Cavs Mired In Self-Made Mess

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving sits down with TNT’s Craig Sager to talk all things Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is what happens when you try to outsmart the system without the right parts, when you think you’ve come up with a formula for an equation that doesn’t actually have one.

All of the lottery picks, risky free agent acquisitions, financial flexibility, spread sheets and advanced statistical and analytical data on the planet won’t save a NBA executive or coach from that wicked reality when the bill is due.

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant found out the hard way today when he was relieved of his duties and replaced, at least on an interim basis, by his former assistant and now “acting general manager” David Griffin. The Cavaliers are a mess, one of their own making, and Grant — despite keeping a low public profile by GM standards — found himself on the firing line, and rightfully so. Organizational and institutional arrogance will get you every time.

And there is no quick fix, no easy way out of this tire fire for the Cavaliers. There is only the painful and very public walking of the plank for Grant as Griffin, and whoever succeeds him, tries to salvage whatever they can from the wreckage that is the past four years and steer the franchise back onto solid ground.

You can’t blame All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for being anxious about the direction of the franchise after yet another season goes sideways before Valentine’s Day. He’s not the one who chose Mike Brown, who had already been unceremoniously dumped in his previous stint with the franchise because he couldn’t get the franchise over the championship hump, to usher in the new era of Cavaliers’ basketball. He didn’t draft Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett when everyone in the league would have gone elsewhere with those top picks. He didn’t sign Andrew Bynum or engineer any of the other moves that have come post-The Decision. Whether it was his call or not (most anyone with a lick of wisdom about this situation knows that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert‘s voice was heard on each and every decision), Grant owns all of those moves.

Trading for Luol Deng was a nice move, but it didn’t happen soon enough. It came after the air of inevitability about this particular Cavaliers team, a woeful 16-33 in a depressed Eastern Conference that they were expected to make a playoff statement in, was already established.

Gilbert made his intentions for the immediate future clear in a statement released by the team:

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise. We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change,” concluded Gilbert.

This is the latest example of a franchise assuming that there is a template for the type of success enjoyed by the likes of the San Antonio Spurs translating to every other market. It takes stars, superstars usually, and just the right fit to launch an outfit from the lottery to the upper echelon of the league. The players come first, then the success. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Assuming that some set infrastructure is supposed to come first is where the Cavaliers went wrong.

They were spoiled during the LeBron James years. They foolishly assumed their fabric had as much to do with those teams making deep forays into the playoffs year after year as James did. Maybe they realize now that there is no chicken and egg debate here. You either grow your superstar and surround him with the right pieces to reach his potential or you make mistake after mistake — the Cavs, before and after Grant joined them (he was an assistant GM first) made plenty of those while LeBron was on his way up — and eventually watch things come apart at some point down the road.

James didn’t depart his native Northeast Ohio because he hated snow or tired of the comforts of home. He went to Miami to win and because the Heat, and Pat Riley, offered a surefire path to the one thing all of the all-time greats covet most, and that’s a Larry O’Brien trophy.

I knew where this thing was headed the moment Gilbert’s now infamous post-Decision promise that the Cavs would win a title before James and the Heat was unearthed to the public.

The risky move to sign Bynum over the summer, when the Cavs were one of a handful of teams with cap space and assets to make big moves, was one that alerted the players already on the roster that Grant and his staff were grasping for anything to make a splash.

It turns out that the Bynum signing was every bit the useless play I thought it was. All it did was increase the tension in an already fragile relationship between Irving and Waiters. The Cavaliers’ locker room culture wasn’t strong enough to absorb and force a cat with Bynum’s baggage to conform, the way he’ll have to in Indiana now if he wants to stick around with a contender for the remainder of this season.

Their Central Division rivals to the north in Indianapolis are a shining example of what the Cavaliers could have and should have been able to do during the time that has passed since LeBron’s departure. They took risks in drafts, free agency and trades and in hiring Frank Vogel as their coach to manage what has become one of the most complete and balanced rosters in the league.

It certainly helps to have Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard at the helm while going through the rebuilding process. But that’s still no excuse for the Cavaliers taking such a cavalier attitude towards conventional wisdom over the course of the past five or six seasons.

In a results-oriented business, the Grant-led Cavaliers simply never showed enough to warrant him making it to the final year of his contract. And now that same mess he inherited will be passed along to Griffin and whoever else follows. Whether or not Irving, Deng and any of the other players acquired on Grant’s watch will be around to see this thing to the finish is anyone’s guess.

But there are some certainties involved in this process, no matter how many perceived assets the person calling the shots is working with. You can go off on your own and decide to reinvent the game if you want, you can take players that don’t fit and squeeze with all your might to try to make it work. You can look past fresh new faces in the coaching ranks in an attempt to right a past wrong or what have you, but you can not and will not circumvent the system. It just doesn’t work.

