Me, Myself & Irene: Analyzing the 3 sides of Chris Grant

I hated everything about the summer of 2010. Of course July brought LeBron James’s “Decision,” when the game’s best player bolted Cleveland on national TV to join forces with All Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

But before LeBron left, the Cavs relieved two figures instrumental to Cleveland’s run of five consecutive playoffs — Head Coach Mike Brown and General Manager Danny Ferry. According to reports at the time, Brown’s termination was a last-ditch effort to appease LBJ, and Ferry’s parting a result over disagreement on Brown’s firing.

(Author’s note: I had firmly been on the ‘Fire Mike Brown’ bandwagon previously, but felt change was unfair following the 2010 playoffs when the blame should lay almost solely on LeBron’s shoulders. Frankly, No. 23 quit in Games 2 and 5 of that series.)

Chris Grant, formerly an assistant GM with the Cavs and Atlanta Hawks, assumed Ferry’s duties. His team had just lost arguably the best free agent in NBA history, were importing ZERO draft picks and had already seen all the league’s best free agents gobbled up. (“The Decision” wasJuly 8, a week after FA’s unofficial start.)

So, the Cavs headed into the 2010-11 NBA season with Mo Williams as your primary scorer, even if Dan Gilbert guaranteed Cleveland fans the organization would win a championship “before the self-titled former ‘King.’”

To say the Cavs have struggled since would be an understatement. As of Feb. 2, Cleveland’s 60-197 in the post-LeBron era; for perspective, that’s almost 3.5 full seasons, while the 2009-10 Cavs won 61 regular season games.

There’s certainly enough blame to go around — Grant, Gilbert, Byron Scott and Brown, Kyrie Irving, you name it. But the consensus seems that Grant’s the first out; according to Chad Ford’s Chat Heard ‘Round the World, most NBA execs expect Grant to be fired this summer, barring a miraculous turnaround.

I’ve always genuinely liked Chris Grant. He’s NEVER lost a trade. The Kyrie pick was a no-brainer, but still a franchise player. I LOVED the Dion Waiters selection in 2012, even if the backcourt chemistry has crumbled (or never developed). I was a little iffier on the Thompson and Zeller picks, but both are productive NBA players. I’ve appreciated his cautious FA approach, save for the Jarrett Jack signing.

With Grant in hot water, I decided to dive into his resume in three parts — draft, trades and free agency. The following is the result.

1. ANALYZING CHRIS GRANT’S FIRST-ROUND PICKS

Grant has drafted four guys in the lottery — Kyrie Irving (No. 1), Tristan Thompson (4), Dion Waiters (4) and Anthony Bennett (1) — in his three drafts as GM, as well as two other first-round picks in Zeller (17) and Sergey Karasev (19).

Let’s examine the three drafts.

2011: Kyrie Irving (1), Tristan Thompson (4)

(Another author’s note: We’ll get to the trade that acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the ‘Trades’ section.)

This selection was a no-brainer, even if Kyrie’s Duke career was limited to 11 games. Atlanta famously passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams for Marvin Williams in the 2005 draft, only to suffer through years of Mike Bibby and Acie Law. Like with a great QB in football, you don’t pass on a franchise PG.

But there was a contingent of fans, and so-called experts, who insisted the Cavs should draft Arizona’s Derrick Williams No. 1 and grab the draft’s second-best PG, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, at No. 4. These people were crazy, but I had heard enough of them that I was nervous until David Stern said the words ‘Kyrie Irving.’

VERDICT: KYRIE IRVING, +

At No. 4 is where it gets murkier. I’ll admit, on Draft Night, I was hoping Williams would slide. I liked his inside-out game, that he could play the 3 and that his athleticism would be Cleveland’s best since LeBron left.

Williams went No. 2 and Enes Kanter No. 3. Grant selected Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas, who was selected No. 5 by Toronto. I had preferred Jonas then and would now, given that he’s a center and not an undersized PF. At the time, though, I understood Grant’s logic — draft a guy who can contribute that season and whose growth you can monitor everyday, not across the world.

The jury is still very much out on Thompson, but he’s not the starting PF on a championship team. (Whether Jonas can be the starting C on a championship team remains to be seen, but I think he has the higher ceiling.)

Here are their stats so far this year, as of Feb. 2:

Thompson: 11.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 33.1 MPG, 45.5 FG%, 13.85 PER

Valanciunas: 10.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 28.1 MPG, 50.5 FG%, 14.78 PER

I’ll give Grant a wash here because the two’s stat lines are consistent, and there’s no other real standouts in this draft. Jan Vesely was selected No. 6 and Bismack Biymobo No. 7. Grant would have reached for Klay Thompson (11), whom Jason Lloyd says Grant coveted, and Kawhi Leonard (15).

