Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Michael Sams's coming out party was actually pretty smart.

Before I get into this I want to acknowledge that Michael Sam's actions in coming out appear entirely based on wanting to live his life openly without any lies.  That is hugely admirable. I applaud him for his bravery and for being a great role model for younger gay kids.

Obviously if that was all I was going to say this would be a very short article.

I think from an optimization standpoint Sam has probably extended his NFL career and opened up new revenue streams for himself by taking these steps.  If I had been his agent and he had come to me with the idea, I'd have told him to go for it.

You have to understand, Sam was rated as a fourth to sixth round prospect despite having good size for being a 3-4 OLB and being the defending SEC defensive player of the year.  His sexual orientation was already known by the scouts.  I have to think the fact that the NFL talent evaluators already knew that Sam was gay had already hurt his stock.

Michael Sam came out to his teammates publicly last year.   His teammates still really gravitated to him on the sidelines and really like him.  That says a lot.  It says that in addition to being a good football player, he is a cool football player! ...Who just happens to be gay.

I'll underscore it.   There is little to suggest that Sam might make playing football secondary to being a gay spokesman at this point in his life.  There is little to suggest Sam will actively be a media distraction for an NFL team once the initial buzz is over.

Sam may have cost himself going in the 6th round instead of the end of the 3rd or in the 4th, but that is probably a good thing for his career.  The money is not hugely different, especially if Sam can play and gets a second contract.  A team might expect immediate contributions from a third or fourth rounder and might cut a guy like Sam, given that players knew he was gay and there was no pressure on the players or the team to grow up and accept it.  He might get cut by his first team with no other teams giving the guy a shot due to his sexuality.

A sixth round pick is a long shot.  To have a guy with pretty good talent, a pretty good work ethic, who plays well and has "the cards stacked against him" due to his sexuality, does a lot of good things for Sam.  Everyone likes a scrappy underdog.  He will probably see some players, coaches, and staff go to bat for him that he wouldn't normally enjoy.

I think a lot of NFL teams would take a reigning SEC player of the year in the 6th round thinking he could develop for a year or two and then start.  At that point there are probably more gay football players coming out and it isn't that big of a deal.

Frankly even if his first team cuts him, I have to think he will get a second shot with a team that feels he might have been frozen out by a coaching staff.  The NFL owners and front office folks will likely want to ensure this kid can't play before his NFL career is over.  They do not treat other players that way.

Finally, this move appears quite gutsy.  This is a guy coming into a pro league, not a guy who spent his whole career in the closet and then came out after no one was offering him a job and there were absolutely no employment costs (I'm talking about you, Jason Collins).  Sam likely just knocked Collins off the top of the sports media call list on gay issues.  If Sam is smart, he might parlay that into a second career in sports commentary that, given what I have seen of the guy,  might extend far beyond gay issues.

I think it was a smart by Sam and I like smart, out-of-the-box moves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mavs on deadline day

There are a handful of basketball ideas out there for the Dallas Mavericks to consider on draft day today.

David Lord, cap guru,  named off four players/trades he thinks the Mavs should consider --- Cleveland's PF Anderson Varejao, Houston C Omer Asik, Boston PG Rajon Rondo, and if those can't happen, anyone for Wayne Ellington.  I think this is a fairly decent list that mirrors my own thoughts, but his proposed trades seem ridiculously Mavs stilted to me.

I do think he is right that Dallas PF Brandon Wright and SG Wayne Ellington have to go today, but my first choice is to make a homerun deal with Boston.

I cannot see Dallas offering enough to intrigue Boston for Rondo unless Dallas smacked Boston with a great deal highlighted by an unprotected #1.  I could see doing that, but I think Boston would want a pair of firsts.  I would be OK with offering the Larkin and Calderon plus 2020 #1 with it being unprotected, but I think to motivate Boston you would have to offer a more immediate asset, like say a top 6 protected #1 in 2017 or 2018 as well.  I am good with that as I think the squirrelly Rondo is the best PG in the league today.

Having Rondo, Dirk, and Marion is a good tough core.  I'd really prefer a second deal as well though.

I think the Asik deal is an interesting one because that is the ideal kind of situation for Brandon Wright.  I have a hard time believing Houston would take Wright and C Bernard James for Asik alone, let alone and PF Greg Smith.  I think Smith is a 6'8"-ish nice prospect with giant hands, but I can't see Houston giving that away.

Wright, James, and Ellington and a top 6 protected pick in 2016 or 2017 for Asik would be a nice deal to me.

I might try a bigger deal like Asik & PG Jeremy Lin for a top 3 only protected first, Wright, Ellington, James, PG Shane Larkin, C Sam Delembert and PG Devin Harris (if they want him).  (Shuffle out scrubs if the Boston deal takes away Larkin). I think it is risky trading away a potentially high first, but again, what caliber of player are you getting back?  Asik is worth it.  Lin would do a lot to help the Mavs in end of game situations, plus there is every reason to believe Lin will play a little better each year as he puts his injury in the rearview.

Houston clears off both of their poison pill deals and can again play the market in coming seasons.

My third choice would be Wright and Ellington for Varejao. I like Varejao a lot, but he is a 4 who can play 5, not a true 5 like Asik.  Varejao to me is Tyson Chandler without shot blocking ability.  I would be quite comfortable passing on CJ Miles.

I do agree that it would make sense to dump Ellington for a guy like the Lakers' Jordan Hill, but really you are just trading a backup at one spot for one at another.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

How to fix the Cavaliers quickly... but not too quickly...

I think a proper goal for the Cavs this year should be to clean up the locker room.  Remove bad actors and flotsam, eliminate internal strife, and  build a roster with well-defined roles that might play well together down the road.    I think you want to see improvement this season, but not so much to screw up another high lottery pick in the next draft.

The goal should be to get a ton better next season.