If you don’t believe it, ask Gregg Popovich how that all would have worked in San Antonio if he didn’t have Time Duncan to build around; or Sam Presti in Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant.

The superstar players come first, then the structure around them. And it all has to fit together.


  1. pacerfan1981 says:

    looking grimm cavs fans, looks like deng wont resign due to all the poison in the locker room, Bynum didn’t even want to play, and waiters is hating on everyone…. the problem is irving and Thompson, sure drew is a star but he’s immature and a punk, trade him as he will have some value and get rid of Thompson who is a bust, I agree with putting bennett in the dleague to help his game transistion, but if u want to make the postseason anytime soon, this is what u need to do:

    1. hire George karl as head coach
    2. trade irving Thompson
    4. trade waiters
    5.start over yet again

    acquire a superstar and provide a supporting cast around that superstar not gamble on talent and expecting to win u games

  2. werkerb says:

    Actually, the Bynum gamble did pay off–they traded him for Deng.

    Bynum and Waiters aren’t Boy Scouts, but they were right to complain about ball distribution. Bennett likely wouldn’t have gotten off to such a rough start if he had been getting the ball in the right situations, either.

    In short, Kyrie Irving is the problem. He’s a very talented player, but when your best player doesn’t play defense and wants to take all the shots, it’s poison for such a young team.

    The quick fix is to trade Irving for Rondo.

  3. werkerb says:

    The Bynum signing actually did garner good results: they traded him for Deng.

    Waiters and Bynum aren’t Boy Scouts, but both were right to complain about not getting the ball. Bennett likely wouldn’t have gotten off to such a disastrous start if he were getting the ball in the proper situations, as well.

    In short, Kyrie Irving is the problem. He’s very talented, but when your best player doesn’t play defense and wants to take the most shots it’s poison for such a young team.

    There is a quick fix: trade Irving for Rondo.

  4. Vlad says:

    The victim part plays well for them, receiving (very conveniently I dare to say, so poetically justice ) 4 top 5 picks in 3 years, with two nr 1s, and they fail miserably with them, picking bad fit players, bad character players, or both. Don’t tell me Irving was a great pick, because it wasn’t. It was the only pick, that everyone would have made. Not even Cleveland could mess that up. What other NBA team ever had this luck? Again, there are teams that would do anything for a few lottery picks in consecutive years. Having 4 top 5 picks in 3 years and failing to make even one step of improvement is just inexcusable.

    While there are teams in the NBA with less wins in the last years, no team had that many chances to become great and flushed them down the toilet …. i think ever.

    It’s time to wake up Cavs fans, Your team needs a big chance. The worst part of all this is not the constant failure, but the fact that you are being manipulated year after year into thinking it’s anyone else s fault. Soon, they will ran out of options and start blaming you somehow.

    Although it sounds harsh and hateful, this is a pure objective comment. I just think you not only don’t deserve to be a good team in the NBA, but you don’t deserve to be a team in the NBA; with all the respect for the highly supporting fans there.

    The best thing Cleveland could do right now is pack the bags and go to Seattle. That city had decades of greatness in front of them that were just…taken away. They deserve much more that that. Except people from Cleveland, no one will miss the Cavaliers. Sonics are dearly missed even now, 7 years later, throughout the whole world.

  5. bronbron says:

    Waiters, Bennett, and Thompson should be traded

  6. lino says:

    perhaps giving these perennial lottery pick-bound teams a limit on the number of times they get to be in the top ten on lottery selections will be enough incentive for management to pull its collective heads out of the proverbial sand. otherwise, history is doomed to repeat. penalize such behavior, do not reward it.

  7. Darius Setalsingh says:

    Honestly if the cave are going to start over again then they shud fire Mike brown because clearly his methods are not getting through to his players and I think they should hire a more defensive minded coach to help tthem win more games even with their sluggish offense. Maybe someone like George Karl, he helped shape the nuggets into one of thebest teams in the west last year of defense and fastbreaks. Maybe he could do the same in cleveland

    • DrRob50 says:

      A more defensive minded coach? Brown is a very good defensive coach. He was the spurs defensive coach back in the day when they were constantly top 3 in D. I’m not sure if it’s Brown fault, it wasn’t in LA and it wasn’t with LBJ. If Brown was coaching the Heat right now he would be winning.. Notice how the best coaches have the multiple players who are humble(willing to do the little things), hardworking(Gym rats), team first and unselfish. That’s why pop has said, when Timmy goes, he goes. Brown hasn’t ever really had that, LBJ is a beast but the list of guys that went through Cleveland during that stretch wasn’t going to get it done. Heck he go them to the finals with Drew Gooden, Eric Snow as starters. That only proves that high character guys over skill will get you further.

      Right now they need a Vet team around Drew to cover is mistakes and let him be a superstar. He is good enough to be one but he obviously has to learn how to lead and be accountable and a team of Vets will help with that. Deng’s a good start but alone his useless. The skills Drew requires are learn-able but not from the guys currently on the list.

