As we begin 2014 nearly halfway through the current NBA season, now seems like as good a time as any to look at the tenure of current Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant. Now in his fourth season as GM, Grant has evoked a myriad of responses from Cavalier fans and media as he works to rebuild the team following the departure of LeBron James. Now, with the Cavaliers well under five hundred and sitting on the outside of the playoff race, Grant has drawn criticism from several quarters. Considering team owner Dan Gilbert’s open desire to make the playoffs this season, Grant’s role as General Manager may be on thin ice. Before any rash decisions are made, it’s probably best for Gilbert (and Cavalier fans) to step back and take a look at the overall picture of Chris Grant, NBA General Manager.
Trades: Chris Grant has yet to make a trade that hasn’t benefited the Cavaliers in some way. Even the sign-and-trade LeBron James to the Miami Heat for a pair of first round picks has already helped the Cavaliers acquire Sergey Karasev, considered by many to be a solid outside shooting wing prospect. The trade of Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and the unprotected first round pick that became Kyrie Irving is well documented. An underrated trade was moving Ramon Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers. Acquiring the Lakers’ pick in 2012 and being able to swap the 2013 Heat pick for L.A.’s pick in the same draft were essential in the Cavaliers being able to draft both Tyler Zeller and Karasev. This is a very solid return for a backup point guard. Grant has also acquired a protected future first round pick from the Grizzlies for Jon Leuer, a solid player who apparently didn’t fit under former Coach Byron Scott. Even the J.J. Hickson-Omri Casspi swap can be considered a win as it is highly unlikely HIckson could be traded for any sort of first round pick at this point. The Cavaliers have three extra first round picks and four extra second round picks over the next few years, which gives them plenty of opportunity to improve themselves through either the draft or a trade.
Cap Management: Grant has done a solid job protecting the Cavaliers’ cap space both in the present and the future. While the Cavaliers are currently at the cap due to the Bynum deal, that is easily fixed and may be soon if the Cavaliers waive the big man by January 7. Regardless of whether or not Bynum is traded for an asset, Grant did a great job making sure the Cavaliers weren’t stuck with Bynum if this experiment didn’t work out. Besides Bynum, Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee, and C.J. Miles all have expiring contracts or team options for next season. Anderson Varejao, Henry Sims, and Matthew Dellavedova each have partial guarantees, with Sims and Dellavedova earning less than $100,000 each if they are waived. Their combination of expiring contracts and draft picks allow the Cavaliers the potential to improve themselves both this season and in the future.
Drafting: The hot topic. I’m leaving out this year’s draft class because it’s way too early to judge them, no matter what anyone thinks. Most draft experts will tell you to draft best player or most upside over fit, and that is exactly what Chris Grant has done. Would Harrison Barnes be a better fit with the Cavaliers than Dion Waiters? Possibly. But few will deny that Waiters seems to be the player with higher upside. While Waiters and Tristan Thompson are seen as questionable picks, neither can be considered busts. Thompson is a solid defender and tremendous rebounder, while Waiters has the ability to get to the basket at will. While you could make a case for a few players drafted after each man that same logic would mean someone like Carmelo Anthony is a bust since Dwyane Wade was picked after him. Both players are in the top five to ten in their respective draft classes. Tyler Zeller also looks like he is becoming a solid big man off the bench, which is probably his ideal role in the league.
Acquiring Complimentary Pieces: One thing Chris Grant has not done well is add complimentary pieces that fit well around his core of drafted players. The first few years of the rebuild this was probably intentional, as the Cavaliers were looking to stockpile talented young players through the draft. This year though, Grant attempted to bolster the roster through the free agent signings of Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Andrew Bynum, with limited success. Bynum’s impending departure is well documented, but the signings of Jack and Clark leave a bit to be desired as well. Jack has had trouble fitting alongside Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as he needs the ball in his hands and tends to try to take over the game at times. This was less of an issue in Golden State as both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are pure shooters who are more comfortable playing off the ball than Irving and Waiters. Jack is also a subpar defender against other point guards, although he does fair better against shooting guards. lark has had mixed success switching from starting small forward to backup power forward and back again. While Clark has averaged just under 43 percent from three entering last night’s game against the Magic, he is shooting less than 38 percent on two point shots. Like Jack his defense has left a lot to be desired as opposing small forwards have had a PER of over 19 against Clark while Power Forwards have a PER of over 20. Basically players guarded by Earl Clark perform at an All-Star level. Because of this, small forward remains a huge hole for the Cavaliers and Mike Brown has been forced to rely on three guard lineups to generate enough offense. Considering his constant emphasis on defense, it’s unlikely that Brown prefers playing this way.
Drafting: So how can a strength also be a weakness? While Grant has drafted players with tremendous upside, their poor fit together has hindered the team’s improvement in the win column. While there’s nothing wrong with Dion Waiters being an elite sixth man (he currently leads the Eastern Conference in scoring off the bench), it’s highly unlikely that Grant foresaw the extended struggles Irving and Waiters would have playing together. Thompson is an elite rebounder and very good defender whose work ethic has allowed him to improve a tremendous amount in a short time, but until he develops a few go-to offensive moves around the basket his upside is limited. Zeller has shown solid growth in limited minutes this season, but his upside remains that of a solid backup. The Cavaliers have also done nothing to address the small forward position in the draft. Anthony Bennett is a small forward on offense and a power forward on defense. Sergey Karasev needs extended time in the weight room before the Cavaliers can think of playing him at the three regularly. After three straight years of multiple first round picks the Cavaliers’ biggest hole remains the same.
Communication: Whether it should be or not, part of being a General Manager in the NBA is communicating with the media. Chris Grant and the Cavaliers organization as a whole have become known for being tight lipped. This has served the team well in trade talks and free agent signings and it certainly isn’t the mark of a poor organization. That being said, when issues such as Andrew Bynum’s suspension from the team occur, it’s typically the responsibility of the general manager to explain what’s going on. Fair or not, Grant’s lack of availability to the media has opened the Cavaliers up to increasing criticism of the team’s ownership, management, rebuilding plan, and overall direction.
Conclusions: Whether it should or not, the perceived success of Chris Grant’s tenure as general manager seems to hinge on whether or not the Cavaliers make the playoffs this season. If the Cavaliers are able to return to the playoffs in just their fourth season since LeBron James’s departure then this would qualify as a fairly quick rebuild. If they flounder to another season of 30 wins or less, then the success of Grant’s rebuilding plan will be called into question both locally and nationally. To be fair, the Cavaliers are still the second-youngest team in the league and youth rarely wins in the NBA (the OKC Thunder are the exception, not the rule). If the Cavaliers are able to win 35 or more games this season after winning 24 the year before, then it would seem that Chris Grant has the Cavaliers moving in the right direction, whether they make the playoffs or not. With 50 games left and a potential trade for Pau Gasol on the horizon, it should certainly be a wild ride for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their General Manager.