I will list who should be traded, what the valuation should be in the trade, and then I will show the actual cap satisfying mechanics of the actual deals.  Finally, I will discuss in detail the most controversial target on my want list.

Trade Tristan Thompson

28 year old Omer Asik would be a smart target for the Cavs.

Asik for 23 year old Tristan Thompson and 24 year old Tyler Zeller would work for Houston's depth chart and hit the desires of the Rockets' leadership. Thompson was a #4 pick overall and Zeller was a first.  Zeller can give 10 minutes a game backing up at the center spot for the Rockets.  Thompson can deliver high level play for 35 quality minutes at the power forward spot.

For a team that hopes to be a contender like Houston, this kind of offer would be a difficult yield to pass up.  And there are reasons to think Houston's trade Asik poker hand is weaker than the Rockets pretend.

Houston wants a huge payout for Asik. Frankly, he is worth a pretty big payout.  Houston is not staggeringly better with Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, in the paint than they were with Asik. To me that says a lot about the things Asik does that do not show up in the stats (like constantly riding guys out of the paint) than how far Howard has fallen.

They want young players and draft picks, but no one has been willing to give that and the way Asik's contract is structured the chance for that becomes less likely, not more.   A team like Cleveland with a bunch of guys on rookie contracts can bear that Asik contract better than most.  There is a feeling among GMs that most owners would not take on a player that is scheduled to make $15M unless they can market that guy as a real star.  My thinking is that Dan Gilbert is a more insightful guy than that.

Thompson is a solid young, athletic starter and a likely 13/9 guy, but IMO the team needs to force the issue with 21 year old Anthony Bennett.

Thompson is a guy who can easily be a starter on a championship team, but he is more of a 4th guy.  Bennett is a much better scorer.  Bennett came to Cleveland out of shape, but has dropped 15 lbs and is now flashing very good small forward-like skills at the 4 spot. To me, it makes sense to give him a ton of playing time and see what you have.  Having Thompson around only limits Bennett's PT by giving a defensive minded coach a solid defensive option at the 4 spot.

Force feeding Bennett minutes and scoring attempts could either reveal a keeper or make him a tradeable asset again by draft day next year.

Asik would give Cleveland one of the best defensive centers in the league.  Although his offensive game will never make him a name, he could potentially make an all-star game in today's center-less NBA, based on his physical, relentless defense, shot blocking, and rebounding.   

Deal 1:  Tyler Zeller & Tristan Thompson to Houston for Omer Asik

Trade Luol Deng and Dion Waiters

Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area's Mercury News has a great idea to get his local Golden State Warriors over the hump that actually makes a ton of sense for the Cavs --- a pair of deals (to circumvent silly NBA trade caveats) that would send David Lee and Harrison Barnes to Cleveland for 23 year old Dion Waiters and 29 year old Luol Deng.  (Kawakami is not the first to advocate trading Lee...)

I think that is a great deal, if Golden State is willing.

Deng reportedly doesn't want to re-sign with the Cavs.  Waiters reportedly doesn't get along with all star PG Kyrie Irving while Harrison Barnes does.  That already improves the stink in Cleveland.having some teammates who really like each other and are among the best players on the team really would help.

Deal 2:  Harrison Barnes to GS for Dion Waiters

The Lee problem

While keeping Lee until a better deal comes around is an acceptable path, I would try to move Lee to the Knicks for Andrea Bargnani as part of the deal.

There are a number of reasons for the Knicks to consider such a deal (and one big one that may prevent it). The Knicks play worse with Bargnani on the court. Bargnani's primary attribute is his ability to score points. There aren't enough balls in NY for him and Anthony offensively.

Although he has some highlight film plays shutting down NBA stars like Dirk Nowitski and Dwight Howard, Bargnani has trouble executing team defense concepts and is a poor rebounder.  If this isn't bad enough, Barganani may be out for the season with the second season-ending elbow injury in his career.  These are huge issues as he is a key asset.  Anthony has to see a good enough core to chose to stay. 

Carmelo is the team. Bargnani is not doing a thing for the Knicks to convince Anthony to stay.

This is where it gets interesting.  Anthony is represented by the CAA (Creative Artists Agency).  The Knicks have brought in a top of CAA players and execs including Bargnani, presumably to keep the CAA happy and whispering happy words in Anthony's ears.  Ken Berger of CBS sports speculates that this is destined to continue for a while.

The thing is, what if after a year of seeing Bargnani on the roster, Carmelo is no longer on board with the Italian forward?  What if Carmelo comes to think Bargnani is not a championship piece? At that point, a trade becomes very possible. That is why it absolutely makes sense to push the issue right now when Bargnani's stock is at his lowest and NY's management is nervous about their future prospects.

David Lee is a huge fan favorite in NY and could be a 15/9 guy for New York.  An injured Bargnani in street clothes gives NY nothing.  Lee would improve that team this year and that might be enough to hold on to Carmelo.

With Bargnani potentially out for the season, Cleveland would lose a number of good player minutes.  This only ramps up their odds in next year's lottery.

Given his rebounding deficiencies, for Bargnani to be a positive,  he needs to have a defined specific role as a space opening scorer that generates be a 20+ PPG scorer on a team that lacks dominant scorers.  NY has bigger needs,  but a scorer who opens space in the paint is exactly what Cleveland needs.

It's one thing to just say, "I'd offer Lee for Bargnani".  I think New York may be vulnerable to a strong sales pitch that underscores the precarious position they are in with Anthony.  I think you have to plant the seed and talk to them over a series of days.

I think Cleveland has a lot of "somewhat interesting" assets --- guys who really aren't going to pull in a young star for Cleveland to pair with Irving.  To me, the best use for those guys is to pile them up and deal them to a team in cap hell for a good mid-career player and maybe an asset.  Bargnani, to me, is the right kind of target. I think these guys could be used to cook up a deal for Bargnani that is really hard for NY to turn down.