      Oh and Monta is weapon. He had 1 bad year in MIL. He’s a scorer and relentless…. MIL is a career killer…

      • Cavs fans not MB says:

        I agreed with DrRob50 (yet I still hate Mike Brown, but not relevant here). Good team-first players are very important as they are the linkages and catalysts between superstars and coach. Examples are Derek Fisher, the manager of Kobe Bryant. (Reason? Count the number of rings of DF and KB) They are essential for a champion teams and they are hard to find the right pieces. And who should be responsible for finding them, hello, the GMs!!!! A good GM is the one who make wonder. He/she is one of the difference maker who separate Bust and Champs. So, See ya, Chris Grant~~

  8. pokie says:

    Wow. The Cavs are all ball up again? Who would have guessed it.

  9. mz13 says:

    Lol blaming everyone else except Irving for the Cavs mess. He cant do his teammates better, he only cares to have good stats, a dozen of crossovers so he enters every week’s Top 10 highlights, he cant defend for his life and he can’t lead Cavs to the playoffs playing in a joke Eastern Conference.
    Wall does, Dragic does, A.Davis improved Pelicans and his game, Cousins’ Kings have bad record but fights every game.
    Noone demanded to do what LbJ did with maybe worst roster than the one he has. No Eastern Conference finals, no Finals. Just a playoff spot. All big stars gets credits when team succeeds and the blame when the team fails. “Unce Drew” gets only credits, when the team fails, blame everyone else, but never Kyrie.
    I have to admit it though, he is great in P.R. and knows “how to good look”,,,

    • scott says:

      Agreed, too many Kyrie nut-huggers.

      In my opinion, people voted him to the All-Star game because of the Uncle Drew character, not because of his talent.

      Kyrie is the second coming of the GSW era Monta Ellis.

      • Apex Predator says:

        I don’t dislike Kyrie but I’m not a fan either. He was put into that weak roster and made the leader as a rookie. So people probably feel sorry for him (Cavs fans) that’s why the blame goes elsewhere. The expectation was too much and they surrounded him with the wrong players.

        At least when LBJ was placed in that situation (Cavs years) he had some sort of help. Gibson, Boozer, Ilgauscas, Kapono, Battie. Little help it may be but they had a better record than the Cavs lineup the past few years.

        John Wall should have been the starter for the All-Star. Wall and Beal are a fun back court to watch.

  10. Durantula says:

    I think that the first thing Cavs need to do is trade away Dion Waiters and get a good locker room presence and player in return. And why dont they send Anthony Bennett to the D-League. Atleast it will raise his confidence before he steps onto an NBA court.

  11. bballjunkie1 says:

    Too much early success with Kid Lebron, never upgraded from early playoff losses, kept surrounding him with players who couldn’t help Mo Williams and others when they had a core in Booby/Lebron/Varijael. Didn’t bring in the power forward or guard who could create shot. No one saw it so when Lebron said I’ll take my game and pair up he was the bad guy. No Cleveland’s ownership, management didn’t grow, thus believing fools gold that Mike Brown was a good coach, heck anybody with alittle bball IQ would have been successful in the east before Boston, Orlando got their acts together. Don’t believe it another number 1 pick Uncle Drew frustrated, and oh yea this same guy Mike Brown who talks a good game wanted to change the Lakers, the Lakers to a Princeton offense. Who does that ? Lebron if you go back to Cleveland take Phil with you and tell uncle Drew it will be ok.

  12. dustydreamnz says:

    If Waiters and Irving are that bad then one or both should be traded immediately. Distractions like that hurt big time.

  13. BasedonStats says:

    Why all the hate for Dion Waiters? Get Kyrie to not dominate the ball so much. He’s like a selfish less talented Derrick Rose. He’s a second year player averaging 15ppg and Thompson is underrated. Luol Deng is Luol Deng and Varejao is a monster down low. The only big problem is Bennett but I feel like it’s too early to come to a definitive on that situation. The problem is the coach! Too much talent on this team for them to not be doing better.

    • Pakyaw says:

      Thompson is not underrated, he’s a bust! realistic..

    • Apex Predator says:

      Wait!! Too much talent. Talent is only worth it if your team comes together and we know its not with a 16-33 record. Kyrie Irving is the only thing going well for them, Kyrie has no choice but to handle the ball cause no one else will and I will bet he will leave just like LBJ did to go elsewhere and win a ring. The addition of Deng was good but late.

      Varajao a monster. Seriously, be realistic. He is a low-mediocre center at most. Do the names Hibbert, Noah, Howard, B.Lopez (injured), M.Gasol (combo C/PF), A.Drummond (on his way), come to mind when you say “monster”. To me that means making a difference when the game is needed in the low post.