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Cleveland Cavaliers Made Right Decision by Keeping General Manager Chris Grant
By Bob Evans
Just a few short days ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach Byron Scott after three terrible seasons. While some feel Scott did not get a fair shake as the sacrificial lamb during the team’s rebuild after LeBron James decided to leave town, the lack of player responsiveness and lack of growth on defense were ultimately the reasons for his firing—not the team’s record.
Now that Scott is gone, there are some Cavaliers fans out there wondering why general manager Chris Grant did not follow him out the door. While some could make a case for Grant to be on the hot seat since he is ultimately connected to Scott, there is no way Grant should have been fired.
Yes, the general manager is connected to the performance of the team on the court. It is his job to draft, sign and trade for players that can make an impact on the team and turn things around. But if you honestly cannot say the Cavaliers’ roster is in a much better place now than it was three years ago, you do not know much about the job of a general manager and have not been paying attention to the magic being done by Grant.
When Grant took over for former general manager Danny Ferry, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a team devoid of salary cap space, youth and draft picks. His first move—albeit a forced one—was the sign and trade of James to the Miami Heat, in which the team received two future first-round picks and two future second-round picks.
The post-James roster Grant inherited was not a pretty one. Muddled with the likes of Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson, Antawn Jamison, Delonte West and Anthony Parker, Grant had zero youth and a bunch of complementary players with no superstar for them to complement. So Grant began a mission; that mission was to start ridding the Cavaliers of salary cap heavy players, and look to an Oklahoma City Thunder model of building—with young players and draft picks.
His second move came just weeks after the sign and trade, shipping West and Sebastian Telfair to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins and a second-round draft pick. While this was not a “big deal” by any means, Sessions was an above average player who netted the Cavaliers even more.
Grant would be quiet from July of 2010 until February of 2011, but then he pulled off the move that would jump start the Cavaliers’ rebuilding process. In an attempted move to add another high 2011 first-round draft pick, the Cavaliers shipped fan favorite point guard Mo Williams and high-flyer Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis’ inflated contract and the Clippers’ unprotected first-round pick.
While the Cavaliers finished the season with the NBA’s worst record, their own lottery selection would end up being the No. 4 pick in the draft. Instead, the unprotected pick they received from the Clippers would wind up being the No. 1 overall pick—netting the Cavaliers talented Duke Freshman point guard Kyrie Irving. With their No. 4 pick, the Cavaliers would select the very raw but talented power forward Tristan Thompson from the University of Texas.
After just one season in the NBA’s cellar, Grant and the Cavaliers were able to rid themselves of West , Williams, Moon and Telfair, while adding Sessions, Hollins, Irving, Thompson and Davis in their place. While Davis would eventually be amnestied following the lockout, Irving and Thompson’s growth into the team’s core after two seasons were major coups.
The 2011-2012 lockout shortened season made it tough for Grant to make any major moves, however, prior to the season he did make a couple of smaller acquisitions to add to his philosophy. During the draft, the Cavaliers selected Justin Harper, but then shipped him to the Orlando Magic for second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. Just a week later, Grant rid the Cavaliers of the headache that was Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi (who thankfully will be gone this offseason) and another future first-round pick.
Even though Grant could not pull off a major move thanks to the lockout, he was able to once again turn a veteran player into a future first-round pick. In March of 2012, the Cavaliers sent Sessions—who was previously acquired by Grant—to the Lakers along with another failed Ferry first rounder in Christian Eyenga to the Los Angeles Lakers for Luke Walton, the Laker’s 2012 first-round pick and the right to swap first round selections in 2013 as long as the pick was outside of the lottery.
Many faulted Grant for not finding a way to move Jamison and his massive expiring contract for picks, but he stuck to his guns of not adding unnecessary salary to his budding cap space. At the end of the season, Jamison would leave via free agency and sign with the Lakers, and the Cavaliers did not take on more salary cap to hurt their future rebuild.
After two years of losing, Cavaliers fans were obviously growing disgruntled—but Grant’s plan was taking shape. While the team had seemingly been fielding D-Leaguers for two seasons, players were emerging as viable long-term options for the team. Which leads us to many people’s reason for wanting him fired—the 2013 NBA Draft.
Locked and loaded with two first-round draft picks (their own and the Lakers at No. 24) and two second-round selections, many people expected the Cavaliers to make an absolute splash. Instead, they shocked the world by drafting combo guard Dion Waiters at No. 4, then utilized their next three picks to swap with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and land North Carolina center Tyler Zeller.
At first glance, the move was slightly maddening. The team already had a starting center at an affordable price in Anderson Varejao, and while Waiters was a solid player in his young career at Syracuse, he was better at running the offense with the ball in his hands—and as we all know, the Cavaliers had Irving on the roster.
While neither player had a stellar beginning to their careers, they both flourished as the 2012-2013 season went on. Waiters suffered a couple of injuries that limited him to just 61 games, but he finished the year averaging 14.7 points, three assists and shot at a 41.4 percent clip from the field—much better than any shooting guard or small forward taken in the Top 10 of the draft. Zeller proved to be a viable starting center, and if he could work on his defensive presence down low the Cavaliers will essentially have four young players to grow their roster around.
But that wasn’t all Grant did during another losing season, as he swindled the Memphis Grizzlies not once, but twice. Somehow Grant was able to turn D.J. Kennedy into Jeremy Pargo, cash and a 2014 second-round selection before the season started (Kennedy would not make their roster). And then again in January, Grant would turn Jon Leuer into not only Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and Marreese Speights—but he would get the Grizzlies to chip in yet another future first-round pick.
By now you should be getting the point. Grant has done more with nothing than any general manger in recent history. While the results have not been shown in the wins column just yet, the Cavaliers have positioned themselves with four young players to build around, and a veteran bench unit (if it stays intact in free agency) of Speights, Ellington, C.J. Miles and free agent Shaun Livingston.
On top of all this, the Cavaliers get to exercise the Lakers’ pick swap and move up from the end of the first round (Miami’s selection) to the middle of the first round along with their own lottery pick (no worse than sixth overall). Oh, and once again they will have two second-round selections and a potential boat load of salary cap space with Walton, Casspi and Daniel Gibson’s expiring contracts coming off the books.
It has been a long road to get here, and while Scott ended up being sacrificed in the process, Grant’s work has been nothing short of a miracle for this organization. With their first chance at being a major player in free agency in a long time, a young superstar in Irving to lure players here and another arsenal of draft picks to work with it won’t be long before Grant’s work is finally seen in the wins column as well.
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