I'll discuss Bargnani further and what a proper role for him would be in Cleveland at the end of this editorial.

Deal 3: Luol Deng to GS for David Lee; David Lee to NY for Andrea Bargnani

Trade Anderson Varejao

I had on my list the idea of trying to move 32 year old Anderson Varejao for a young, athletic 2 guard who can defend.
I would trade 4/5 Varejao to NY for 23 year old shooting guard Iman Shumpert if it takes that to get the Knicks to surrender Bargnani for Lee.  That would give NY the best frontline in the east and would open more playing time for rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. 

Now there are a lot of negative opinions on Shumpert.  Shumpert is a flawed backup type to me --- an NBDL type --- but he does have defensive skills and some nice attributes.  He is a collection of skills, but not a player yet.  He can be a workable piece and, if utilized properly, can be a tradeable asset two years down the road, and potentially a much more valuable tradeable asset than he is today.  That said, I think he is working his way off of an NBA roster.  I do not think he is attractive trade bait for any NBA teams.

Varejao would be going to NY in the Bargnani deal.  Shumpert is merely a tip.

Shumpert is a solid defender who has the attributes (long arms, great lateral quickness, fast hands, and a great vertical) to be a stopper if he works at that part of his game.  Offensively his stats reveal that he is a better 3 point shooter than he is credited with being.  He is great at triggering, directing, and finishing the break.  He has very good ball handling skills as a secondary ballhandler but is no PG as he holds on to the ball too long.  He should get it out of his hands much quicker, especially if he is part of a starting roster with players with more developed offensive skills.  Really, the rest of his offensive game is suspect/ underdeveloped and more to the point ...may never develop. If he limits his play to what he can do, he could be a solid fifth starter on a championship team -- think a mostly sane DeShawn Stevenson with better ball skills. 

Capwise a straight trade like this won't work.  I have found a deal that would work --- although it will seem horrible to Cleveland fans until they think about it.

I would pull in two expensive backups, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack and send them with Varejao for Shumpert and Amare Stoudamire. 

Clark is a developing useful backup forward, but let's be honest --- He is just a guy. Jack is a decent backup point guard who could help in NY.  Stoudamire is just an OK backup 4/5 now who can score and rebound a little.  He is one of the 3-5 most grossly overpaid players in the NBA and becomes irrelevant in NY with Lee and Vaerjao coming in.  

The value for Cleveland is that Stoudamire only has 1.5 years left on his deal.  As soon as next season starts, the value of Stoudamire, the player, become irrelevant.  Stoudamire's contract becomes a very large ending contract --- a very valuable trade asset in the era of delusional free agent pursuits.

Deal 4: Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, & Jarrett Jack to NY for Iman Shumpert & Amare Stoudamire.

How that fits together

This year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team have some decent moments to finish out the year.  I think Mike Brown would likely coach himself out of a job this year, but that is a good thing.  There is little that suggests brown can develop a young athletic team or manage egos in a team-building manner.  A coach who can teach young players and play to this team's strengths will need to be hired.

We will talk about the starting five first, then Bargnani. 

Asik gives the team a 35 minute a game defensive spine.

In a good way, Bennett is a tweener 4-3 and Barnes is a tweener 3-4.  Both can score fairly well in a variety of ways and match up vs. a variety of players.  Some nights one will give you 10 points and the other 20.

Irving has flashed as one of the best point guards in the league.  He does have moments where he dominates the ball and takes ill-advised shots when he should be looking for his teammates.  Hopefully with a better scoring front line, those bad habits would disappear.   If Shumpert can play within his current skillset, the backcourt can be quite good.

That is a solid starting 5 that could put Cleveland into the playoffs in the weak east.  

Plus Cleveland will likely have a lottery pick next season and there is(/are) also the player(/players) Stoudamire's ending contract might secure to consider.  Those players could make the Cavs a seven to nine player deep, dangerous playoff team.

Bargnani is potentially a player who could make that playoff Cavs team a contender by adding some scoring to the starting 5 at times and being the offensive sledgehammer for the bench.


The idea of adding Bargnani is a pickup that will likely confuse readers.  Most would consider him a bust as a #1 overall pick.  Even most of those who like him would not advocate the kind of haul I am willing to surrender for a guy viewed as slightly caustic and moody.  I think you have to look at where the team is after all the trading and tune out what it took to get there.

Cleveland needs a player who can take over a game (or a series) offensively.  Without one, Cleveland will not be capable of hanging in offensively vs. a good team with a top scorer who gets hot in a series and throws down 30-40 points in multiple games.

There are a lot of teams that have talents are capable of those kinds of series. Miami has Lebron. NY has Carmelo.  OKC has Kevin Durant. Dallas has Dirk. Golden State has Step Curry.  Kevin Love is rumored to be on his way to LA to join Kobe.  James Harden of Houston. Indiana's Paul George, Blake Griffin of the Clippers, and LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland are on the fringe of that group.

Those guys who have the skills and mental makeups to buy into those "anything you can do, I can do better" shootouts do not come cheap.  Bargnani, knicknamed "The Magician", is the cheapest I could find of that sort of offensive machine.  Here is a game where he dropped 41 on New York.

Bargnani is an Italian Dirk Nowitski clone, in terms of skills.  If you think how the Cavs would utilize Dirk, you get a clear idea of why I would champion going after Bargnani.  That kind of player can wreck an opponent's standard defensive strategy.  I intend for him to carry the Cavs bench and to do a lot of his damage vs. backups.

Additionally, Bargnani was a former #1 pick overall because he blew the top off the Caliper Profile test.  It concluded that he had the kind of personality --- that supreme end of game confidence --- that superstars have.  To my way of thinking, Cleveland doesn't have that personality type.