VERDICT: TRISTAN THOMPSON, WASH

The second round kind of hurts, though. The Cavs, desperately in need of a SF, drafted Justin Harper at No. 32, only to trade him to Orlando. Kyle Singler was picked No. 33 and Chandler Parsons No. 38.

2012: Dion Waiters (4), Tyler Zeller (17)

We all know now Cleveland never met with Waiters before the draft. There were pre-draft rumors Waiters’s stock was climbing, and I understood why. As someone who grew up near Syracuse, I was familiar with Dion’s game. Jim Boeheim helped Dion’s stock by calling him the “most NBA-ready” guard he’d ever coached.

All that said, I was stunned on draft day. I expected Grant to select whoever was left among Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal or Harrison Barnes. I personally thought Beal was the second-best player in the draft, but would have settled for Barnes. I didn’t like MKG’s limited outside game, having suffered through the days of Joey Graham and Jamario Moon at SF.

There seems to be two criticisms of this pick: a) Dion’s a ball-dominant guard who can’t play alongside another ball-dominant guard in Kyrie; b) Dion’s selfish and sees himself as the primary option, even if he’s not or shouldn’t be.

On a talent level, Dion’s matched the production of any player drafted after him, except for Damian Lillard (6) and maybe Andre Drummond (9). Remember, Drummond’s stock fell because of his dismal FT shooting and lack of polish; in his one year at UCONN, he averaged 10 PPG and shot 29.5% from the stripe.

That said, given all the problems in Cleveland’s locker room, I think it’s fair to question the Waiters selection. In fact, I’m calling it a negative, simply because I don’t see how Waiters is in a Cleveland uniform next season. When you draft a guy at No. 4, he should last more than two seasons.

VERDICT: DION WAITERS, -

Headed into the draft, the Cavs had picks No. 24, 33 and 34. Grant flipped those three to Dallas for No. 17 and selected Tyler Zeller. The logic being, you need only 8-9 quality rotation guys to win, not three more projects.

I didn’t like the Zeller selection at the time. I had, fairly or unfairly, already given him the dreaded ‘soft’ label, one he very much lived up to his rookie season but has almost reversed this year.

Where this selection hurts is some of the guys drafted right after Zeller:

No. 18: Terrence Jones; ’13-14: 11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 28.2 MPG, 52.4 FG%, 18.56 PER
No. 21: Jared Sullinger; ’13-14: 12.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 26.6 MPG, 42.8 FG%, 16.55 PER

Of course you could make the argument Jones plays in an offense-friendly system with two All Stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard that opens up space. But I wouldn’t accept the argument Jones’s ceiling is not higher than Zeller’s.

But I’ll call this pick a wash, because Zeller’s decent value at No. 17. He has shown marked improvement recently, with his FG% up more than 10 points to 54.1%. He’s more of a presence around the rim, even a shot-blocker, and a better finisher than Thompson. He’s also a center and 7-feet tall, so there’s value.

VERDICT: TYLER ZELLER, WASH

And the one that gets people most, um, excited…

2013: Anthony Bennett (1), Sergey Karasev (19)

I won’t go into too much detail on Bennett because we’ve read it all from too many sources already. But I will share a brief, uninteresting Lottery anecdote…

I couldn’t watch the Lottery live due to other conflicts. I logged on a few hours later and noticed the Cavs had won the lottery. This is good news, I thought. Then, I read a WFNY post, and many commenters thought it was the worst news. That’s when I should have known this could only go downhill…

My favorite player in this draft was Ben McLemore, but the Cavs already had Kyrie, Waiters and would sign Jarrett Jack to a 4-year deal weeks later. Same logic for Victor Oladipo. Injury and all, I preferred Nerlens Noel and didn’t really care for Alex Len but could’ve talked myself into just about anyone.

But the Cavs selected Anthony Bennett, and now we’re here. To be clear, I’m not giving up on Bennett. It’s just, yeah…

VERDICT: Anthony Bennett, -

Cleveland fans were delighted when Karasev fell to No. 19; the rumors were the Cavs would have to absorb Shawn Marion’s contract to swap No. 19 for Dallas’ No. 13 pick. That didn’t happen, and Karasev fell.

Karasev has appeared in 17 games and attempted 32 shots. Translation: It’s way too early to tell on this guy. That said, Tony Snell (20), Mason Plumlee (22) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (24) have all made contributions to probable playoff teams.

