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Playing the restructuring game Featured

5:32am EDT July 19, 2002

You need to increase your slumping sales record, so you invest in recruiting new employees with tremendous records at their previous companies.

However, when they join your firm, not only do sales decrease, but the new employees reveal discipline and performance problems. Worse, you've invested more money in this initiative than in any other in your company's history.

Welcome to the Cleveland Cavaliers Inc.

New Cavs General Manager Jim Paxson watched the team's meager ticket sales rise 4 percent from the previous season, but the numbers were still the second lowest in the franchise's 20-plus year history. He watched discipline problems occurring on the team, low employee morale and a fickle customer base.

It was the last factor that disturbed him most -- fans were more than content with the local football and baseball teams and weren't entertainment-starved enough to shell out $30 or more to watch a struggling basketball team.

It was clear the Cleveland Cavs' work force needed another major restructuring effort, not only to deliver more wins -- which is what brings in sales -- but also to improve public relations with the community, which helps sell tickets even if the team may not be that hot.

"Sitting in the general manager's chair for one year and facing the kind of season we did last year, (head coach) Randy (Wittman) and I felt we needed to try and make some significant changes," Paxson told a group of sports writers at a recent luncheon. "I think what really helped us in the start that we are having is changing the chemistry and getting some veterans with some leadership ability on this team. Chemistry is so important in a team game."

Here's what the Cavs have done in the past year to revamp a team -- and a business -- that was on the decline.

Build teamwork

In the off-season, the Cavs released $96-million discipline problem Shawn Kemp, who, despite leading the team in scoring, led the entire league in personal fouls and disqualifications. After trading Kemp, Paxson brought in veteran leaders Clarence Weatherspoon and Chris Gatling, and forwards Robert Traylor, Matt Harpring and J.R. Reid (recently waived) and guard Bimbo Coles.

Getting eager new team players on the roster resulted in improved morale for the Cavs. And as most company owners and managers know, better employee morale means better productivity, and better productivity translates into increased revenue (read: ticket sales).

Paxson says the new Cavs employees believe, as he does, that there isn't one player who shines above the rest, but rather, different players who excel on the court on different nights. There is not just one go-to guy, which is better if you want a unified team.

"What we have is a team; you win with a team and you need talent and need good players. We feel we have talent and we have good players," he says.

Develop leaders and mentors

Part of building a dedicated team is developing leadership through mentors who take younger employees under their wings. In the Cavs' case, the team sought new leaders who, while not superstars, had solid experience and were willing to serve as managers to younger players with tremendous potential.

One player who stands out is Weatherspoon, who's been in the league for eight years.

"Spoon, in my opinion, has been our MVP," Paxson says. "If we start to lose a lead, he's the one getting in the huddle and yelling at guys. He brings that energy and enthusiasm and he wants to win. For an undersized power forward, he's really set the tone for this group."

Paxson also lauds the veteran players, namely Coles, who's been playing since 1990, for their mentoring force on the new Cavs.

"Bimbo came in with the attitude that he wanted to be a part of this team, and he wanted to help Andre Miller grow as a player," Paxson says. "He wanted to be on a team that was committed to winning. From Day One in training camp, he's been a real key person for us."

Teach your younger staff members

Employers face this dilemma every year: They hire a kid fresh out of school who shows tremendous potential but has little real world experience.

Two players on the Cavs seem poised for All Star status, but need to learn leadership skills and discipline from strong management and co-workers who will prevent them from squandering their skills.

"(Harpring) brings an effort and energy that I think a lot of fans here remember in the teams from the late '80s, early '90s," Paxson says. "He brings a lot of effort and energy and hustle, which is contagious with the other players on the floor. And Robert Traylor has shown the potential that we all think that he has, and he also shows a high level of enthusiasm."

That type of lead-by-example attitude sparks a willingness to give extra effort -- something employers strive for in their work force.

Understand budget constraints

Employers would like to invest more in personnel to attract the best employees, but they are often limited by what their CFO says they can spend. In the NBA, however, the industry itself limits how much a team can spend on players through the use of a salary cap.

Even with the restriction, only two teams last year were under the cap. The Cavs were not one of those.

"Part of the thinking that went into the trades that we made was not only to change the chemistry and the environment, but also to change the flexibility in terms of the players we want to keep longer term," Paxson says. "We're looking at it in a way that we want to keep the core group of our guys together and have the financial ability to do that. We might have some cap room in the next two or three years."

The drastic changes have put a new face on the Cavaliers. They seem hungrier and more motivated. And, as is the goal of any good business owner who undertakes sweeping change in an effort to spark production of a better product, the public has stood up and noticed.

The only thing remaining is to drive revenue back up toward the basket. How to reach: The Cleveland Cavaliers, (216) 420-2000

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.