Talent-wise, Bargnani is actually better than Dirk.  He has better speed and quickness and is a better shot blocker and man defender.

But unlike Dirk, Bargnani has a label of lacking the drive/work ethic that makes players elite. I think a good owner, a good GM, and a good coach can effectively dictate a team's workplace enviroment.  A culture that demands hard work can be mandated without robbing a team of the joy of basketball.

Unlike Dirk, Bargnani does not have refined go-to moves.  Unlike Dirk, he cannot routinely carve up good defenders.  His skills are simply not as developed.  As the man in Toronto, after his first elbow injury, he would have a big night and then a series of average ones.  As a starter, it has been much the same in New York.

I think the injury played a role, but a lot of that comes out of who he is and roles with his teams that are not tailored properly for him.

The difference between Dirk and Bargnani appears based in cultural differences.  Dirk is a technician, Bargnani is an artist.  In European circles, Germans as a people are seen as being very into systems and are well known for their work ethic. Dirk fits that caracture. Dirk can buy into the systems of Holger and Don Nelson and work like a dog to develop.  Having a "go to move"  would make sense to a German.  Germans aren't generally flashy, so making the flashy dunk has never mattered to Dirk as much as being effective does.

Italians are flashy and in European circles aren't known for their work ethic, but they are known for being very competitive. Bargnani has not been blessed with stable organizations, supportive fans, or a ton of clever coaches in his NBA career.  Offensively he is still a jack of all trades, master of none.  One could say that 20 year old Dirk and 22 year old Bargnani were very similar talents (Dirk says Bargnani was better at 21), but the paths both careers have taken are not very surprising.

Dirk is friendly, unassuming, soft spoken, tuned into the game, and quite candid. Bargnani is assumed to be shy or even aloof and assumed to be somewhat disinterested.  I think a lack of structure and some disappointment in Bargnani in Toronto and New York likely figure in there. One might speculate that Bargnani may think he is as good as he flashes and may resent whispers of him not delivering.  Given his Caliper results that is unlikely.  

Using him as a wrecking all on opposing benches lets him face much weaker competition and lets him live up to what I am assuming is his self -image.  Winning breeds a willingness to compromise and positive attitudes.  I think that could be the key to getting him to choose to buy into being a team member more.

Bargnani is 29.  Most teams win titles when their key players are in the 28-32 range.  Bargnani could develop into the second face of the Cavs franchise.  If you want to win now, having two key players like Bargnani and Asik entering the window would help a lot.  Plus when both are getting out of the window,  the young Cavs would be entering that window.

Bargnani would pick up the remaining 13 minutes at the center spot and another 13 or so at the power forward spot.  That is keeping his minutes much lower than most key players in the league.  The idea would be to structure things to keep him mentally and physically fresh to carry a heavy scoring load.

The goal would be to get as close to turning Bargnani into a point a minute guy as possible. If you can get him anywhere near that goal, you can focus on building a bench full of defenders. The idea is that with all the top picks on the roster, Cleveland's starting five is going to be more talented than most starting fives, so really the bench play is competitive, Cleveland should be very, very tough.

When Irving is on the floor, Bargnani would be a perimeter-in part-time player. Whenever Irving sits, the offense would run exclusively through Bargnani, with him at the high post.

With Bargnani at the high post, the team would put him into a simple offense that dictates specific options at any moment.   (If given structure, Bargnani usually makes very smart plays and passes.  If given too much freedom, he can make dumb plays.)  

I think it should allows him (in order of preference) to either 1) hit a jumper to create space next time down the floor, 2) drive by his man for a short jumper or lay in, 3) pass to a cutting forward or a posting Asik, or 4) step back to the 3 point line to shoot,  or 5) kick it around to a guard for an open 3 pointer. 

Bargnani can do anything offensively on the court.  That doesn't mean he should do everything.  While his dunks are sometimes very exciting, he has small hands and that makes his dunks an adventure and sometimes a little unreliable.  Plus every drive to dunk creates an opportunity for another elbow injury.  Any NBA player can dunk --- only a handful of big men shoot well enough to force an opposing big out to the 3 point line. The cost to reward ratio of letting him attack the basket is out of whack.

Better to generally keep him a little farther from the basket and leave the paint open for others.  His shooting is a far better attribute in his game, which only helps spacing.  Giving him guidelines (limits) --- which neither of his previous teams have done --- while forcing the ball into his hands would dramatically improve his results, IMO. 

Given that the small handed Bargnani is a crap rebounder, I would strongly recommend the offense keep him near the 3 point line.  That would likely pull an opposing big away from the paint as no team can afford to let a Bargnani with a green light to shoot, shoot unchallenged shots.  That would rob an opposing defense of a big.

Additionally if time runs low, the team can kick it to him --- the team's best shooter --- for a 3 point attempt.  There is little more damaging to a team's psyche than playing good defense and then giving up a three.

If a turnover should happen, his length could be a real problem for a team trying to pass the ball up the court.  That's my thought anyway.  We haven't seen it yet, but I am not convinced the guy is a finished project yet. Bargnani is a fairly good shot blocker --- a skill that involves reacting quickly to get a jump on the ball --- playing the passing lanes on a break is a fairly similar skill set and can be enhanced via coaching.

Keeping him out near the 3 point line also limits the amount of pounding he takes and cuts his numbers of steps, keeping him fresh for his scoring demands.  This should really help his offensive game.

Defensively, Bargnani has limited strength and lacks the quickness to cover fast small forwards.  Power forwards are usually the best players for him to cover.  In theory, if you play him in a zone when he is playing with Asik, you can cover his deficiencies a bit, but Bargnani struggles with anything defensively beyond straight man to man.

