Basketball / Sports

Commentary: Former GM Chris Grant paid price for Cavaliers' early-season failures but his dealings delivered promising future

NEW ORLEANS -- It took less than a week following Chris Grant's firing for the cannon shot to be fired against him. Despite the revisionist history now being portrayed nationally, here are the facts regarding Grant's tenure as general manager of the Cavaliers.

He walked into perhaps the worst situation in professional sports. Shortly after he was named GM, the greatest player in the world departed and the rest of the roster was in shambles. The team had no pick in that summer's draft and no players of real value left to trade away and begin the rebuilding process.

As I wrote last week, the organization was essentially on fire. Grant was handed an ax and a hose and told to get to work. So he turned Mo Williams into Kyrie Irving and J.J. Hickson into Luol Deng -- both All-Stars. He turned a troubled Delonte West (who was out of the league two years later) into Ramon Sessions, then turned Sessions into Tyler Zeller and rookie Sergey Karasev.

He restocked an organization bereft of young talent and future draft picks and he never lost a trade.

Yahoo Sports' recent scathing article on Grant chastising him for "pitches on one-sided deals," was perplexing since Grant successfully executed nine deals (excluding the LeBron James sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat) in 3 1/2 years. He consummated trades with some of the most respected GMs in the league, including the Los Angeles Lakers' Mitch Kupchak and a former Executive of the Year winner in the Chicago Bulls' Gar Forman. (Grant negotiated swap rights into the Sessions trade with the Lakers that enabled the Cavs to move up 11 spots in last summer's draft and land Karasev, the young shooting guard the team remains high on).

Grant's best skill is negotiating. He engineered a deal to receive an unprotected pick from a sure-fire lottery team within that same season -- nearly impossible to execute in an NBA world saturated with protected lottery picks.

The Detroit Pistons, for example, fell into the second overall pick in the 2003 draft because of a trade made six years earlier. The Pistons traded Otis Thorpe to the Memphis Grizzlies during the summer of 1997, then waited 2,114 days before learning they'd won the second pick in the 2003 draft.

Grant traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis' bloated contract in 2011, then waited 83 days before winning the lottery with the Clippers' pick. That deal doesn't get done without owner Dan Gilbert essentially paying $15 million (the difference between Davis' contract and Williams' contract) for the pick, but Grant constructed the framework of the deal.

No one in the Cavs' front office was "preening" after landing Andrew Bynum last summer, as Yahoo reported. Conversely, I spoke to a team executive during free agency last summer who was indifferent on Bynum. His attitude and knee issues were well documented and had scared off most of the league.

"If he comes, great," the executive said. "If he doesn't, I'm already over it."

After Bynum chose the Cavs, I called a different team executive to offer congratulations.

"Eh, we'll see," was the response. "I don't know if we've won anything or not."

It took more than a week for Bynum's contract to be finalized and signed because of its complexity. Grant gave Bynum $6 million, but his contract counted for $12 million against the cap.

Part of the reason Grant was careful in constructing it that way was to create a preliminary trade deadline of Jan. 7. Teams over the tax threshold knew they could deal off a high-priced talent and avoid tax penalties, but they had to do it before the remainder of Bynum's contract became guaranteed.

As a result, Deng, a two-time All-Star, came to the Cavs for a couple of second-round picks and the heavily protected first-round pick the Cavs received from the Sacramento Kings in the Hickson deal two years ago.

Although Grant is gone, the Cavs will still benefit from his trades. From July 1, 2012, (the official start of the new NBA year) through the trade deadline last season, only one first-round pick was dealt -- and Grant got it. The Cavs helped the Grizzlies get below the luxury tax line and in the process paid $3 million for what should be a lottery pick perhaps as early as next summer.

Agents and teams around the league have privately grumbled for years about dealing with Grant, but what's far worse are agents and teams eager to deal with executives they know they can fleece. And nine trades in 3 1/2 years shows he can close deals.

The biggest misnomer in all of this, however, might be the Cavs' draft record. For all the criticism Grant has faced for his drafting, the Cavs last season became the first team in history to send four players to the Rising Stars game and have one of them compete in the real All-Star Game that same season.

Dion Waiters participated in the Rising Stars game again on Saturday and finished with 31 points and seven assists, missing out on the MVP award because Andre Drummond had 30 points and 25 rebounds.

Grant has been bludgeoned for two years for passing on guys like Harrison Barnes and Drummond in favor of Waiters, yet Barnes has regressed this season while Drummond has flourished.

That doesn't make Waiters a bad NBA player. In fact, if Anthony Bennett continues improving, the Cavs will have avoided busts with all of their high draft picks. They are all young, solid NBA players with enough time to keep improving. None besides Irving might develop into a superstar, but few others in those drafts will, either.

Yet Tristan Thompson has 24 double-doubles, Waiters and Irving have shown hope recently they can play together and even Bennett is improving.

Grant isn't here anymore because the Cavs played terrible for most of this season given the preseason expectations, but those expectations only existed because of the remarkable work he did for the past three years. And this all still might work out for this franchise, it just didn't happen fast enough.

Then again, it took the Bulls seven years to make the playoffs after Michael Jordan retired and nine years to win their first playoff series. The Boston Celtics made the playoffs two out of three years after Larry Bird retired, but failed to win a series, then missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons. Recovering from losing a superstar takes a long time.

Gilbert spoke last week of wanting a culture change and one league source said this week Grant had built walls throughout the organization that needed to come down.

But what can't be denied is the work he did in rebuilding a roster that had no bones. Yes, the Cavs have endured major locker-room issues this season and getting these young players to learn to win has been more difficult than anyone imagined. But the last week has proven that the talent is there to do it, and that's a credit to Grant, who grabbed an ax and a hose 3 1/2 years ago and got to work. The Cavs will be better for it for a long, long time.

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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