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Published: 3/23/2005

Jackson perfect pick to replace Silas with Cavs

From the moment he was hired to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, Paul Silas' days were numbered.

As the first NBA coach of high school phenom LeBron James, Silas had a win-or-else edict hanging over his head.

Granted, Cleveland has played poorly since the All-Star break. However, the Cavaliers still have a winning record and are in the thick of the playoff race in the weak Eastern Conference. Silas should have been permitted to finish out his second season in Cleveland.

Cavaliers fans have every reason to feel disappointed. But they should also feel excited.

Disappointed, because the Cavaliers, after starting the season like a house aflame, have been doused with mediocrity.

Excited, because Silas' dismissal opens the door for Phil Jackson to coach James, the new Michael Jordan.

Who better to coach the next MJ than the man who coached the original MJ?

Please don't say that Flip Saunders is the answer. Saunders was fired earlier this season because he coached Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves to the same number of NBA titles in eight full seasons that Silas won with James and the Cavaliers. None.

If new owner Dan Gilbert is really serious about James remaining a Cavalier for his entire career, he should give Jackson, who is also expected to be courted by the Lakers and Knicks, an open checkbook.

Silas' apparent disconnect from Cleveland's players in general - and James in particular - helps explain the Cavaliers' fade after an impressive start.

Silas lost his grip on the Cavaliers because of his meltdowns in the media, his war of words with individual players and his disparaging references to the roster, a direct slap at Jim Paxson, the team's president and general manager.

Paxson may have won his power struggle with Silas, but he's not out of the woods. Not based on his collective body of work in Cleveland.

How Paxson, who has used up eight of his nine lives, still has a job is a mystery. His fingerprints are all over this team.

Selecting James with the first pick in the 2003 draft was a no-brainer. Paxson's weakness is apparent when the player he should draft isn't so obvious. Paxson drafted Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop and DaJuan Wagner, three of the worst first-round picks in franchise history.

Paxson drafted Andre Miller, but traded Miller, who led the league in assists, for Darius Miles, who couldn't start for the Clippers. Paxson traded Miles, who became a starter in Portland, for Jeff McInnis, whom Silas recently banished to the bench. Paxson traded Chris Mihm and Ricky Davis to Boston for cabfare.

Paxson stole Carlos Boozer in the second round, then foolishly granted Boozer free agency a year early. Boozer reneged on a verbal agreement with Cleveland and signed with Utah. Silas' vulgar description of Boozer last week led to a $10,000 fine by the team and his firing on Monday.

Paxson has hired and fired three coaches in Cleveland. Randy Wittman, John Lucas and Silas guided the Cavaliers to a collective 168-266 record. Paxson fired Mike Fratello but didn't hire him.

For the good of the organization, Gilbert must give Paxson an ultimatum. If Paxson can deliver Jackson - the coach who makes the most sense for James and the Cavaliers - he can stay. Otherwise, Paxson should join Silas in the unemployment line.



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