CLEVELAND – Danny Ferry didn't agree with the decision to fire Cleveland's coach. He knew re-signing superstar free agent LeBron James would be difficult. He felt his authority as general manager was being reduced by an owner with a different vision.
The Cavaliers are changing.
Ferry decided to let them — without him.
He resigned as Cleveland's general manager after five seasons on Friday, a stunning development for a team seemingly in turmoil during the most important offseason in team history, the Summer of LeBron.
Ferry's departure came two weeks after owner Dan Gilbert fired coach Mike Brown following the Cavs' disappointing second-round loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs. It also came as the team is making plans to try and bring back James, the two-time MVP and biggest name in a free-agent class like none before.
Ferry, whose contract was set to expire June 30, decided to leave after talks with Gilbert revealed they had differing ideas on the Cavs' direction.
"It's the right time to move on," Ferry said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
But the timing and suddenness of Ferry's departure — as well as Brown's dismissal despite winning 143 games the past two seasons — seem to point to a franchise in disarray.
Gilbert, however, claims the Cavaliers are as strong as ever and said the loss of Brown and Ferry won't derail his goal of bringing a championship to Cleveland, which hasn't celebrated a pro sports title in 46 years.
"You've got to be willing to take some risks, calculated ones, and make changes when they're necessary," Gilbert said.
Ferry said the decision not to renew his contract was a mutual one with Gilbert.
"I thought it was important that there was as much clarity as possible in the organization at this time, so things could start moving forward," Ferry said. "It's important that whomever is hired as the head coach knows and understands the people he is going to work with."
Assistant GM Chris Grant will take over for Ferry, who played in Cleveland for 10 years and became the club's GM in 2005, shortly after Gilbert hired Brown.
It was assumed Ferry would remain with Cleveland, leading the organization's attempt to retain James. Ferry had been deeply involved in the preliminary search for a new coach and preparing for July's opening of free agency. He and Gilbert had a strong relationship, but it seemed to fray following the Cavs' season and may have pulled completely apart in their differences over Brown.
Ferry led the Cavs through the most successful period in their history, peaking with the club's first finals appearance in 2007. But despite winning 127 regular-season games and having the league's best record the past two seasons, the Cavs fell short of a title, losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals last season and to the Celtics last month.
And now, they're on the verge of possibly losing James.
On a conference call, Gilbert said he Ferry both decided to end their run together.
"We mutually concluded it is best to go in different directions," he said. "There are not rights and wrongs in all this."
Gilbert said the organization has been in touch with James and he remains confident the Cavaliers can re-sign the superstar, who has spent seven seasons with Cleveland.
"We feel good about it," Gilbert said. "We feel like we have put the franchise in a great place for LeBron and all our players."
James said in an interview with CNN's Larry King that the Cavs have "an edge" to re-sign him.
Gilbert said the club is moving "very quickly" in its search for a new coach and that ideally he would have one in place by the start of free agency, "but I don't know if that can happen or not." He did not say if the team has interviewed any candidates.
Gilbert will again hire a defensive-oriented coach, pointing to the finals matchup between the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers as further proof that defense wins titles.
"I don't think you can get to the NBA finals without a defensive-focused coach," he said.
Gilbert also and insists any perception the Cavaliers are in turmoil is untrue.
"The franchise is strong and in great shape from a business standpoint," he said, adding that renewals for season tickets and luxury suites were at record levels.
Ferry said the club's strategy to re-sign James will not be affected by his departure, and that Grant is ready to assume GM duties.
"Chris is prepared to do a great job," Ferry said. "This will be a natural transition for him. He's done everything that a GM does at every level."
Grant almost left the Cavs two years ago to take the GM job in Atlanta, where he spent nine seasons working in a variety of roles with the Hawks. Gilbert said Grant served in a partnership with Ferry the past few seasons and is equipped to lead the Cavaliers through "a very unique and unprecedented situation."
Gilbert said Lance Blanks will remain in his role of assistant GM/vice president of basketball operations.
With Gilbert willing to spend millions to win a title, Ferry was able to boost Cleveland's roster around James. He added Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison without giving up much and got the Cavs to the second round of the playoffs in each of the past five seasons — the only team to do so.
But except for their surprising run to the finals in 2007, the Cavs didn't have enough to win it all.
"There are no hard feelings," Ferry said. "I appreciate all Dan has done to create a world-class organization and I think it's in position to build on a strong foundation and attain the next level." — AP