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 DraftExpress.com 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 (DraftExpress.com) 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
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.
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.