VERDICT: Sergey Karasev, TBD

Grant drafted Carrick Felix at No. 33 — a pick I loved at the time and still do — but that’s the same story as Karasev. Too early to tell. The only impact players in this second round thus far are Nate Wolters (38) and Ryan Kelly (48).

To recap, of his six first-round picks, we’ve got one clear positive in Irving and another near one in Zeller, a so-so on Thompson, a TBD on Karasev, a negative on Waiters and, to this point, a super-negative on Bennett.

2. ALL HE DOES IS WIN: ANALYZING CHRIS GRANT’S TRADES

Grant is a wizard with trades. Unless you want to count the LeBron sign-and-trade, one you obviously can’t blame on CG, Grant has never lost a trade. By my count, Grant has pulled the trigger on 6 noteworthy deals as Cavs GM. (I’m excluding the 2011 deadline swap with Boston of a future second-round pick — which winded up as No. 45 in the 2013 draft and produced a player yet to play in the NBA — for Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. )

Let’s count them down, starting in 2010.

2010: Cavs deal Telfair, West for Sessions, Hollins, future pick

Cleveland apparently loved Milwaukee PGs, and this deal, though incremental, is clearly a win for Grant. There was no way Delonte West was returning after 2010, with all the off-the-court issues and some disgusting rumors to boot. Sebastian Telfair, the subject of my favorite documentary ever, was a throw-in in the Antawn Jamison deal back in our title-chasing days who never played meaningful minutes.

Grant parlayed those two pieces into a point guard who started 42 games over 1.5 seasons in Cleveland, averaging double-digit points and about 5.2 assists per game in limited minutes. An effective slasher at the point, Sessions is still a productive NBA player in Charlotte and started on the Lakers’ 2012 playoff team.

2011: Cavs deal Mo, Moon for Baron Davis, future pick

This deal, the best (and luckiest) of Grant’s tenure, must be atop his resume. Mo, a former All Star, was a disappointment in 2010-11, only averaging 13.3 points on 38.5% shooting in 29.6 minutes. Perhaps it was unfair to make Mo your No. 1 guy. CG needed to cleanse himself of the LeBron era, so this move had to be made.

Davis was entertaining as hell for 15 games, scoring 13.9 points and notching 6.1 assists as the Cavs played respectable basketball, including a few wins over the Knicks and a shocker at The Q over Miami.

But this trade was about the pick. The Cavs absorbed Davis’s contract in exchange for the selection, which, by some measure of magic, produced the No. 1 overall pick and the only franchise player in the 2011 draft.

Grant amnestied Davis that summer to create cap space and free up a backcourt that now included Irving, Sessions and Daniel Gibson.

2011: Cavs trade Hickson for Casspi, future pick

I actually remember hating this trade at the time. I liked, perhaps irrationally, J.J. Hickson and still believe he’s good value for a No. 19 pick. But Hickson seemed to be in and out of Scott’s doghouse in 2010-11, shooting a mediocre 46% while averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. I thought, when properly motivated, Hickson was, at the very least, a hard-charging rebounder prone to a defensive lapse.

But the Cavs desperately need a 3-man, having suffered through a full year of Jamario Moon, Jawad Williams, Joey Graham and Alonzo Gee. In October 2010, Omri Casspi made 6-7 three-pointers as the Kings stole a 107-104 win at The Q. If Casspi doesn’t have that game against Cleveland, is this trade made?

The draft pick had various protections and was ultimately included in last month’s Luol Deng trade. All that said, and since Hickson has hopped around from team-to-team since, I’ll call this deal a wash. It helped facilitate the Deng trade, even if Casspi never lived up to expectations.

2012: Cavs trade Sessions, Eyenga to L.A. for Walton, Kapono, future pick

My reaction when I heard of this deal was mixed. I understood it was a deal CG had to make, given the Cavs’ need to stockpile assets. But Sessions had become one of my favorite Cavaliers, with his consistent effort and driving ability. I was happy for him that he was headed to a contender, even if it was only for a few months.

The Cavs cut Kapono and absorbed Walton’s $6 million for 2012-13 in exchange for the draft selection that became Karasev. Karasev’s still an unknown, but it’s fair to say the risk was worth losing less than 20 games of Sessions on a non-contending team. And Walton, with a bench mob of Wayne Ellington, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights (we’re getting there!), produced some of the most entertaining moments of last season. To the point where some fans were in favor of re-signing Walton to a veteran’s minimum deal this past summer.

