Paxson may have worst job in the NBA
You think Kiki Vandeweghe has it tough in Denver? Consider another ex-Trail Blazer, Jim Paxson, who is running the NBA's version of Boys Town in Cleveland.
Paxson is general manager of the youngest Ñ and worst Ñ team in the league. The former is by design. With owner Gordon Gund's edict that the luxury tax salary cap threshold (about $55 million) not be crossed, Paxson unloaded his best player, Andre Miller, his top two scorers, Lamond Murray and Wes Person, and promising Matt Harpring last summer. Cleveland's payroll is $42.5 million; the youth movement is on.
The Cavaliers have eight players 24 or younger, with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (27) and reserve forward Tyrone Hill (34) the only older players in the rotation. In Sunday's 114-95 loss to the Blazers, Cleveland started Carlos Boozer, Darius Miles and Smush Parker (all 21), Ricky Davis (23) and Ilgauskas.
It has not been the easiest of seasons for Paxson, the former All-Star guard now in his fourth year as Cleveland's GM. When the Blazers blew out the Cavs in Portland last month Ñ 'they had 16 dunks,' Paxson notes Ñ it convinced him that drastic measures were in order. A week later, he fired coach John Lucas and hired assistant Keith Smart on an interim basis for the rest of the season.
'The biggest thing was, I didn't see any indication it was going to be different the balance of the year,' Paxson says. 'It's a tough situation for Keith, but I felt it was the right decision for our franchise, and I couldn't wait much longer to make a change.
'I still believe this team has more talent than what it indicates. Even though we are young, when we made the changes, I wanted this team to be one that gets up and down the floor, extends things defensively and plays a lot like Portland does. They don't have a true point guard, but they have guys long and athletic, and they dictate the tempo. Not that we would be as good, but it's the style I would like to see us play.'
After serving four years as assistant GM with Portland, Paxson moved to Cleveland in 1998 as the Cavaliers' vice president of basketball operations, then took over for Wayne Embry as general manager the following year. Paxson's biggest success was unloading Shawn Kemp and his monstrous contract in a trade that brought Kemp to Portland Ñ 'a miracle, one of the great trades in NBA history,' Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith says.
Paxson's draft record is mixed Ñ thumbs up for taking Miller (No. 8 in 1998), Chris Mihm (No. 7 in 2000) and Boozer (second round in 2002), thumbs down for Trajan Langdon (No. 11 in 1998) and DeSagana Diop (No. 8 in 2000), and the jury's out on Dajuan Wagner
(No. 6 in 2001). Paxson got rid of overpaid Bob Sura but is already on his third coach after starting with Randy Wittman.
So much of Cleveland's future is based on potential. Can Davis, wild and erratic but athletic and talented, add structure to his game? Will Miles, Wagner, Mihm and Boozer develop into quality starters? Can Ilgauskas' already battle-scarred feet hold up?
'We need to keep the young guys together, hope that one or two emerge as great players and build around them,' Paxson says.
If the future is hazy, the now is downright nasty. 'The loneliest man in Cleveland,' said a cover story in Scene Magazine. A crowd of 10,127 was announced for Sunday's game, with about half that many in attendance. In the Cleveland Plain Dealer's 16-page Sunday sports section, there was no advance for the Cavs-Blazers game other than a 2-inch graphic. In one hotel's gift shop, there were dozens of Browns and Indians souvenirs available, but nothing representing the Cavs. 'We never get asked,' the attendant says.
Paxson, 45, is in the final year of his contract. It's uncertain if Gund will rehire him, but it may be a moot point because word on the street is that Gund probably will sell the club, especially if the Cavs don't land prep sensation LeBron James in the June draft.
'There have been a lot of rumors,' Paxson says, 'but based on the business I have done with (Gund), he runs it like he's going to run it the next 10 years.'
By this summer, we'll know more.