After Whatever Happened

March 15th, 2012 by Colin McGowan

Here we are: clothed in soot; scavenging for water; locating the injured by following, like hounds, the sonic trails of muted wails for help. Somewhere a few thousand feet in the distance, embers catch a ruptured fuel line. An orange shape blooms like a rapidly inflating balloon, and we feel heat on the tips of our noses. Those who have perished will not be attributed names. They are part of this new wasteland, some literally fused to it—their skin has melted and coagulated with pavement, steel, and brick. The history of this day will be related in shrieks and gravelly whispers.

Or not exactly. The Cavs traded their backup point guard for a draft pick, the opportunity to move up in next year’s draft, and a couple of mediocre white guys, one of whom has a bloated contract that expires in fourteen months. It’s a half-move, informed by prudence. I think those wondering if the Cavaliers front office thought the team could mount a legitimate playoff run have their answer: no pieces were added and an important rotation player was moved. Those looking for the team to be sold for parts are only partially satisfied. Cavs fans will know more of the front office’s intentions if and when an Antawn Jamison buyout arrives, but as constituted, this team is likely to finish somewhere around tenth in the Eastern Conference.

I like the trade itself; it’s Prestian in its ethos: ship out what you don’t need, take on money in the short-term to improve your position in the draft, and if you finish with a worse record in the process, so be it. A lot of experts are calling this a coup for the Lakers, but I think a lot of experts haven’t seen Ramon Sessions play much basketball. He’s a good backup and a subpar starter, certainly better than Steve Blake or Derek Fisher, but the gap between him and Kyle Lowry is lake-sized. He can score, sometimes in bunches, and he’ll have the odd game where he racks up double-digit assists. He’s ball-dominant, totally capable of having a five-turnover nightmare of a game, and asking him to check a talented guard is like putting duct tape over the mouth of a geyser. I think he’ll be fine in LA, and they’ll be happy to have unburdened themselves from Luke Walton’s albatross-ish contract, but getting a first-rounder and moving up some eight spots in next year’s draft is more valuable to the Cavs than any contribution Sessions would have made over the coming years. (If he even elected to stay in Cleveland, for that matter.)

After one and a half seasons, I’m beginning to get a feel for Chris Grant’s front office philosophy. I think a very specific concept of value is often in the forefront of his mind. We see this more in the moves he didn’t make than the ones he did. There’s no way teams haven’t been inquiring about Anderson Varejao for the past month. Until his injury (which will be healed soon), he was playing the best basketball of his life; he’s a good enough player to turn a fringe contender into a threat, and a threat into a champion. But all the teams that would want Varejao—the Heat, Clippers, Lakers, etc.—don’t have assets of sufficient value. Varejao’s value is probably something like a pick in the mid-teens, and the Cavalier front office can’t stomach trading him for a selection ten spots higher. Nevermind that he’s 29, nevermind that trading him would cause the team to lose more games, and in its own way, produce a sort of value by improving the Cavaliers’ lottery odds. Anderson Varejao is a good player, and he’s going to stay a Cav unless another team offers to send back some legitimate assets.

Following this reasoning, I don’t think Chris Grant and company will make the decision to buyout Antawn Jamison. (Though we will soon find out, obviously.) Unless there were absolutely no offers for ‘Tawn that didn’t involve taking back an egregious contract, they must have had the opportunity in the past couple of weeks to trade him for something. So why would they pay him to do nothing? It seems antithetical to everything else Grant has done in his short tenure as GM. And that’s without taking into account the whole “Dan Gilbert might be terrified that Jamison would sign with the Heat” problem.

So here we are: somewhere between no man’s land and oblivion; outside of the playoff hunt, but not Bobcat-like. I think this is where Chris Grant believes the Cavaliers should be almost one year removed from one of the worst seasons in franchise history. He’s not pressing down the plunger on a detonator or harboring delusions of a first-round playoff upset. Apart from a fanbase divided by virulent theism and atheism, he leans agnostic. And so here we are, here are we because of him.