RAISING THE CADAVALIER - many, many thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers by ROBERT ATTENWEILER

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Grant’

Misc,NBA Basketball


Cavs 2012-13 Roster Outlook Pt.2: The Assets Phase

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Much of the talk about the “Oklahoma City Model” of team building centers, understandably, on Sam Presti’s drafting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – all top level NBA talents — in three consecutive drafts.

The amount of attention that their three draft day home runs makes sense, because (as any NBA fan — perhaps, especially a Cavs fan — knows) you need 2-3 high level NBA players to compete at a high level in today’s NBA. But a GM getting his franchise’s cornerstone, buttress and gorgeous bay window all through the draft – meaning that he doesn’t have to part with any additional resources (i.e. money or other good players) – frees that GM up to maximize Phase 2, The Asset Phase.

See, OKC had another lottery pick in that incredible draft run from 2007-2009 (that also got them Serge Ibaka, though later in the 2008 draft at #24). Jeff Green was taken with the 5th pick in the same draft where Kevin Durant went #2. Originally the Celtic’s pick, #5 went to OKC in the draft day trade that sent Ray Allen to Boston. Green has developed into a nice player, but he’s never really lived up to the promise of a top-5 selection. So, why aren’t we saying, “Gee, Sam Presti nailed those Durant, Westbrook and Harden picks. But, clearly, he’s fallible. Look at Jeff Green”? It’s because Presti’s draft success in 2008 and 2009 allowed Green to not have to be a big-time player to justify his selection. He was no longer part of OKC’s 2-3 star future. Jeff Green was now an asset and he let Presti go out and get Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics when his team was one very wide body from taking the leap from up-and-comer to contender.

All this is to say that, while local and national writers spend quite a bit of time connecting Chris Grant’s rebuild of the Cavaliers with what Presti did with the Thunder – and Cavs fans spend a lot of time wringing their hands about if the trio of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters will develop into as strong a foundation for this team as Durant-Westbrook-Harden – what Grant is doing with The Asset Phase of the rebuild is almost more interesting.

Assets, to think of them very generally, are not things that increase a GM’s chances of success as much as they are things that decrease the terrifying prospect that every decision they make has to be the right one. Assets are wriggle room – and with enough of them (be they draft picks, promising young players on rookie contracts, diamonds in the rough and, while less so now, big-money expiring deals) a GM should have a much longer length of rope, even if the results are that he still hangs himself with it.

So, in Presti’s case, downgrading Green from “Top-5 pick(!)” to “key asset” was fine because he’d found the stars he needed elsewhere – and it allowed him to cover over another of his rare draft whiffs (or, to be more fair, while the jury may still be out on the long-term success of center, Cole Aldrich, he was not good enough fast enough for a Thunder team ready to take the leap and needing a quality center) by turning Green into Perkins. The lesson, clearly, is this: in the NBA, if you manage your assets well and hit well enough on enough of them, you receive what few GMs really have—the necessary ability to fail.

If you’ve paid even modest attention to Chris Grant’s tenure with the Cavaliers, you’ve heard the same words over and over: “assets” and “flexibility.” And when we look at the team he’s assembled – talented young players like Irving, Thompson, Waiters and Zeller – we spend, perhaps, too much time inventing scenarios in which they all achieve the ceilings of their draft day promise or they just fail miserably. What has to be kept in mind is the middle ground – the Asset Phase – where a talented young player, even if he does not become Serge Ibaka or Russell Westbrook still has value and can help this team going forward (of course, they help them much better if they all just become All-Stars, but y’know…).

That’s also why Grant is being smart about bringing in undrafted players, like Kevin Jones or Michael Eric (or, in the past, like Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee, Donald Sloan or Manny Harris). While the odds are against these players reaching the promise or performance levels of a player picked high in the draft, the risk is very low and the reward, should the organization be able to develop this player into someone who can help the Cavs or (sometimes more importantly) interest another team, is very high. The true payoff of this is down the line when you can see if, say, Samuels is included in a draft day deal that helps net us a higher pick – or Eric develops into a rotation big, soothing the sting when Grant trades Varejao – or if Gee is included in that Varejao trade, getting us something more (another player to develp, more picks, etc) back. And, maybe, none of those things happen. Likely, none of those things will happen. But Grant is lengthening his rope – bringing in high-level talent, as well as developmental projects that should (should) allow the team, once it’s ready, to be competitive in the long term because they’ve done enough that’s smart to allow or make up for the riskier moves.

