Gund Confident Cavs Can Win

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Gordon Gund knows home attendance has slipped. He's aware that interest has dropped off. And he isn't happy about losing, either.

But the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers remains optimistic -- and patient -- about his team.

Gund would have a difficult time convincing others. But if things finally go the Cavs' way, Gund said it won't be long before they're playing for an NBA title.

"In three or four years," Gund said. "And we have to get lucky, not only from an injury standpoint, but lucky in terms of player deals and drafts and trades. But if we do, three or four years."

That may seem like an eternity to some. Not for Gund.

Not after enduring three straight 50-loss seasons. Not after a decade's worth of injuries the past few years, and not after firing two coaches since 1999.

Luck hasn't paid a visit to Cleveland in a long time.

"We're due," Gund said. "But that doesn't seem to matter."

Gund met with reporters on Monday for a briefing at the arena that bears his name to address the state of the team he has owned the past 19 years.

Gund is pleased with the job coach John Lucas did in his first year in Cleveland, and he praised general manager Jim Paxson for his patience and long-term perspective.

"He's on the right track," Gund said of his GM. "I have no feeling other than very positive about staying with him and keeping him in that role."

Gund indicated the club will stay "very much within reason" as it attempts to re-sign free agent guard Ricky Davis, and he doesn't think the Cavs will have to offer Andre Miller a league maximum contract when the point guard becomes a free agent after next season.

And despite persistent rumors, Gund said he is not currently trying to sell the Cavs.

"I don't know how long I'll be doing this," he said. "I enjoy it and continue to enjoy it. Obviously, at some point if somebody offered me something that was very attractive, I'm a businessman, I'd have to think about it.

"I wouldn't say never, but I don't have any plans right now."

Although the Cavs won just 29 games this season under Lucas, Gund said there were enough positives to feel the team is finally headed in the right direction.

He pointed to the continued development of Miller, who led the league in assists. Gund also was pleased that center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was able to play in 62 games after being limited to just 29 the past three seasons because of foot injuries.

"We put some pretty good pieces in place this year," he said. "Last year, I was not feeling as enthusiastic about things because I wasn't sure how we were going to pull out of it. I think we're on the way to pulling out of it."

The Cavs drew 14,539 fans per game this season, their lowest average attendance since 1987-88 and a dropoff of 3,500 since 20,000-seat Gund Arena opened in 1994. On March 5, only 9,915 -- the smallest crowd in arena history -- came to see the Cavs play Houston.

"I am concerned about it," Gund said. "I believe the fans don't want to continue to see losing seasons and they want to see this team get better and better.

"I think they will. I can understand why attendance is off and it is concerning. But I do feel encouraged about where we're headed. But it will take time for the fans to get that, and I understand that."

Gund agreed with Paxson, who last week said the Cavs were entering an important off-season. They can't afford to make any mistakes.

And that's why they're being cautious with Davis, a restricted free agent who became a fan favorite during a late-season push.

Davis, 22, averaged 25.3 points during an eight-game stretch and wowed Cavs fans with the way he soared for dunks and fearlessly drove to the basket.

The Cavs can match any offer made to Davis by other teams, but Gund warned that he won't overpay for a player who never averaged five points per game before this season.

"We'll do within reason what we can to keep him, but we're not going to go crazy because someone else does," Gund said.

Miller has emerged as one of the league's young stars. If the Cavs don't sign him to an extension, he'll be a restricted free agent next summer and could be offered a long-term maximum deal by another team.

Gund doesn't think the Cavs will need to "max" out on a contract for Miller, whom he feels wants to be on a winning team -- in Cleveland.

"I'm not sure Andre wants to play on a team where he's got the max and the team isn't going anywhere," Gund said. "I don't think we're going to have to pay Andre the max, especially if we're insuring that he's got players around him that can help."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)