Bargnani does a good job of knowing where the ball is as he is defending a player.  He can stay with a center.  Here is Bargnani eating Dwight Howard for lunch.  He can also defend skilled power forwards quite well.  Here he is killing Dirk's go to move. Now this isn't every play, but that fact that he can do it sometimes is relevant.

As a man defender, he does gets in trouble vs. physical post players with developed low post moves.  Getting his body in better shape and adding another 5 lbs of muscle would help a lot vs. power forwards and backup centers, wouldn't compromise his offensive game, and isn't an unreasonable one season weight training goal.  

Bargnani is a fairly decent shot blocker.  This would add some value as a back-side shot blocker and as a backup for Asik.

While Bargnani is a conspicuously poor rebounder, he does a fair job blocking out.  That is pretty valuable  on a team with explosive forwards and a SG with long arms who jumps out of the gym.  With the defensive game plan limiting Bargnani's exposure, putting him on the least physical front court player when he has to play man, and allowing him to take advantage of his shot blocking, a team could actually turn Bargnani from a big negative to a neutral or even something of a positive.

The forward combo should be able to give an opposing team fits --- especially with Bargnani creating space and hitting them on cuts.

Looking forward

While lottery picks do not equate directly to NBA success, the Cavs would be starting 5 #1 picks (two #1 overalls, a #7, a #17, and a #26), bringing a #1 overall off the bench, plus they would have whoever they draft next year.  All of these guys would likely complement each other's game --- something that isn't the case with today's roster.

I have a hard time thinking that kind of team would not immediately be at least a second tier team behind Miami and Indiana in the east.  Frankly I think it would be in that top tier, although probably  a close third team in that tier.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why Cavs' GM Chris Grant was fired thursday.

There is a lot of talk about motivations behind the firing of Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant  on Thursday --- and plenty of it has a nugget of truth --- but to me it isn't the whole story.

If you listened to the news the day it happened, you might think:

1) Chris Grant is just being used as a scapegoat.
2) That the lack of development by 2014 #1 over-all pick Anthony Bennett is the reason.
3) That the coach, Mike Brown, should have been fired, but the owner, Dan Gilbert, liked the coach better so Grant was fired.

I think all of those reasons have a grain of truth, but the real reason Grant got canned is because he wasn't great at drafting, a key piece of his job.

The job of a GM is securing players.  Cleveland is not an attractive spot for free agents.  Cleveland's leadership, lead by owner Dan Gilbert seems to understand that their path to improvement is based on building through the draft. 

The departure of Lebron James suggested a lack of faith by James in the team's leadership.  Cleveland's owner seems driven to build a good team as soon as possible to give the finger to James.  It is likely that the owner pushed to acquire as many lottery picks as possible and to get that going greenlit covering player contract absorption to make that happen.

The signing of Andrew Bynum that lead to the acquisition of Luol Deng was quite effective work in leveraging Dan Gilbert's money.

As far as that effort to securing trades yielding picks, Grant did a very solid job.  It's what he did with those picks that cost him his job.

In the aftermath of the Lebron James departure, Grant has had the luxury of top picks in the NBA draft and a roster largely devoid of talent as a starting point. He has been in a great position to draft the top player available at each slot with few limitations on position created by existing roster players.

IMO, I think he was far too comfortable with the idea that his job was safe and as such took more risks with his picks than he should...but it could just be that he is a lousy drafter.  I cannot see much strategy behind his selections. He seemed to be just drafting "guys he liked", rather than building a team in a sensible fashion with a goal in mind.  That, to me, is inexcusable.

Lets look at the picks he has had over the last few years.

2011 1 1
2011 1 4
2011 2 32
2011 2 54

2012 1 4
2012 1 24
2012 2 33
2012 2 34

2013 1 1
2013 1 19
2013 2 31
2013 2 34
2013 3 39

He has had two #1 over picks and two #4 overall  picks.  On that alone, he should have at least three near all-stars that work together a bit.  On a team with little talent, there should have been playing time for rookies coming in taken in the 19-34 range --- and he had 7 picks in that range.   That is potentially a two deep roster joining keeper power forward/center Anderson Varejao.

What he built

These are the players he drafted.

2011 1 1 Kyrie Irving Duke University
2011 1 4 Tristan Thompson University of Texas at Austin
2011 2 32 Justin Harper University of Richmond
2011 2 54 Milan Macvan Serbia

2012 1 4 Dion Waiters Syracuse University
*2012 1 24 Jared Cunningham Oregon State University
*2012 2 33 Bernard James Florida State University
*2012 2 34 Jae Crowder Marquette
* traded for 2012 rookie center Tyler Zeller and journeyman Kelenna Azubuike

2013 1 1 Anthony Bennett University of Nevada Las Vegas
2013 1 19 Sergey Karasev Russia national basketball team
2013 2 31 Allen Crabbe University of California, Berkeley
2013 2 34 Carrick Felix Arizona State University

The Minnesota second round pick in the 2013 draft (#39) was traded to Boston for young NBA busts Luke Harangody and Semih Erdin, two guys who prior to be drafted and failing in the league were said to lack NBA talent.

This has yielded the following roster.

1- Irving, Jack, Miles
2- Waiters, Karasev, Delladedova
3- Deng, Gee, Felix
4- Thompson, Bennett, Clark,
5- Varejao, Zeller, Sims

...Good for a record of 16-33 at the time of his dismissal.  The Cavs were in 12th place a conference with only two good teams.  They were tied for the 4th fewest wins in the league.

It's hard to argue that his draft work didn't create this situation.

What "sensible" drafting and a couple smart free agent signings would have yielded.

Disclaimer: I personally find the NBA game damn near unwatchable these days.  (IMO, the NBA has gutted their league of quality big men with their draft rules.  NBA Basketball used to be a fine cheese, now it is more like "cheese food".  I find the college game better --- but even college ball  is a shade of it's former glory due to the NBA prematurely drafting prospects.)  I have probably watched fewer than 10 NBA games in the last 3 years and haven't watched a full Cavs game at all, but I have watched a lot of college games.

