With the rumors that Danny Ferry is at the top of the Sixers list of potential Rod Thorn replacements, I decided to reach over to Conrad Kaczmarek, editor of the Cavaliers SB Nation affiliate Fear The Sword, to get his perspective on Danny Ferry's 5 year tenure with the club.
Ferry had a fairly unique situation in Cleveland. He inherited a once-in-a-lifetime player, which virtually guaranteed his teams would be competitive. By the same token, such a unique player combined with a championship-or-bust mentality from ownership forced his hand to perhaps be more active than he would have been if building the team, particularly as LeBron got closer and closer to unrestricted free agency.
Below are Conrad's thoughts about Ferry's tenure in Cleveland, which were a little bit more optimistic than I expected. I've left them unedited and in their entirety to make sure no crucial pieces of information were left out and perspective lost. I'd like to thank him for taking the time to give us his perspective.
Danny Ferry was the GM of the Cavaliers for five years and you may expect me to crush him, but I'll be honest and say that his tenure wasn't actually that bad in Cleveland. Obviously at the time the Cavs had LeBron James and every expectation was to simply win an NBA Championship. While the team won a whopping zero NBA Finals games during that time, it'd be foolish to call it an abject failure. It'd be similarly foolish to put all the blame on Ferry. It's important to remember that despite what people may now say about LeBron James' teammates in Cleveland -- those were some pretty damn good teams. No matter how good LeBron was/is, you don't just win 60+ games two seasons in a row with a bunch of scrubs.
As far as the moves that Ferry made, none were really spectacular and none were catastrophic. He traded for Mo Williams for practically nothing and that actually worked out pretty well. Perhaps his biggest misstep was failing to trade away Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract in 2008-09. He wasn't much of a contributor on that team and he had a massive contract that was about to expire. The Cavaliers could have traded that away and gotten another piece to help push for a title, but Ferry failed to make such a move. The other set of moves that I would label as "questionable" revolve around Antawn Jamison and Shaq.
After a dominant 2008-09 regular season in which the Cavs won 66 games and swept the first two rounds of the playoffs, they ran into a nightmare (or Dwightmare, if you will) in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 2009 Orlando Magic were the worst possible matchup for those Cavs and probably the only team in the NBA that could beat them given the perfect conditions. Well, as you know, the Magic got those perfect conditions. They shot a ridiculous percentage from three and Dwight Howard was simply too much for either Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Anderson Varejao. The next year, the Danny Ferry and the rest of the front office basically decided that they had to prepare this team to take down the Magic. They acquired Shaquille O'Neal from the Suns and he played pretty well, to be honest. He battled some injuries, but was overall still a solid player (18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minute). The Cavs also managed to trade for Antawn Jamison for essentially nothing. They sent a first round pick and Ilgauskas' expiring contract to Washington and later re-signed Big Z once he got bought out. Jamison was intended to stretch the floor against Orlando and open up the paint for LeBron. Shaq was meant to be a big body that could at least slow down Dwight Howard. The Cavaliers never refused to give up JJ Hickson for Amare Stoudemire. That just didn't happen. The Suns wanted more for Amare, but I digress. The series of moves looked good at the time and nearly every expert on ESPN or wherever else picked the Cavaliers to win the 2010 title. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzz saw against the Boston Celtics with a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett and never even got another shot at the Magic. Ultimately, the biggest flaw in Ferry's tenure was his overlooking of the Celtics. He incorrectly assumed that the Magic were the only real resistance for the Cavs to get to the Finals in 2010 and they got burned for it.
Ultimately, Ferry didn't have a ton to work with. There was constant pressure to win immediately, something that I think he'll have a bit more time with in Philadelphia. He also won't have to work to appease a superstar at every turn. While it was disappointing that the Cavaliers never won a championship with LeBron James, they did put together some nasty teams. Obviously there are things that Ferry could have done better (drafting being one of them), but he wasn't a total failure. I truthfully have no idea how he'll do in Philly. It's a completely different situation because, well, there really is no situation quite like what he was dealing with in Cleveland.