NBA: Bad Guy Might Finish First

If nice guys finish last then, using logic, you can say that the bad guys finish first.

I don’t mean bad as in villainous or evil, but bad as in doing a poor job in their respective position while showing poor skills.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert can be categorized as a bad guy. Having first bought the team in 2005, Gilbert had a special, young player in LeBron James who was quickly becoming one of the best superstars the NBA had ever seen.

From the moment Gilbert came on as owner, he had the chance to build a strong contender around James, but he and General Manager Danny Ferry consistently failed to do so.

They traded for and signed declining stars such as Ben Wallace, Antawn Jameson and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as relied heavily on talented, yet not top-tier players such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. Coach Mike Brown was able to constantly finish high in the standings during the regular season, but his poor coaching style depended too much on James and the teams were predictable and easily beatable come playoff time.

Despite that, James was able to carry the team to the NBA Finals in 2007, yet could not win a game as the Cavs were swept by the Spurs. Discouraged at coming up short time and time again in the playoffs, he left Cleveland for Miami in the summer of 2010 after winning consecutive NBA MVP’s.

Gilbert then, in his most infamous moment, wrote a letter tearing James apart for his departure. He called him out for the “cowardly betrayal”, adding that James was selfish and narcissistic in his act.

Gilbert could not humbly accept the fact that he had failed at his job. For years, he, his GM and coach had all failed to come together and put the right pieces around LeBron, who not wanting to waste his prime years by shouldering a team unfit to win a championship, did as he is entitled to and signed with a team where he’d have a shot.

He showed just how ungrateful he was at having had James as a Cav for seven years and did not own up to his own ineptitude and convince James to stay. The Cavs fans were just as classless, burning his jersey.

With new GM Chris Grant under him, Gilbert promised to win a title before the “self-declared former King” would. What happened in the next four years while LeBron was in Miami going to four straight finals, winning two more regular season MVP’s, two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs? The Cavs compiled a 97-215 record, winning just above 30 percent of their games.

Grant was fired mid-season in 2014 and Mike Brown was fired just one year after being brought on once more to coach.

Gilbert also wrote another missive in that time, this one less personal, but with just as much bitterness behind it.

The Los Angeles Lakers had seemingly acquired unhappy-superstar, Chris Paul, in a trade that saw them give up two of their key pieces in their recent title run. It all seemed like a fair trade for the teams involved, but because of Gilbert leading the charge to run interference, the trade was cancelled just a few hours later by then Commissioner David Stern.

The trade would not have only given the Lakers a viable piece to continue contending, but also reduce their salaries and allow them to pay out less of the luxury tax to other teams, the Cavs included. Gilbert and the Cavs would lose out on money and would see another superstar leave his team.

Gilbert was continuing to fail time and time again as an owner in his personnel choices, despising when other teams made positive acquisitions and yet somehow was winning all at once.

Over those four years, the Cavs had acquired three of the first overall picks in the NBA Draft (including the first overall pick this year) and two fourth overall picks.  Gilbert and his organization had been rewarded for their miserable play with the ability to have top choice on the fresh young talent.

Even as they selected Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett in those four years, the Cavs still ended up with that lousy record. They attempted to sign oft-injured Center Andrew Bynum who played an unceremonious 20 games for them only to be traded for disgruntled Forward Luol Deng, who only stuck around for half a season.

The team acquired the first overall pick of 2014 and selected Forward/Guard Andrew Wiggins to add to their top pick cache. The luck that comes about in the NBA Lottery continued to fall in the Cavs favor.

Whether Gilbert’s choices as new GM, David Griffin, and his latest coaching hiring, David Blatt, would have turned these young players into a championship contending nucleus, will never been known.  Their luck for the lottery seemed to have been spilled into free agency as well, as on July 11th, LeBron James announced he would be returning to Cleveland via free agency.

Gilbert is lucky in that James was born in Akron, Ohio. Gilbert is lucky in that James’s mother raised him to be an upstanding individual with a conscience and forgiving nature. Gilbert is lucky that LeBron’s’ conscience, desire to win and availability coincided with the NBA Lottery continuously rewarding teams for their incompetence and having had such a group of young talent already on the roster awaiting LeBron to lead them.

LeBron is such a gifted and special NBA superstar that just having him on a team makes that team a title contender. They might not win, but they will contend. Add in Irving, Wiggins, Thompson, Waiters and Bennett and winning is a whole lot more probable.

James is at his absolute physical peak and admits that although they might not win at first, the Cavs will be ready to win soon enough under his leadership. It’s up to Gilbert and whoever he chooses, to ensure this happens.

That’s where I derived the “bad guy finishing first” statement. Gilbert could sit back and do nothing or get to work on obtaining more help for James, but either way, the result, given Gilbert’s track record, could without difficulty be having this touchy homecoming implode.

After the pitiful last four years of being made to look ridiculous by his own actions and inferiority, the “bad guy” Gilbert has seemingly ended up on top for now. He has LeBron, Irving and a host of players with potential, but it remains to be seen whether his team will actually rise to the top, where he inanely promised he’d have the Cavs one day.

Maybe the bad guy will get his championship, but the more probable scenario? The bad guy continues to be “bad” and ends up once again unable to deliver to his star player, organization and city.

Jose Guzman

Jose Guzman

Being born in Los Angeles, I was raised to be an avid LA sports fan (later following the New Orleans Saints and FC Barcelona) even as I moved to Arizona. I’m currently attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and working toward becoming a national sports journalist and broadcaster. I live by the adage of “ball is life” and can hold my own in a conversation on any sport/team/player. Apart from sports, I love music and can talk someone’s ear off on that as well. I keep an open ear on subjects as long as there’s justification behind the arguments and to ask any questions or learn more about my thoughts on subjects, feel free to contact me through my (sometimes uncensored) Twitter and Instagram accounts @JoseTwoFour or email me at

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