Or maybe I just want Waiters to be as good as Russell Westbrook. Yes. That would do, as well…



Thoughts on The Beard…

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Thanks to Brian Windhorst for shining a light on why the “Cavs to amnesty Baron Davis” rumor – though lacking a fair amount of competitive basketball sense – refuses to go away.

Apparently, it’s Davis himself who has continued to fan the flames, hoping to find his way off the Cavaliers roster and onto another one more … what’s that word … oh, yeah “good.”

This makes sense if you’re Beardly because, even though this year’s Cavs team will not be as bad as last year’s (presumably), you (Beardly) are probably not going to be around by the time this thing fully turns itself around.  The team has already drafted its point guard of the future (oh, he of 11 NCAA games) and you are still (arguably) a top-10 (to 15) point guard when you’re healthy, so you can imagine that it doesn’t look to too appealing to spend your last two years in your relative-prime (Beardly is only 32 – or, to put it another way, about 17 years younger than Steve Nash) to be the mentor to a 19-year old rookie and the team’s de facto 2 guard.  We’re seeing the same thing from the recently amnestied Chauncey Billups, as he’s telling teams to back off the waiver wire and let him become a free agent.

The difference is that Chauncey has already been waived – and was a casualty of the amnesty clause so that the Knicks could get far enough under the cap to sign Tyson Chandler.  The Cavs, in regard to Baron Davis, have no such Tyson Chandler on the radar. Were they to amnesty Baron Davis, seemingly, it would be so that he doesn’t become disgruntled and a bad influence on the team’s young players.  That is how much the Cavs seem to fear Disgruntled Baron – they would rather pay him the nearly $29 million remaining on his contract (minus whatever he would get paid by the team that picks him up) to not bring that bad attitude (which, it should be noted, we have never actually seen from Baron since coming to Cleveland last year, but that is as part of the BD myth as the beard and the belly).

Part of me gets that.  But that part is not as large as the one that thinks that caving (that’s right, I said it – boom!) to Beardly’s wish to play elsewhere is not good for the Cavs because of (to steal a Stern-ism) “basketball reasons.”

How can you part with a top-10 (or 15) point guard and get nothing in return except for the ability to pay him to help another team win games.  What other team, you ask?

The Lakers were the talk several weeks ago, but it looks like they’ll be getting a certain veto-inspring star after all.  The Knicks just signed Mike Bibby and (if I understand how the amnesty waiver system works – and I admittedly DO NOT KNOW how the amnesty waiver system works) won’t have the money or room for Beardly.  You could see him having some value for the Celtics, Thunder and Grizzlies as a back-up.  And, I repeat, he could still start for over half the teams in the league (give or take a quarter of the teams in the league).

So, no perfect fit, right?  I’m not … I’m not forgetting anyone, am I?  There’s no team out there who could use another player with some star-level talent to help round out a team with an abundance of star-level talent?  Oh, yeah … them.  Clearly, Dan Gilbert wants no part in paying Beardly to increase the Miami Heat’s chances of winning a championship.  Gilbert would rather, I’m guessing, eat his own face.  Or maybe he’s just hoping to drive Baron to pout and gain a ton of weight before waiving him hoping that he’ll be in Miami for exactly 48-hours before getting tired by all of the “Wait, which one is Eddy Curry?” comments.  Maybe…

If I were Chris Grant, I think I’d approach Beardly in a way probably very similar to the way Chris Grant has already approached Beardly: “Hey, Baron, we understand that you want to play for a winner.  You helped yourself by coming in last year and playing well and helping the team win some games.  If you keep with us and keep that up, we will find a contending team to take you on either at the deadline this year or next year.”  Clearly, that’s not what Beardly wants to hear – since it clouds what would otherwise be a very easy solution.  But Grant (and Gilbert) must have the guts to put up with Davis until they are able to acquire more assets (or even just asset) in parting with him.  We still don’t have much value on this franchise.  Baron Davis has value.  The Cavaliers must figure out how to maximize that value.