2013: Cavs trade Leuer to Memphis for Speights, Ellington, Selby, future pick

Cleveland benefitted here from Memphis’ tax situation; the team had yet to deal Rudy Gay to TorontoI loved this trade at the time and still love it today, even though all three players are no longer in Cleveland and the pick is loaded with protections that could push it to 2019.

Selby never contributed, but Speights and Ellington made the latter half of last season watchable, even as both have struggled with their new teams this year. Both averaged double-digit points and shot over 43% in a half-season in Cleveland.

Leuer, a free-agent acquisition before the 2012 season, only appeared in 9 games as a Cavalier, and clearly wasn’t part of the future. He’sshown flashes in Memphis, but nothing worth dealing a first-round pick for.

2014: Cavs trade Bynum, future picks for Deng

Regardless of how this season concludes, this was a risk worth taking. Cleveland bet heavily on making the playoffs, and Deng is the first competent SF the team’s employed since No. 23. Bynum was effectively nothing; after his suspension, the Cavs could either deal him before the latter half of his deal became guaranteed or eat the $6 million and start from scratch this summer.

The Cavs dealt two second-round picks, both acquired from Portland in a deal that sent No. 31 pick Allen Crabbe to Rip City, the Sacramento pick and the right to swap in 2015, but only if Cleveland’s pick falls outside the top 14. For the latter to happen, the Cavs must make the playoffs next year, far from a guarantee.

Cleveland accomplished two things with this deal:

a.  Produce a half-season of watchable basketball for us fans, or so they thought. Deng is a former All Star and, though not an isolation scorer or explosive threat, a capable two-way player who could start on a championship team.

b. A test run of an impending FA. Cleveland can now offer Deng the most money in FA, though he won’t command the max so this won’t matter. Nevertheless, the Cavs’ GM this summer would seemingly have the inside track to sign Deng, should LBJ stay in Miami and Deng want to return. (This is also not a guarantee.)

To recap, Grant has won just about every trade he’s participated in, with the closest one to a wash being the Hickson-Casspi swap. His and Dan Gilbert’s willingness to absorb bad, short-term contracts in exchange for draft picks has netted the Cavs some future assets and a franchise-changing talent in Irving. You win, CG.

3. PLAYING IT SAFE: ANALYZING CHRIS GRANT’S FREE AGENT RECORD

This section is the most inactive of the three. Until this summer, Grant had only signed one impact FA, C.J. Miles (2012), in his three years as GM, unless you want to count Joey Graham in 2010 or Anthony Parker in 2011.

Before the Sessions deal, Grant almost acquired Kyle Lowry from Houston. The Cavs signed Lowry, now a borderline All Star, to a four-year, $24 million offer sheet — nearly the same terms as the Jack deal, with a team option on year four — but, as a restricted FA, Houston matched. The Rockets traded Lowry to Toronto in 2012 for a first-round pick, as the PG reportedly struggled to work with Kevin McHale.

Grant, of course, exploded this summer, signing three “impact” free agents in Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum. (This is where this gets interesting.)

2012: Cavs sign Utah’s C.J. Miles

After Kyrie’s rookie season, the Cavs needed floor spacing, scoring and depth. Miles has provided all three, but on an inconsistent basis.Consider the investment: this year, Miles is owed a partially (now fully) guaranteed $2.225 million; that’s over a million less than Alonzo Gee is paid, two million less than Earl Clark and three million less than Anthony Bennett!

By all accounts, C.J.’s one of the more likable guys on the team. He’s in and out of the starting lineup, but doesn’t seem to complain. He’s an assassin from distance; in his last year in Utah, C.J. only converted 30.7% of his 160 three-point attempts. Last year, he shot 38.4% from distance, and this year, he’s up to 38.9%.

Miles is a free agent this offseason I’d like to see return. +1 for CG.

2013: Cavs sign L.A.’s Earl Clark

Now, this gets more interesting. I LOVED this signing when it happened, thinking Clark, Miles and Alonzo Gee could rotate in-and-out of the three spot. Clark’s a more effective shooter than Gee, and both are capable defenders. But…

Clark has started at the 3 and received his fair share of DNP-CDs. He’s shooting a capable 35.4% on long-balls, but he’s down to 15.9 minutes a game, 9.8 per in his last 10, even as Gee sits. And his PER is a ghastly 9.05, good for 298th in the NBA.

He’s just a non-factor. But I refuse to call this signing a negative — Clark’s making $4.5 million, sure, but his team option for year two is unlikely to be extended. The experiment failed, and CG was smart enough to protect the team in such a case.

