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A Successful Failure

“Our mission was called "a successful failure," in that we returned safely but never made it to the Moon.” --Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Apollo 13

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2008-2009 team and the Apollo 13 crew have more in common than you might think. The same general idea, a “successful failure,” applies to both instances. At the onset of the season, the Cavaliers designated one and only one goal in order to capitalize on all that has been put in place during the last five years. That goal was to be competing in the final June series: The NBA Finals. The quest began at the start of training camp, lasted throughout the duration of the regular season, and blasted full-throttle into the playoffs.

The drive lasted until a “magic” detour popped out quicker than the release of a Rashard Lewis three-pointer. That detour was the slick, endless shooting and front-court dominated Orlando Magic. No Cavs fan wanted to believe the joy ride they had cruised on for eight months was to vanish at such a rapid pace in a similar fashion to how the 1997 Florida Marlins prevented a World Series title from the heavily favored Cleveland Indians (Heavy Cleveland favorite against young, free spirited underdog). Yet the NBA gods worked in their mysterious intricacies catapulting a Lakers vs. Magic Finals that once again ripped the collective heart out of the Cleveland fan.

The demons continue to roam Cleveland ultimately making this season no different than those of the past 45 years. Encouragement can be taken and claims of numerous steps in the proper direction offer slight consolation. But a championship was not won and the lingering feeling of a LeBron-less Cavaliers has been planted into the fans’ minds. Although I do not believe LeBron will throw away all he has in Cleveland for mere market exposure, it is hard to be complacent with this notion as the mass herds of national media continually shove anti-Cleveland propaganda far down the city’s collective throat.

Regardless, take solace Cavs’ fans. The team has never witnessed better direction with clear cut answers heading into any given season than that which is set to begin this October. General Manager Danny Ferry knows what must be done to reach the next level, securing more than just a championship here in Cleveland, but a winning culture for years to come.

To put it simply, Version 6.0 of the LeBron James era zeroed in on one team…the Boston Celtics. Every trade, every move and non-move (not dumping Wally Szcerzbiak’s contract for Shaq prior to the trade deadline) for that matter was designed with the intent that the Celtics would be the Eastern Conference Finals foe. As we have learned, even Cavalier players, coaches, and management all heavily pulled for the Celtics in their game 7 against Orlando. How fate can pull such unforeseen twists…

This philosophy seemed to pan out exactly how the masterminds had arranged. That is until the all-but-set-in-stone 2009 NBA playoffs took a drastic shift in an Orlando/Cleveland ECF. As the Magic series gained momentum, it was almost a replica of the 2008 series for the Cavs, where defeat came at the hands of Boston. From a fan point of view, the Boston series created an impression that no matter what game plan designed and implemented; destiny would not furnish a Cleveland triumph ultimately. No matter how much LeBron willed, the lack of help would prove to be the final knockout punch.

The Magic series did provide positive substance in pin-pointing the gaping holes that still survive. It’s difficult to count solely on the NBA Draft as talent often takes 3-4 years to fully develop (Exhibit A being the talented, but very raw J.J. Hickson taken in last years draft). Thus, despite having multiple picks in the upcoming draft, Danny Ferry and team must rely on the ever-deepening pockets of Dan Gilbert to provide not only beyond the luxury tax, but also to ensure that LeBron James will be content in Cleveland for years to come.

So, the season itself was a fun ride, and success was seen in almost every facet of the team from coach to MVP to the best club in the regular season. But this success was ultimately deemed a failure with the absence of the Finals.

The problems are evident. The solutions, though not precisely clear-cut, are within reach. One more year will allot this team the tools needed to finally take down the East and bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Cleveland for the first time in franchise history. If not, simply put the rebuilding process for the Cavaliers and Cleveland will be of mammoth proportions not seen since the 1999 Cleveland Browns.

Patrick Fischbach


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