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After total collapse, Cavs also will hire new coach

CLEVELAND – Their shocking collapse complete, the Cleveland Cavaliers began to rebuild on Thursday from the top.

Jim Paxson was fired as the club's general manager, dismissed by
new owner Dan Gilbert one day after the Cavaliers' chaotic season
ended short of the NBA playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.

Expected for weeks, Paxson's firing came exactly one month after
coach Paul Silas was fired with 18 games left by Gilbert, the
online mortgage banker who has had a rough introduction into
operating a pro sports franchise.

On March 1, Gilbert took over a 31-24 team that appeared
playoff-bound. But a prolonged losing skid, compounded by Silas'
firing and rumors that Paxson was next, LeBron James wasn't happy
and free agent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was apartment hunting in
New York, has Gilbert entering his first summer looking for a coach
and GM.

"We have a pretty good track record in 21 years of business of
picking the right people," he said. "We're looking at the best in
business and basketball."

Gilbert didn't divulge any candidates for a successor to Paxson,
who took over the Cavaliers in 1999. Gilbert intends to have
Cleveland's next GM hire the new coach. He removed Brendan Malone
as a coaching candidate. Malone went 8-10 as an interim replacement
for Silas and will stay with the organization.

Paxson's tenure as Cleveland's GM will be remembered for poor
draft picks (Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop), a carousel of head
coaching changes, James' arrival and Carlos Boozer's defection as a
free agent.

But perhaps most importantly, the Cavs didn't make the playoffs
under Paxson. Cleveland went 185-307 in his six seasons.

Although critics are quick to point out his failings, Paxson was
responsible for ridding the Cavaliers of some burdensome contracts
• leftovers from previous GM Wayne Embry • that prevented the team
from improving with offseason moves.

Paxson traded Shawn Kemp and his four-year, $70.8 million
contract to Portland in 2000. He also freed the team of other awful
contracts that Embry and former principal owner Gordon Gund handed
out in the late '90s.

Paxson had finally placed the Cavaliers, who won just 17 games
two years ago, in position to spend money on free agents to
complement James, but now he won't get the chance to see his plans
through.

In a statement, Paxson thanked Gund for the opportunity and
wished Gilbert "every success in the future."

Thanks to Paxson, Cleveland's next GM will be more than $20
million under the salary cap.

"For the organization it's a critical time," forward Robert
Traylor said. "They have to make sure they get somebody in here
who knows the business."

The Cavaliers finished 42-40, a seven-game improvement from last
season, but lost a tiebreaker with New Jersey for the eighth and
final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

It was a bitter ending for the Cavs, who led the Central
Division for several weeks before their season was thrown into
upheaval by the change of ownership, Silas' firing and guard Jeff
McInnis' benching.

"There were a lot of things that happened business-wise," said
forward Drew Gooden, who replaced Boozer and averaged career-highs
in scoring (14.4) and rebounds (9.2). "It did bring us a lot of
negativity."

Before the Cavaliers went their separate ways following a
strange season, there were a few more bizarre moments Thursday:

• James, who had an MVP-caliber season, was the only player to
leave without speaking to the media. The star jumped into his
Hummer, pumped up the stereo's volume and signed a few autographs
for Gund Arena employees before rolling into a summer vacation he
couldn't postpone.

James averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists,
smashed several team records and ended his fabulous second season
with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists in a win over Toronto.

"The kid can do it all," Traylor said. "But he can't do it
all by himself."

• Wearing a New York Yankees cap, Ilgauskas ended his ninth
season with the Cavaliers not knowing if he'll be back for a 10th.
The All-Star center said it's "50-50" that he re-signs with
Cleveland.

"I would love to stay," said Ilgauskas, who averaged 16.9
points, 8.6 rebounds and played the final two weeks with a
dislocated finger. "I never wanted to go, but reality is I'm a
free agent."

• McInnis blamed stomach cramps, not a "viral syndrome" as the
team called it, for him not traveling to the season finale in
Toronto. However, McInnis' excuse seemed shaky after the soon-to-be
free agent sulked over playing time and his benching by both Silas
and Malone.

During Tuesday night's final home game, McInnis didn't join his
teammates on the bench for long stretches of the second half. And
when he was there, he sat with a towel wrapped around his head.

"I thought I was a true professional during all of this," he
said. "I think they wanted me to blow up and do something crazy."

The Cavaliers had plenty of that this season.