This makes me the perfect writer to do this exercise.

I have a  limited perspective on the players available coming into the league, but am largely ignorant of what they have done since getting there.  This article is largely free of after-the fact bias steering my picks.  Aside from Kyrie Irving, I have no idea what these kids have done in the NBA and I have made every effort not to know before writing this article.

I have treated the second half of this article like a GM would.  A GM would rely heavily on his scouting department.  In lieu of a scouting department, I will use a single website. I think is one of the better prospect scouting report websites.  They may be a little light on a prospect's off-the-court problems (vs. a team's scouting report), but they cover the player on the court well.  I have used their profiles as "my scouting department".

I have a draft philosophy.  I would advocate trading into the next draft if you don't like your draft day options.  My philosophy is to avoid injury-prone players and unrefined prospects. I favor taller players and look for multipliers and dividers first and then fill the gaps with strong defenders who play sound offensive ball.  A good distributor protects the ball and creates high percentage shots for his teammates.  That is a multiplier.  His actions may increase a team's shooting percentage 10-20%.  He is a multiplier.  A competent player who is also a top shot blocker can drive down an opponent's shooting percentage 10-20%.  That is a divider.  Everyone else better be a very good defender and/or a proven clutch shooter/playmaker in playoff situations.

Redrafting the last 3 Cav drafts


I think the 2011 draft had two good looking points in Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker and then a bunch of prospects in the next 15 picks or so.  I like Walker better, but a smart GM looks at his scouting reports and trusts his scouting department.  My scouting department ( liked Irving a ton better, and frankly, Walker just didn't value out right for me.   He played too well for me to take him in the teens, but the 4th pick didn't seem merited by his scouting report.  Taking two points would likely cause one or both to implode --- as it did in Minnesota a few years ago.  Still, I loved his leadership. If  he had been 2 inches taller, I'd have dealt the #1 and taken Walker at #4 instead, but I felt some trepidation on Walker getting posted repeatedly in the NBA.)

I hate prospects personally.  To my way of thinking, if you are trying to get drafted by an NBA team, shouldn't you have some defined skill that will allow you to start or eat least contribute in the NBA? Just being tall and athletic does nothing for me.

I think it is generally a bad idea to draft a prospect with a top 5 pick, and I think that was a poor move for Cleveland --- given the goals of their ownership.  I would have dumped the #4 pick for a future 1st and a pick in the 15-20 range with the idea of picking Chandler Parsons --- a talented, tall upperclassman SF with a polished game.  Parsons was likely to be a solid pro, but no star.

The Washington Wizards and Enes Kanter apparently had a shared interest in each other and were in discussions with Cleveland in a deal to trade their #6 and #18 picks to move up for the #4 pick.  I'd have traded the #4 pick for Washington's #18 and their #1 in 2012, with a caveat that if their 1st pick in 2012 was not a top 10 pick, they would also owe me their #1 in 2014 --- unprotected.  Given Kanter's draft report's defensive limitations and the youth on the Washington roster, I think the Wizards would not be significantly better in one year. I'd have expected at least a top 10 pick back in 2012.

I'd have targeted Butler's one-two punch of Shevin Mack and Matt Howard in the second round.  Mack would be a backup 2 and Howard a backup 4. I'd have felt pretty comfortable that both would be at those spots as Mack is a 6'1" two guard and at a skinny 6'8", Howard is a marginal NBA power forward prospect unlikely to be drafted.  Still both fit what I would try and do with Cleveland.  My stated goal is a title team. It never hurts to have hard nosed,  hard-working winners off the bench. Both guys are elite clutch 3 point shooters.  Hoarding clutch shooter is a big part of San Antonio's recipe for success.

2011 1 1 Kyrie Irving
2011 1 18 Chandler Parsons
2011 2 32 Shelvin Mack
2011 2 54 Matt Howard

The Cavs would lack the firepower to finish any better than they did under Grant, so we can assume they would have the same picks as the year before.


I don't like the 2012 draft class. There really are only two guys I like much in that class.  Everyone else is too much of a project.

I would target Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond.   Both are  19 year olds.  MKG is a driven kid who projects as a solid NBA starting 3 at both ends, maybe a little better. 

Drummond has a unique physical skillset for a center these days.  He is tall, physical, and mobile in addition to being a good shot blocker and rebounder.  Drummond has top center ability as well, so he amounts to a good defensive asset who could develop with good individual coaching into one of the game's best centers in 5-7 years.  Good backup today, a possible star tomorrow.  The question with him appears to be will he top out as a top 10 center in the league or will the team that takes him utilize him properly and work to develop him into a top 3 center.  That is a good value pick.

I am not sold on anyone else in this draft class.  I would try to move the rest of the picks for future assets.  I'd offer the remaining three picks to Dallas for their first and second in 2013.  Dallas traded their first in 2012 in reality for the rest of Cleveland's picks.  Cuban's policies have foolishly turned that team into a mediocre one and will likely keep it there, so I'd rest pretty comfortably that the pick will be in the same ballpark or better in 2013.

From Washington 2012 1 3  Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist
2012 1 4 Andre Drummond

While competent offensively, neither of these guys are likely to dump in bushels of points.  We don't have a lot of scoring on the roster, so Cleveland would again have a great shot of landing a top pick.


I love the talent in the 2013 draft, just not the talent in the top 10, which looks like bust city.  I think there is exceptional value in the 11-40 range.  I love the bigs in this draft.

Cleveland would want me to take a guy with the #1 pick or at least at the top of the draft. Draft Express said the #1 talent is Nerlens Noel.  I agree, but I don't want to take a complimentary guy with an undefined game coming off an injury.  My thought would be to trade down.

