Chris Grant’s Report Card

January 22nd, 2014 by Nate Smith

The Cavs’ record is 15-26. They’re half way to 30 wins for the season. For most of us, they are falling short of pre-season expectations.

The optimists among us see the “glass” as half full: the Cavs are still an up and coming, extremely young team that has developing talent and a slew of draft picks coming over the next three years. They have a strong organization and they are stocked with high character people from the top of the roster to the front office to the owner.

The pessimists among us see the glass as half empty: the Cavs seem to have a coaching staff that is still unable to master offensive execution. They allowing their young players to develop habits that are anathemas to winning. And they’ve a front office that consistently fails to make good talent evaluation decisions. The Cavs just selected the least productive NBA number one draft pick since 1955’s Dick Ricketts.  They spent nearly $11 million dollars worth of cap room last summer on two free agents that are playing terribly.

The “truth” is somewhere between those two viewpoints. But, it’s fair to ask: do the Cavaliers have an organization that is on a path to success, or do they need to make wholesale changes to the way they operate to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated? Chris Grant, as general manager, is often at the center of these discussions. The only way to judge is to make a completely arbitrary report card on the moves from last few years, and to calculate the GPA.

  • The Luol Deng trade: the Cavs’ leveraged the creative contract of Andrew Bynum to bring in a two time all-star and to fill the biggest positional talent hole on their roster. They gave up very little in terms of future assets to do so. But, if the Cavs cannot re-sign Deng, extend him, and/or turn that signing into a positive playoff appearance and a “change of culture,” then they’ve just spun their wheels. (This “subject” also includes the results of the Hickson-Casspi-Sacramento Kings Draft pick saga). Grade: Incomplete
  • 2013 Free Agency: the Cavs let “The Herculoids” walk.  Livingston, Walton, Speights, and Ellington all left, and were replaced by Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Andrew Bynum (now Luol Deng), and Henry Sims. Livingston and Speights are playing below average basketball, and Walton (coaching) and Ellington (DNP-CD city) aren’t playing at all. Bynum was traded for Deng. Clark and Jack have been pretty bad. The Cavs outscore their opponents by 3.9 and 7.6 points per hundred possessions, respectively, when those two players sit. (Un?)fortunately, Jack has three more seasons at $6+ million per to turn it around. Grade: D
  • No. 1 pick, 2013 NBA Draft: As we’ve covered extensively, the Cavs appear to have epically whiffed. Grade: F
  • No. 19 and 33 picks, 2013 NBA Draft: We’ve not seen enough of Karasev or Felix to know whether they can be any good or not, but neither of them have ever blown us away. Grade: Incomplete
  • Matthew Dellavedova: The Cavs’ best rookie is currently an undrafted free agent who got a look because he played a pick-up game with Mike Brown’s son. Another crisis of perception here: was this an example of keen observation and taking advantage of opportunities, or just an indictment of the Cavs scouting department? Grade: B
  • Mike Brown: This hire was the opposite of the Browns’ current coaching search ordeal. Basically, Dan Gilbert took Mike Brown to dinner, ignored my 5000 word coaching search almanac, and said, “Hey, you wanna be coach again?”  The Cavs currently rank 25th in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency (from ESPN.com). They run some of the least creative crunch time offense in the league, and are 27th in Effective Field Goal percentage.  Grade: C
  • The “Herculoids” Trade: Cleveland turned John Leuer and cap space into a future first round pick from Memphis. Grade (despite our love of Jon Leuer): A
  • 2012 Free Agency: Cleveland signed C.J. Miles to a two year, $4.45 million dollar contract.  For a starting two guard posting his shooting numbers and an above average PER, that’s a pretty good bang for your buck.  Grade: A-
  • 2012 Free Agency: Cavs signed Alonzo Gee to a contract with guarantees of $6.75 million over two years. They probably could have just gotten another D-Leaguer.  Grade: C-
  • No. 4 pick, 2012 NBA Draft: Cleveland drafted Dion Waiters and passed on Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond. Waiters, by every statistical measure, is currently a just below average NBA shooting guard. Still don’t know what he’ll develop into. Grade: B-
  • No. 17 pick, 2012 NBA Draft: Cleveland drafted Tyler Zeller and passed on Andrew Nicholson, Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, Miles Plumlee, Quincy Acy, Mike Scott, and Kyle O’Quinn, who are all playing better than Zeller.  Grade: D
  • No. 1 pick, 2011 NBA Draft: Cleveland drafted Kyrie Irving. This one was as easy as taking “Physics for Poets.” No letters here. Grade: Pass
  • No. 4 pick, 2011 NBA Draft: Cleveland drafted Tristan Thompson, passing on Jonas Valanciunas, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Nikola Vucevic. Thompson and ‘Nik weren’t ever really in the discussion at that pick, but Cleveland certainly could have traded down.  Still, they could have done worse.  Grade: B
  • 2010, Byron Scott hire.  Byron came in and coached a 2010 Cavs team that was bereft of talent, coached Kyrie into an All-Star in his second year, turned the Herculoids into an effective unit, and was responsible for a staggering number of late game collapses and effort fails in 2012 and 2013. Grade: C