NBA Basketball



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Chris Grant does not have an easy road ahead of him. In fact, one of the main challenges facing the Cavaliers’ rookie GM is that there is no tried and true method for building a contender in the NBA.  In Part 1 of CAN HE BUILD IT, I looked at the “build through the draft” philosophy, probably the most heard piece of advice for the Cavs this season.  Blow up the team. Acquire draft picks.  Pick good players.  Be a good team again.  Simple, right?

But even teams with a history of drafting well (such as the Portland Trailblazers) can be felled by unforeseens – mainly, injuries and players not developing the way the organization had hoped (such as … well, look at the Portland Trailblazers).

Outside of a certain #1 pick in 2003, drafting has not been the Cavaliers’ strong suit. You need to be lucky just as much as you need to be good – which should really work in our favor since Cleveland sports has long been known for their luck.  Ummm…

And, at least for the foreseeable future, I don’t know that we should be too concerned about who’s hitting the free agent market.  The Cavaliers are still a professional basketball organization that pays its players millions of dollars to play the game of basketball.  In that, they will have no problem finding players to take their money and fill out their roster.  But if you have several teams offering a player the same money, until we have winning to offer as well, you can imagine that player might find greener pastures elsewhere.  So, when Chris grant talks about maintaining “flexibility” going forward, it means less to us than it does to Donnie Walsh in New York who can sign Amar’e Stoudemire last year and will have a very good chance to sign Carmelo Anthony this summer should he desire.

All this uncertainty is compounded by the fact that the Cavs organization has yet to commit to the direction they’re heading. We have a team that can play better than it has over the last 10 days, but we don’t have a team capable of winning on a consistent basis against any team it might face in the playoffs.  Come the trading deadline, you’ll start to see the Cavs position clarify.  But no one really knows what’s in store for the organization.  In her most recent podcast, the Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer was asked how long fans could expect the rebuilding process to take.  Three years?  Five years?  Her response: we have no way of knowing, but this could be really, really long – and she’s right.  We could land the next great player in this year’s draft or we could spend the next several years drafting the Luke Jacksons of the world.

Which is not to say that it’s impossible to say some things about how good teams are made.  Of the contending teams in the East, Boston, Miami and Chicago are all major markets.  Big markets do not guarantee success (see: Knicks, New York 2003-2010) but, as I mentioned earlier, they do get the leg-up on smaller markets when it comes to free agents.  They still have to sign the right players, but they’re, at least, in the conversation.  Orlando’s going to be in the conversation, as well, since Florida does not have state income tax.  A contract from a Florida team is going to mean more money than one from Cleveland.

(an aside: Texas is the other major NBA state that does not have state income tax.  Tennessee also does not, but Memphis has been run so poorly that I’m not sure how much that weighs in their favor)

But, of those teams, only Miami went all-in on free agents.

Boston was horrible, but had one All-Star (Paul Pierce, whom they drafted in the late-lottery) and then had enough young talent and draft picks to trade for All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett when they became available.

Chicago had a #1 pick in Derrick Rose, a luck pick (who has become better than even the Bulls thought he would) in Joakim Noah and then spent money on another All-Star (and the fifth most desirable free agent of 2010), Carlos Boozer.

Atlanta was built pretty unconventionally, as they were awful when they traded for Joe Johnson (who then became better than we thought he’d be … at least for a while) and continued to not be that great as their luck pick, Josh Smith, developed which got them another high pick, Al Horford, who has been very solid.  Their big trade came before the picks that got them better and another important trade came last year when they acquired Jamal Crawford.  But this team also seems to have hit its ceiling, showing little to convince us that they can continue into elite-team status.  They have since wildly overpaid Joe Johnson.

