Somebody had to take the fall Thursday for 16-33 and losing the night before even as the Lakers ran out of bodies. It certainly wasn’t going to be owner Dan Gilbert, and it wasn’t going to be players — when getting traded away from the Cavaliers is a reward, not being held accountable. That left general manager Chris Grant to get the termination notice.
In the real perspective, we’re not close to knowing the actual damage of Grant as head of basketball operations, particularly with the draft, and maybe not close by years. If it turns out Dion Waiters really is more problem than production, it is not just a miss in 2012, it’s also the current scrutiny on 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett compounded because the Cavs will have known they had a problem at shooting guard and passed on Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. A bad decision is one thing, something that happens to every team, but not reacting to it would be the real blight.
It is not too soon, though, to see that the draft was his downfall. Signing Andrew Bynum went bad but was pretty low risk with the chance for a huge payout, hiring Mike Brown as coach may have been more Gilbert and the latest in the infinite timeline of GMs taking the hit for an owner, and trading for Luol Deng could still work out as long as Deng re-signs. This is about June decisions.
That would be the case even with staying judgment on 2013. Bennett has had a historically bad start – 30.1 percent from the field the first 38 appearances – but writing off a prospect before the All-Star break of his rookie season, after an injury, while in that atmosphere, is just too knee-jerk. If he’s this bad a year from now, pile on. But Bennett was regarded by many front offices as a top-three talent before the draft and deserves more time, and it’s not exactly like this was a field overflowing with good options, as 2013-14 is proving out for a lot more teams beyond the Cavaliers.
Even with that benefit of the doubt, the unavoidable truth is that Grant had every break, had four choices in the top four the last three drafts, and still delivered one standout, Kyrie Irving, and one other starter, Tristan Thompson. Grant got an unprotected pick from the Clippers in a trade that beat long odds to draw to No. 1, he was the benefactor of another lottery win two years later in an amazing sequence of luck, he got Deng because the Bulls were looking to pare salary and the Cavs had Bynum as a trade chip, but still 16-33 at the time of the firing.
In the 2011 draft:
No. 1: Irving. Grant got the obvious one right. No matter how many tried to create late buzz for Derrick Williams as a possible alternative, Duke point guard Irving was clearly the guy.
No. 4: Thompson. This was an obvious intersection moment at the time that continues to this day. The Cavaliers could have had Jonas Valanciunas and were in better position than anyone to wait the extra year Valanciunas would spend in Europe, with Irving in the fold as a sign of progress in addition to a feeling of resilience around the franchise in wanting to bounce back from the open-heart surgery without anesthesia performed by LeBron James.
Thompson was not a terrible choice, a hard-working 23 year old and already in a second consecutive of flirting with a double-double. But Valanciunas would have been the answer at center, a tougher position to fill than power forward. The Cavaliers have been playing catch up ever since, trading three picks, though none of consequence, to take Tyler Zeller at No. 17 in 2012, then trying for Bynum, and now getting inside production from Anderson Varejao.
The Grant disclaimer is that it has turned out to be a bad lottery for a lot of people with mistakes almost every other direction he could have turned – the top 10 was Irving, Williams, Enes Kanter, Thompson, Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette. It really has played out as Thompson or Valanciunas in a draft flooded with misses, with Klay Thompson lasting until 11, Kawhi Leonard to 15, Nikola Vucevic at 16 and Kenneth Faried at 22, not to mention Chandler Parsons at 38.
No. 4: Waiters. Anthony Davis (Hornets/Pelicans), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats) and Bradley Beal (Wizards) were gone. A lot of teams had Waiters around the middle of the lottery, so it’s not like moving two or three spots up from the consensus is a reach by the Cavaliers. Waiters was seen as a talented scorer who could fit well alongside Irving to cement the Cleveland backcourt for the next 10 years.
Not only has he not worked out, but Harrison Barnes (No. 7 to Golden State) was still on the board and in that range in what would have been an answer at small forward, likewise Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit) at center. And that’s removing Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) from the conversation because Cleveland was set at point guard.
No. 1: Bennett. Bringing a player who needs shots to be effective to a team that would have Irving and Waiters commanding the ball was an invitation for trouble from the beginning, apart from Bennett’s other troubles. Those became part of the Cavaliers’ troubles that this week landed on Grant as part of a troubling draft record.