GPA: 2.09 (feel free to check my math). Grant graduates, but barely. The problem with a C-level GPA is that the Cavs operate with a much lower margin for error than most other NBA teams. They don’t have the warm weather of Miami, L.A., Golden State, Orlando, Houston, Phoenix or Dallas.  They don’t have the major city or the team tradition of New York, Boston, or Chicago.  Cleveland operates from a position where they have consistently make good decisions to build a winning team, much like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Indiana.

I imagine the notes from the parent-teacher conferences would go something like this.

Mid-season trades, seem to be Grant’s best subject. When it comes to drafting, the Bennett pick has plummeted Grant’s draft GPA to 1.1. He needs to work on not drafting busts! Grant reads Cliff’s Notes when it comes to free agency, instead of the actual book. He frequently misses reading box scores and advanced stats (see Earl Clark), and seems to struggle with conceptualizing how players will actually fit on the team he’s already assembled, and how coaches will develop those players and put them in a position to succeed.  Grant has had problems evaluating head coaching and player talent. Grant fits in well, and is a good community contributor, but he struggles to stand out. The kid loves pudding, kickball, and Salisbury steak. Love his gumption!

This is a grossly unfair evaluation. Just as parents have a lot to do with students’ success, Dan Gilbert has a lot to do with Grant’s (and his sometimes lack thereof). It is unclear how many moves within the Cavs’ organization are Grant’s and how many are Gilbert’s.  Did Gilbert pass on Big-V because he wanted a rookie to play in 2011? Was the Brown hiring and Cleveland’s lack of a remotely professional interview process the fault of Dan or Chris? Heck, the Cavs list David Griffin as V.P. of Basketball Operations, how many of these grades are his fault? Just who was responsible for Gum Drop Bear? Maybe C students do rule the world….

It is certainly within the GM’s job description to fall on his sword for an NBA owners’ sometimes petulant wishes. And another part of the job is bearing the brunt of criticism from fans and the media. But, not knowing who is responsible is kind of the whole point. Grant may lack the gravitas to sublimate Dan Gilbert’s most destructive impulses.  In light of this, the Cavs would be well served to bring in a strong personality with a history of astute personnel and coaching moves to run the franchise, and they should do it now. Scouting the current crop of NCAA players and pending NBA free agents is going to be crucial to improving the Cavs going forward. No matter whether it’s Gilbert, Griffin, or Grant, the Cavs can’t afford to be run by a C student, and they definitely can’t afford a summer as disastrous as 2013, again. This doesn’t mean that Grant should necessarily be kicked out of Cavalier High School.  With a strong mentor, he may be able to get his grades back up.

I have my own ideas about who that person should be, but I’d like to hear yours. Do you think these grades were fair? Do you think Chris Grant should keep his job and keep running this franchise? Who would you bring in to run it? (I mean besides the CtB staff).