Therefore, it’s a wash.

2013: Cavs sign Golden State’s Jarrett Jack

This is the one that eats at me. In fact, I think it may even be the second-biggest mistake of Grant’s tenure. Or the biggest; your move, Anthony Bennett!

I had mixed feelings on the Jack signing at the time, but ultimately talked myself into it. Without Jack, Golden State doesn’t push San Antonio to a Game 6 with a limp Stephen Curry and David Lee. But a four-year deal for a 29-year-old guard who had played for 5 different teams scared me, as did the $25 million. The team option for the final year was huge then, and even bigger now.

I thought a Kyrie-Dion-Jack backcourt could work. Start Kyrie and Waiters, rotate Jack in with one of the other two, and always keep the defense guessing. Jack’s very much a combo guard, as is Waiters, and both are established NBA scorers.

Nope. Jack’s minutes are inconsistent, in part because of the emergence of Matthew Dellavedova. Aided by poor shot selection, he’s shooting a career-low 39.5% from the field. He’s been relegated to (mostly) a secondary guard, and is only averaging 3.7 assists per 26.3 minutes. His PER is 11.42.

I’m calling this one a – for CG for two reasons:

a. The Jack-Irving-Waiters trio has not, and will not, work. As I wrote above, Dion’s probably gone either by the deadline or this summer, at which point maybe there will be more backup PG minutes (and opportunities) for Jack.

b. The length of the deal. The team option helps, but with two more years at $6.3 million per, this contract will be hard to move. CG has done an impressive job of maintaining flexibility in the post-LeBron era, so even bad signings like an Andrew Bynum (more soon!) aren’t negatives because of their trade value.

2013: Cavs sign Philly’s (?) Andrew Bynum

Upon news of the Bynum signing this summer, I wrote that it was an all-reward, no-risk move for CG. I still believe that, and I’m still happy Grant inked him.

Bynum, now a Pacer, had his moments in Cleveland. I remember how amped the Cavs’ Twitterverse was when Bynum checked into the season opener against Brooklyn. But he shot a dismal 42%, was operating farther from the basket than I liked and moved terribly slow on both ends. The Cavs didn’t know how to use him.

Bynum was later suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team” and, despite having no market value whatsoever, dealt for an All Star in Luol Deng, thanks to the way CG constructed his deal. Grant not only made the second year a team option, but also effectively gave his team a midseason opt-out clause, with the second half of this year’s payment unguaranteed.

In other words, Grant created an asset out of nothing. If the Bynum experiment failed, the contract was suddenly a huge tax relief for a team like Chicago. If Grant doesn’t sign Bynum, the Cavs don’t acquire Deng.

So, even as Bynum failed miserably on the court, Grant earns a +.

To recap, as of right now, Grant’s only real failure in free agency — unless you want to criticize inaction — is the Jack deal. Look at a team like Detroit, which gave Josh Smith a 4-year, $56 million deal this summer they’re already regretting. The Pistons are hamstrung through 2017, with an oversized, immovable contract.

To his credit, Grant never made such a panic signing. And he’s astutely negotiated most deals with minimal risk, relying on partial guarantees and team options.

Except for Larry Hughes, the Cavs have made most of their major roster moves of the last decade through the draft and trades. Mo Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, Antawn Jamison, Kyrie Irving, etc. It’s hard to attract top-tier free agents to a market like Cleveland, especially when you’re a mediocre team.

Let’s recap: So where do we fall on Chris Grant?

Honestly, I like Chris Grant. I think he makes smart, calculated decisions in free agency and via trades. The draft is where he loses a lot of people; but, the Bennett pick notwithstanding, it’s not like he’s passed on no-brainers. Would I have preferred Jonas over Tristan? Sure, but the difference in output is, thus far, insignificant. Same with Barnes and Waiters.

The Bennett selection is where the CG frustration comes to a head. If Bennett stays in Cleveland, receives 10 or less minutes per for the rest of this year and doesn’t make a noticeable jump this offseason, that will reflect poorly on the organization.

The other major issue I have with Grant (and Mike Brown) is how these pieces fit together. Jack, Waiters and Irving are all ball-dominant guards. Bennett, Thompson and Anderson Varejao are all power forwards; Thompson and Varejao are limited offensive players but effective rebounders.

This roster is in need of an overhaul. The question is — and the one I’m not sure I have an answer to, even after hours of research and 4,100+ words — is Chris Grant the guy for the job?

Photo: USATSI

Follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.

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