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Friday, June 5, 2009
Crucial offseason awaits Cavaliers news services

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Six years into the LeBron James era, the Cleveland Cavaliers are without an NBA title in a city that has waited 45 years to celebrate any major championship.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert believes his team will break the drought.

"We will win a championship for Cleveland, Ohio," Gilbert said Wednesday in a meeting with reporters. "It's going to happen. We don't believe in any of this curse nonsense. We're going to work very hard, beginning a couple of days ago, to make sure that happens."

That may make this offseason the most important in team history. James is eligible to sign a contract extension with the Cavaliers on July 18, but most observers expect him to reject it and opt for free agency after next season.

Such a move would not preclude James from remaining a Cavalier, but even deciding to keep his options open is sure to raise the collective anxiety level of the city's fans.

That includes the Cavaliers' owner.

We will win a championship for Cleveland, Ohio. It's going to happen. We don't believe in any of this curse nonsense.

-- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert

"If you think you're nervous ... " Gilbert joked before turning serious. "We feel very confident that this franchise and the direction we're going will make it the best place to play basketball for our current players, LeBron James, future players and anybody else. That's all we can do. We can create the best environment and best culture and create a team that has the best chances of ultimately winning an NBA championship. We're doing that."

Gilbert hasn't had any conversations with James about what will happen this summer.

"We've had a lot of other business to focus on," Gilbert said. "It takes two to make a contract. At the appropriate time, we'll make our best efforts to make sure LeBron understands the great plans we have and all the opportunities here. We feel pretty good about it."

In the four years Gilbert has owned the franchise, the Cavaliers have increased their payroll and victories. The 66 victories this season set a franchise mark and tied for the 10th-most in league history, while the payroll has consistently ranked among the league's highest.

Gilbert is one of the few owners who isn't intimidated by the league's luxury tax -- the Cavaliers have soared over the salary cap, and paid the tax, for the past two years.

He wants the team to keep improving.

"Nobody is satisfied. Nobody is happy," Gilbert said. "Expectations were much higher. We're not going to sit up here and say we won 66 games, we had all these awards and we had a great home record. Ultimately, you'd rather win 50 games if you're going to win the NBA championship."

The maneuvering to entice James to remain in Cleveland beyond this season already has begun. A deal is close to being completed that will sell a 15 percent share of the franchise to an investment group from China, a nation of 1.3 billion where James enjoys enormous popularity. Gilbert recited ratings from an NBA game in fall 2007, when he said 300 million Chinese viewers tuned in to watch Houston's Yao Ming face Milwaukee's Yi Jianlian.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched American television broadcast with an average audience of more than 100 million, according to a number of studies.

The Chinese group approached the Cavs with their proposal.

"We didn't seek them out, they sought out the opportunity," Gilbert said. "When you go through the checklist of good things, China is a big place. There is certainly opportunity there."

James, who is home recovering following a procedure Tuesday that removed a benign growth near his jaw, has been the topic of debate the past few days after he failed to shake hands with Orlando Magic players following the conclusion of the Eastern Conference finals.

On Wednesday, NBA commissioner David Stern announced he had fined James $25,000 for failing to meet with the media after that game. He relayed an apology from James at a news conference, saying "[James] knows he has a responsibility to all of our fans, and that sportsmanship is appropriate whether you win or whether you lose."

Gilbert did not criticize his superstar, but made it clear he would have preferred to see James shaking hands with the winners.

"As you know now, there are a lot of things going on in that young man's head," Gilbert said, referring to the procedure James has known he needed for months. "LeBron has given more interviews and is in front of the public and in front of the media more than maybe any sports figure that exists today ... Nobody in the world can do 100 percent of the things looked upon as the right thing to do. I think overall this guy has a pretty doggone good track record."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.