry Brown, a story we all know very, very well by now.

Last week, the Detroit News did an interesting piece on Wes, groundbreaking really, and I felt compelled to follow it up. It has become clear to me that he's an important figure in the Cavaliers realm and someone that fans should know about. Though I'll bet he and the team disagrees.

It was hard to know how to go about it. There have not been many stories written about men like Wes, dealmakers and connectors, the guys who work deep in a word of famous faces and millions of dollars. Most of my colleagues have never written a story about a guy like Wes. My editors didn't even know how to define the story, they were trusting me

So I started talking to people and making calls, the ones who returned them. I talked and talked and wrote and wrote. For days I talked to people about Wes and listened crazy and amazing stories, too many rumors to count, and lots of opinions. I mean lots. To give you an example, I was told he was everything from a "broke-ass street hustler" to a person who "when he goes to heaven, he'll be called to the front of the line by St. Peter because he knows him." See what I mean by complex?

I struggled to decided what to write, what I could prove, what I should throw out, what I should ignore. Mostly, it was hard to define him because when I asked people to do that, I got dozens of different answers.

The thing is, most of the people I talked to didn't want to go on the record about it. I learned very quickly that he's a powerful person, at least when it comes to influence and connections. Some people wanted me to rip him in the story, some wanted me to praise him. In the end, neither side was probably happy with how it turned out.

My guess is that Gilbert didn't like what he saw or Wes or others mentioned in the story. I think there will probably some fallout for me for delving into this area, which has been ignored by the media for some time. I expect to take lots of heat from some and perhaps even some praise from others. But that is the journalism business.

In the end, my opinion is that Wes is probably a very dynamic person. He is excellent at what he does and he is respected as a trusted friend by many people, many high-profile people, many smart people. He probably helps people make tough decisions but also is there to help them in tough times.

But like all of us, he needs and wants money, too. People told me he has a big heart, but he isn't doing his out of the goodness of his heart. He knows people, he gets them together. If those people make a deal, he probably gets a cut. This happens in every industry, it just sometimes happens more out in the open. In the NBA, where there are billions to be split up, everyone looks for their share.

Those of us that cover the NBA worry about more than what is on the court, we try to report on everything we can that affects what happens on the court. That means free agents, coaching searches and people that determine major decisions. In my research, I've learned Wes' has influence so I tried to tell the story of why and how.

With so many murky details, some reporters might've steered clear of this story, perhaps I'll wish I had. This was far from a complete piece, I know. But it won't be the last words or the most important written about Wes, I am sure of that.

Take care,