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The Cavs, though, are in a bind as complex as any defense they saw in the playoffs.
James will likely keep his options open until free agency begins, and without an agreement from him, it will be almost impossible for the team to land a high-profile coach since any prospective coach can't be assured he'll have James.
Beyond that, general manager Danny Ferry's contract expires next month and there's no guarantee he wants to stay around.
If Ferry isn't re-signed, the Cavs face the prospect of preparing for the NBA college draft and free agency without a coach or GM -- hardly the position they thought they'd be in after winning 61 regular-season games and dispatching Chicago in the first playoff round.
It gets even trickier. Gilbert will undoubtedly try to make a big splash to convince James to stay, but to do so he'll likely have to land a high-profile coach. There's no indication Gilbert has reached out to anyone yet but the top-tier candidate list would include people like Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State's Tom Izzo or Kentucky's John Calipari, a close friend of James, whose seat near Cleveland's bench added awkward drama to the Cavs' loss in Game 5 to the Celtics.
Jackson's contract with the Lakers expires after this season. The 10-time champion has talked about retirement and recently said he can't imagine himself coaching anywhere else, but that may not stop Gilbert from making him a strong pitch -- especially if James is part of the package.
Krzyzewski and James formed a strong bond in three seasons together on the U.S. Olympic team, winning a gold medal in Beijing two years ago. Krzyzewski came close to leaving Duke for the Lakers in 2004, and if he's ever going to test his mettle in the pro game, the opportunity to coach James could be enough to pry him from campus.
Also, assuming he stays, Ferry is close with Krzyzewski, whom he played for in college and still calls "coach."
"The NBA rumors have been addressed several times in recent years by coach Krzyzewski," Duke spokesman Jon Jackson said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "He has repeatedly stated that he will be the Duke head coach for the remainder of his career."
Gilbert has always been impressed with Izzo, who fits the tough-minded defensive profile the owner was looking for when he hired Brown in 2005. Also, Gilbert is a Michigan State graduate. Izzo has turned down previous NBA overtures, but maybe none as big as what Gilbert might offer.
And then there's Calipari, who has insisted he'll stay at Kentucky. But that's not likely to stop the Cavs from reaching out to Calipari to gauge his interest in coming to Cleveland, a move that could keep James home.
Brown, meanwhile, did everything in his five seasons with the Cavs -- everything but win a title. In the end, that meant Gilbert had little choice but to let him go.
The Cavs owner can't let James walk away as easily.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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