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Gilbert gaining noteriety

He’s been called meddlesome, a maverick, even moronic. No professional sports team owner this side of New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner has gotten as much attention in the past two months.

Dan Gilbert didn’t need long to make a name for himself in the NBA.

“There is a belief among some people that ‘basketball’ is the most complicated business invented since Adam Smith developed capitalism,” Gilbert said in an e-mail interview with The Associated Press. “The belief follows that owners should banish themselves to the owner’s box and not be seen nor heard until July 1 each year when the season is over.

“I think this view is flawed and has been the downfall of a lot of teams.”

On March 1, he was new to the league, taking over the resurrected Cleveland Cavaliers, a franchise poised to make its first playoff appearance in seven years led by 20-year-old superstar LeBron James.

Two months later, the Cavs have unraveled. And Gilbert is being blamed for the disarray.

James and his teammates missed the playoffs, done in by a stunning collapse that saw them go 11-16 after March 1. The club is searching for a new coach and GM while trying to plan for next month’s draft and free agency this summer.

Meanwhile, Gilbert, a 43-year-old online mortgage tycoon, has been stung by criticism from all sides. His moves have been panned by NBA insiders, Cavaliers’ fans, sports talk radio hosts and newspaper columnists.

Gilbert has a problem with the criticism that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that his hands-on approach is detrimental. To Gilbert, an owner should be doing much more than watching from the sidelines.

“There is nothing so unique and complicated about professional basketball rosters that people with very good business judgment who study the league and the various philosophies and strategies deployed in the league that they could not add value to the process,” he said. “In fact, there are many businesses that are much more complex and intricate than the elements of a professional basketball team and many successful leaders come in from totally unrelated industries and excel.”

At the top of Gilbert’s offseason to-do list: find a GM and coach. Gilbert dismissed Paul Silas on March 21 with 18 games left in the season, and released GM Jim Paxson on April 21 — one day after the season.

Gilbert said the searches were progressing nicely.

“We would prefer to have our new GM and even coach in place prior to the playoffs ending, but we are not going to let a few weeks of waiting be the determining factor,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts here and it is still too early to know the exact time frame.”

Last week, Gilbert had preliminary discussions with Phil Jackson about the possibility of the Zen Master coming to Cleveland. To do that, Gilbert may have to outbid the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers for Jackson, who has coached the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers to a total of nine NBA championships.

Former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders and current Seattle coach Nate McMillan are among the other names being floated as possible coaching candidates. The GM search appears to be wide open.

Gilbert said he wants the new GM to have a major role in deciding whether All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas re-signs with the Cavs or leaves as a free agent. Ilgauskas, who missed much of the last month with a dislocated finger and has overcome chronic foot injuries the past few years, set the odds of his return to Cleveland at “50-50.”

“It will depend on what kind of team the GM wants to build around LeBron and how does Z fit in or not fit in to that design. Clearly, the pay and the length of the contract his agent will demand, along with Z’s health, all play a role,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s actions in his brief tenure have led to some comparisons to Dallas owner Mark Cuban, with whom he shares a similar entrepreneurial background and willingness to roll up his sleeves.

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