Three years ago, Dan Gilbert watched as the franchise superstar left Cleveland. He has spent three long, painful years rebuilding the Cavaliers.

Now, on the brink of a season in which many expect the Cavaliers finally to be relevant in the NBA again, with the help of point guard Kyrie Irving and defensive-minded coach Mike Brown, Gilbert already is declaring that he intends to do what he can to keep the All-Star here for the duration of his NBA career.

"It's still a little bit early, but we feel good about Kyrie being here for his entire career," Gilbert said before Wednesday's season opener. "We think we set up an environment and a culture that is conducive to him being not only an All-Star but hopefully the leader of our championship-contending team. We'll keep going until we get to that point, whether it's this year or next year, whatever it might be."

Among the most important factors in retaining superstar talent, Gilbert said, is finding a coach who can form a significant bond with the player.

He believes he's found that in the Brown-Irving relationship.

"That head coach/leader-star relationship is absolutely critical, as you all know in building a championship team," Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he's seen Brown and Irving "really jell together" since they first met over the summer, and is eager to see how Irving's commitment to Brown's defense-first approach translates this season.

"Seeing Kyrie on the other side of the floor excel to add to his offensive skills is going to be critical for that kind of thing (championship) to happen," Gilbert said. "We feel very fortunate, and we're lucky that the lottery ball fell a couple years ago. He's a very, very critical part of our franchise evolution."