Gilbert makes winning, not more rebuilding, Cavs’ top priority

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert glances at the scoreboard in the second quarter against the Miami Heat at Quicken Loans Arena.

David Richard

At some point, the Cavaliers will need to respond to coaching.

And that’s not me saying they haven’t been — that’s two coaches. Both former coach Byron Scott and current man Mike Brown have talked about the team’s "lack of urgency." Both have questioned the team’s overall effort from game to game, minute to minute.

Now, Brown isn’t blameless in all this. Great coaches are able to reach their players. Ever hear of Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman? Actually, Jackson had a considerably more difficult time with Scottie Pippen early in Pippen’s career, but all of that is a tale for another day.

What matters is Brown has failed in one major area in the first 50 games of his second stint with the Cavs: He has not gotten his players to buy what he’s selling — and we all know that’s defense.

How are the Cavs doing defensively? How about 25th in points allowed. There are only 30 teams in the league. You don’t need to major in calculus to know the Cavs’ defense stinks.

So while the players must respond to Brown, it’s Brown’s job to make certain that they do. That’s just the way it always works in pro sports, and that’s why the Cavs brought him to town. If the players fail, guess who takes the blame from the people running the team? Hint: Not the players.

As you know, owner Dan Gilbert fired general manager Chris Grant last week. Gilbert has actually been the type of owner everyone wants — he’s passionate enough to make himself visible to fans, yet intelligent enough to let his basketball people run things.

We will keep going and keep looking for the solutions and finding the right answers, until we deliver what we said we were going to deliver

-Dan Gilbert

His basketball people, to this point, have failed him. In that event, any owner would feel compelled to step in.

Gilbert wanted the playoffs this season, and still does. The fan base has shared his enthusiasm — and more recently, his irritation.

So when the Cavs were embarrassed by a severely undermanned (and lousy even when healthy) Lakers team, Gilbert felt the need to drop the hammer. It likely won’t be the only time he pounds that hammer if things don’t start correcting themselves, and fast.

"I’m sure we’re going to continue to make some mistakes," Gilbert conceded at the press conference to announce the Grant firing. "No one’s going to make perfect decisions, just like any business, every single day."

But mistakes are one thing. A team that doesn’t hear its coach is quite a larger matter.

This isn’t meant to say Brown and a roster featuring Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Luol Deng has no hope. Nor is it intended to demand everything be gutted.

Basically, the Cavs immediately went from going through the motions to going on a 33-game audition after Grant was let go. That audition includes Brown, acting GM David Griffin, and all those pieces Grant accumulated.

So Brown must figure out how the Cavs can win without being a great defensive team, how they can give maximum effort on a regular basis, how Irving, Waiters, Deng and the others can feed off one another.

All of that happened in Friday’s win at Washington. If there’s a bright side, it’s that the Cavs are 1-0 since Gilbert made his call. They did enough defensively, but won primarily because they shared the ball and were efficient offensively.

That needs to happen for the majority of the team’s final three months. Otherwise, you can be sure that more change is on the way.

"We will keep going and keep looking for the solutions and finding the right answers, until we deliver what we said we were going to deliver," Gilbert said. "That’s competitive, championship basketball."

Read: The owner isn’t mailing this in, and the pressure is on.