Cavs, LeBron's futures uncertain after loss

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — The Cavaliers' season of seasons, the one supposed to end Cleveland's tortured 46-year title drought, ended without a parade or King James' coronation as a champion.

It's over.

The pain endures, though. And it may only worsen.

Superstar LeBron James hasn't bolted as a free agent for New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or New Jersey or (fill in your favorite NBA city here) — at least not yet. And Cavs coach Mike Brown hasn't been fired — at least not yet. General manager Danny Ferry still has his job, too.

That three-ring circus hasn't opened.

One day after their title run was snuffed by a more focused Boston team on the Celtics' famed parquet floor, and with two-time MVP James' impending free agency looming on the horizon like an inescapable hurricane, the Cavaliers began piecing together what went wrong.

It hurt.

"It's one of those things that you can't believe it after it's happened," shellshocked owner Dan Gilbert said.

Reality hit hard on Friday as the organization and Cavaliers fans faced Day One of the Summer of LeBron, which wasn't supposed to arrive until mid-June. But it's here and it's going to be stormy.

Showing the wear and tear of a late night after the Cavs lost Game 6, Gilbert said his emotions were too raw, the wounds too new to begin reshaping a franchise now dealing with an uncertain future tied directly to whether it can re-sign James, whose recruitment by other cities began with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying he may give him a "big sales pitch."

Gilbert wasn't amused.

"I would think Mayor Bloomberg has better things to do than that," said Gilbert, who contends the Cavs remain the best fit for James. "Besides that, we have to ignore the noise. People in New York read that stuff more than people in Cleveland do. We are focused on building the best franchise, the best environment, the best place for a long-term situation for LeBron or any free agent that wants to come here.

"We will do everything in our power to attract great talent and keep great talent."

Gilbert refuted a report on SI.com that he had already fired Brown, who despite having the game's best player and a roster upgraded this season with the additions of All-Stars Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison, failed to take his team as far as it went last season.

Gilbert said the team's ownership group would embark on an organizational review — from top to bottom.

"We are going to take a long, deep, hard look at every key position in this entire franchise," he said. "It's not going to be a long period of time. Within a week to 10 days we'll have most of our information and decision-making done. But we're not going to react here emotionally the next morning after unexpectedly losing the series and make rash decisions."

Brown has one year remaining on a contract extension he signed after taking the Cavaliers to their first NBA finals in 2007. He's 314-167 in five seasons with Cleveland, but his gaudy record may not be enough to save him from an almost certain dismissal.

He was badly outcoached by Boston's Doc Rivers, who had his team better prepared and got more from his players. The Cavs, who had the league's best regular-season record two years in a row, were continually beaten to loose balls and rebounds, something Brown couldn't help but perhaps a sign he had already lost his team.

"I don't think the team quit," Gilbert said.

Ferry, who is in the final year of his contract, sidestepped a question about Brown's playoff performance.

"I respect Mike Brown and I've always enjoyed working with him," Ferry said. "All of us are disappointed with how we played at the end. We will spend the next period of time talking about it and figuring it out."

Like Gilbert, Ferry seemed dazed by the events of the past week. Once leading the series 2-1, the Cavs lost three straight, the last home game by 32 points. Cleveland looked nothing like the team that won more than 60 games for the second straight season.

"It's a frustrating thing when you're not playing at the level you think you can," Ferry said. "At the end of the day we weren't able to put it together."

For Ferry, the Cavs' troubles started much earlier, dating to James complaining about a right elbow problem before an April 8 game against Chicago. James refused to use his elbow as an excuse during the playoffs, but Ferry revealed for the first time it was serious enough that the team would have rested him in the regular season.

"We probably would have shut him down for a couple weeks, I can tell you that," said Ferry, who hasn't been told James needs surgery. "But we were in the playoffs and it was that time of year where it is was something he could play with, and we were told that he wouldn't hurt himself further. He was ready to go."

James may be ready to go for good.

In the aftermath of Thursday's loss, James said he and his "team" would follow their game plan into free agency, which opens on July 1. He is expected to visit other cities, whose overtures at the 25-year-old will only raise the blood pressure and anxiety level of Cleveland's paranoid fans.

"It's all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that," he said. "But at the same time I've given myself options to this point."

The Cavaliers' postseason collapse may have done irreparable damage to their chances of re-signing James, Akron's proud son who wanted to strip Cleveland of its "Loserville" image for good. He may not get another chance, and he may not want one.

Although James can get a longer contract with Cleveland, after seven seasons, he may be itching for a new start.

Gilbert said he hasn't imagined James as anything but a Cavalier.

"I haven't really thought of that," he said.

Perhaps it's time to start.