If forced to chose a guy in the top 10, I would take Victor Oladipo.  I would fish for a trade down with Orlando, but history shows that would not occur.  I think the player is a top 7-8 grade guy, but it is a draft with little value in the lottery, IMO.  What are you going to do?  Oladipo is a relentless Mark Macon type SG defensively and a bit like Stacy Augmon offensively  although he showed a better perimeter shot last year (Olidapo is mostly a fast break guy, but not total loss in the half court).  I want a SG who can disrupt an opponent's primary perimeter scorer and provide leadership.  He's coming out with his value at it's peak.

With the 13th pick acquired from Dallas, I would take Dennis Schroeder to be a high energy backup point guard. Schroeder is a live wire who excels on the break, has good vision, and will aggressively defend.  He offers good minutes vs. the elite athlete points.

With the 19th pick, I would take Gogui Dieng.  He is only a 6'10 center, but he is a great athlete, well built and very athletic.  He plays well on the break and is a very good defender.

Mike Muscala is my choice at 31.  He is a 6'10' mobile collegiate center who I think could develop into a very solid pro 4 with good coaching.   He has a very good offensive game and is a hell of a rebounder.  Can he become a fairly decent defender at the 4 spot is my big question, but if he is spotted to play vs. less athletic 4's I think he can be quite nice.

I would target pulling Glen Rice Jr. off the scrap heap at 34 with the idea that he is the last man on the roster and my instant offense/3 point specialist.  Rice's immaturity wrecked his collegiate career.  Due to his talent, I would keep him around and make him earn a pro career by keeping his nose clean and with hard work.  He would be my lone "bad guy" on the roster --- my lesson to the other players about how fragile a career can be.

Colton Iverson is a mature, physical center.  I'd spend 44 on him.  I like that kind of player and think almost any coach can use that kind of guy.  I think his chief use would be to rough up the two more athletic centers ahead of him in practice.

2013 1 1 Victor Oladipo
from Dallas 2013 1 13  Dennis Schroeder
2013 1 19 Gogui Dieng
2013 2 31 Mike Muscala
2013 2 34 Glen Rice Jr.
from dallas 2013 44 Colton Iverson

Free agency/acquistions

Rather than burning a #2 pick on a trade with Boston for Luke Harangody and Semih Erdin--- two guys considered lacking of baseline NBA talent --- I'd have tried to flip that pick to acquire swingman Corey Brewer --- first to Minnesota.  Then to NY.  Then to Dallas. Then to Denver.  Then I'd have tried to sign him in 2013 if none of those efforts work.

I think the book is totally wrong on Brewer.  I saw him land a ton of key 3 pointers in college.  I think he is actually quite a reliable shooter, especially in crunch time.  I think the whole "he can't shoot" thing came from Minnesota feeling they needed him to be a 20 point a night player.  There is nothing wrong with a 15-17 point a night guy who plays outstanding defense and makes game winning plays.

He is also quite good on the break.

I would also have gone hard after Memphis total bust Hasheem Thabeet.  Thabeet is about halfway between Shawn Bradley and Manute Bol.  (I have long thought the NBA blew it with Bradley in trying to force feed him weight instead of just making him a 4.  Fans like to remember the out of shape, "don't give a crap" Bradley of most of his career in Dallas, but young Bradley competed in Philly and New Jersey and even his first year in Dallas.  No one remembers it, but 230-245 lb Bradley was fairly athletic.  That guy put up 24 on Shaq one night, going right at the big man. I don't know what Don Nelson did to Bradley's head, but it is totally inaccurate to paint Bradley as a total bust. Thabeet at this point is no Bradley.)

I'd have floated any "legacy" Cavs (besides Varejao) out there and maybe a future second round pick for Thabeet.

I'd have done so in the hopes of turning him into a 20 minute a game power forward with a lot of one-on-one work with an assistant and a conditioning coach.  My goal would be to work hard on his footwork, flexibility,  his jumper, and his lower body strength.  The idea would be to roll him out as a shooter from 15 feet and for shot blocking and rebounding help against backup 4's who cannot abuse him as much.  A second rounder, a roster spot, and players not in your future plans to me is as far as one should gamble on a prospect.

It's fine to gamble on busts, but I think you have to very little invested and the players have to clearly have height and NBA talent.

So if I ran the show, the Cavs would likely have this kind of roster this year.

1- Irving, Schroeder
2- Oladipo, Brewer, Mack, Rice-d
3- Kidd-Gilchrist, Brewer, Parsons-d
4- Varejao, Thabeet, Muscala-d, Howard-d
5- Drummond, Dieng, Iverson-d

d= potentially available for the DLeague.

I have to think that would be a playoff team in the east.  And if LeBron should want to consider a return, one would think the youth and defensive bent of the roster would be attractive to him.

Postscript: Coaching

Given the talk of players I would be remiss not to suggest appropriate coaching options.

Bryon Scott was hired to retain Lebron James.  It didn't happen.  At that point Scott became the guy who was there to illustrate the team's intent to win to the fans and develop good defensive fundamentals on a young team.

Scott is a guy who can turn a talented roster into a good team.  He didn't have that starting point in Cleveland.  His hire was ill-timed in Cleveland and IMO he was destined to be fired about when he was.

I don't think much of current Cavs coach Mike Brown as coach of the Cavs of today.  Really I am just not a fan. I think Lebron can make any coach look good.  I haven't seen much that grabs me about Brown. Plus that hire also hits me as equally poor timing.  I don't see anything there that says this guy can develop talent or cares enough about that aspect of things.

So who would I have brought in?  I really don't know.   For a young team I think it makes sense to bring in up-tempo coaches.   Players develop post games later in their careers.  Young players can run all day though.

I personally am a huge fan of  the "Guru of Go", Paul Westhead.  He's a mad scientist of up-tempo basketball (Perhaps THE mad scientist).  He has won an NBA title in LA and a pair of WNBA titles despite being discredited in NBA circles for his basketball ideas that sometimes surrender responsible defensive position for the chance for easy snowbird layups.

His scheme, "The System",  creates a lot more trips up and down the court in order to wear out their opposition mentally and emotionally.  It would likely be even more affective in the NBA with 7 game playoff series.

(I will admit, there is a part of me that thinks after drafting Drummond, probably the guy with the highest ceiling on this roster, do I want to double the tread on his tires with "The System" or should I look at more conventional coaches?  Now the flipside is Thabeet could pick up some center minutes in Westhead's scheme to cut the pounding on Drummond's joints.)

I like the idea of Westhead because a massively up tempo scheme, like "The System",  speeds up a player's development into a competent NBA offensive player.  I think Westhead's system can absolutely kill in the NBA, but a team has to be young across the board, willing to play everyone on the roster, IMO the players have to cycle out every 5 minutes or so, and coaches have to keep starters' minutes in the 20's to low 30's.

Injuries and lack of quality depth can kill the system.  That scenario has cost Westhead a series of jobs, but when The System works, it is mind-blowingly beautiful.  This would be a young team with good depth and no players with chronic injury problems.

I think this roster could handle it for 2-3 years and the system is so unique that it could do damage in the playoff with a properly constructed, young roster.  Especially in the East.

Now could I get the 74 year old Westhead to give up his gig in Oregon and for one more NBA run? Hard to tell. An NBA season is a hell of a grind and Westhead is an old guy, but his Oregon team has had some big injuries and the natives are restless... Still, even if he was agreeable, a 74 year old coach would be a tough sell to most NBA owners.

Without Westhead, I am probably not thinking of hiring one of his assistants to run an NBA team --- just too much of a jump.  I might push my eventual coach to interview some Westhead assistants though.  (Former Westhead assistant Pat Riley worked out pretty well...)

So who else?  One would have to take a hard look at George Karl.  He embraces a similar philosophy of giving heavy minutes to his bench.  He coaches an uptempo offensive scheme and values defense.  Drama does seem to follow him though and it may not be something Cleveland can afford this close to Lebron's departure.

I'd take a look at former Laker Michael Cooper, who I think has been unfairly overlooked by the NBA --- likely due to much of his coaching experience coming in the WNBA.  His teams are well prepared, he does a lot of player development, they play defense and run, and he has won titles as a player and a coach.

I would also strongly consider a pair of college ringers --- VCU's Shaka Smart and USC's Andy Enfield would be guys I'd approach as they coach a brand of basketball that is, like Westhead's system, much more aggressive than most.  Young players especially like playing in those kinds of systems as they feel they have an edge and can show off their talents better.  I believe young players develop quicker when they are having fun on the court.

I think Enfeild, with a model wife,  is likely to stay in LA for now.  Moving from LA to Cleveland is a tough sale.  Discussions with him may not yield immediate results, but rather would likely amount to laying the foundation for future employment.

Smart, however, might be in play.  One gets the feeling that Smart is waiting for the right collegiate job to open up.  He might be very open to jumping immediately to an NBA team with a load of young talented players.

I would have also thought a lot about former Butler coach Brad Stevens as he develops tough minded teams even if they are not up-tempo, but honestly at no point in time did I think he would jump to the pros.  Frankly that situation may have been more about coaching the Celtics than an NBA team.

I think with this kind of roster, you really can't go that wrong with guys like Westhead, Karl, Cooper, or Smart.  I'd hire the guy who sells that he can happily work in the existing Cavs framework.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The gap between the Cowboys and the superbowl champs...

I watched Seattle dismantle Denver last night and I thought, "This is a definite shift in the NFL power structure."

For the last few years there have been a lot of teams with weak defenses carried by great offenses get to the Superbowl. Green Bay got there and won behind the best QB in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers.  So did New Orleans behind Drew Brees.  The Colts won a Superbowl with Peyton Manning.

It was after Green Bay won the Superbowl that Jerry Jones started publicly voicing the philosophy that "...If we can just reach the playoffs, we have a shot at winning the superbowl!"  For the last few years that may have been true.

Dallas isn't far from being a peer to San Diego, Philadelphia, Green Bay or even Denver, even if Tony Romo falls short in comparison to those QBs.*   Dallas as home playing well and somewhat healthy almost beat Denver this year.  But what about the playoff teams that play defense?

(* On the radio in Dallas a few minutes ago, a sports host asked his partner, "If Seattle had Romo instead of Russell Wilson, would Seattle have won the superbowl?"  His partner answered that anyone could have lead Seattle to victory over the Broncos last night, but that he thought Romo would have made an ill-advised pass late against San Francisco to give the game away.  I am generally favorable towards Romo, but that was my thought as well.  It is certainly interesting to think that the argument that "If you just give Romo a defense, he will win a title" may not be true. Dallas needs to improve on both ends of the field to have a shot.)

Seattle destroyed Dallas the last time they played, physically manhandling them on both sides of the ball.  San Francisco is arguably just as good.  Carolina, a team on the come, is similar if a slight notch below.  Arizona is starting to develop a similar team.  Even New Orleans, which I would put in the Denver category, can at least scheme their defense to a point where Dallas just cannot compete.

That is a total of 5 teams that are just flat out easily better than Dallas.  In the NFC.  Directly in Dallas's way.

The days of a physically weak team with glaring holes just riding a hot QB to a Superbowl win appear gone for the rest of the Romo window.  Jerry Jones just cannot afford to think that way.  Dallas can't just assume they will have a shootout with NFC opponents. 

Dallas has to develop a better line and a good and durable defense with a scheme that matches their talent or there is no way Romo will win the superbowl before he is done.

Yesterday was an eye-opener to me.  Here's hoping it was to the Joneses as well.