Orlando has a #1 pick in Dwight Howard and also drafted solidly, getting Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee 20th, 11th and 22nd respectively.  They were also very active in free agency, signing Hedo Tukoglu, Mickeal Pietrus and wildly overpaid Rashard Lewis.  Their “go for it” trade came when they swapped Lee for Vince Carter and let Tukoglu walk to overpay backups Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat.

Each of these teams have stable ownerships, solid front offices and above average coaches … except for one.  And, not surprisingly, that one team is the one that has, to this point, been unable to crack elite status: the Atlanta Hawks.

But you look at all of this and you see some trends.  High pick.  Luck pick.  Big trade. Wildly overpay.  Good coach.

If you’re Chris Grant you have to know this, right?  Somehow we need to get a pick somewhere in the lottery and we need to nail it.  Maybe that means getting another team’s pick, but probably that means being in the lottery ourselves.

Maybe Hickson is our luck pick.  Maybe our luck pick is still out there.

But, just as important as those two, are the trades – when they happen and who they bring in.  The trades will be more important to us because the player we end up wildly overpaying is probably not going to be the best player available – and he doesn’t have to be.  He just has to be the right player (as Rashard Lewis actually was the perfect pick-up for the Magic … we just didn’t know it at the time).

NBA Basketball



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I remember back in 2007 when I faced the very difficult task of transitioning my mentality as a sports fan from “At the end of the day, my team will always lose” to “Wait a second… My team is supposed to win.”  The grinding I could hear were the gears in my head shifting to where I got mad at losses, would sink into a light depression when we’d finally get bounced from the playoffs and constantly think about where that “final piece” would come from that would finally get Cleveland its wheelbarrow full of gold.

Yeah… those gears have had to switch back.  Now, we get to stretch back and look at the big picture issue known as rebuilding and everyone is calling for this Cavaliers team to be completely gutted … blown up … and built back up.  But, let’s be honest: the reason that hasn’t happened yet is that Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert can only speculate right now about what the best way to rebuild this team is.

None of us know.

So, Grant is left to talk about accumulating assets and developing young players (well, developing J.J. Hickson anyway) and trying to show some respectability after the organization was embarrassed nationally this past summer.

How will he build?

Over the course of the next few weeks, RAISING THE CADAVALIER will look at some of Grant’s options.  First up: he’ll build through the draft.

The good news: we no longer owe any other team a draft pick.  So, as it stands, the Cavs will have their own first and second round picks until they decide to part with one.  We’ll also have additional second round picks in 2011-2013 – roughly, and this could all change with various asterisks that accompany most trades, Oklahoma City’s in 2011, New Orleans’ in 2012 and Minnesota’s in 2013 (from the Ramon Sessions trade).  Then, we’re looking at Miami’s first rounders in 2013 and 2015 (because Ted Stepien was such a bad owner that teams can no longer trade away first round picks in successive years).  We can also choose to switch first round picks with Miami in 2012 (which, I guess, is in hopes that the wheels come off the Heat in 2012 for some reason).

There’s also the nearly $14 million trade exception – that we will presumably use to take on a player that another team wants to dump but force them to give up some picks as well – and anything we might get back should we part ways with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison or Anderson Varejao (widely considered our more tradable assets).

So, using the model that any rebuilding endeavor is, at least, a three year process, we have a minimum of ten picks (four first rounders and six second rounders) over the next three drafts if we hold onto our cards.

Not horrible.

And, if you’re going to build through the draft, the most conventional wisdom is that you will have to get pretty bad – thus assuring the chance at a high draft pick – before you really can get better.

And who do we point to as evidence of this?  The Oklahoma City Thunder.

While we still had LeBron, critics were always claiming that Cleveland was trying to build a winner “the wrong way.”  The right way, in their eyes, was to build a winner as it looked like the Thunder were building it: grab a twice in a decade star (Kevin Durant) and surround him with quality draft picks so that the team can all grow together and eventually end up winning it all.

And the Thunder were generally lauded for doing that.  My argument was, “But you don’t understand!  We don’t draft well!  We drafted DeSagana Diop and DeJuan Wagner (and Luke Jackson and Chris Mihm and Vitaly Potapenko and on and on) in the freaking lottery!  Just let us find players who are already good (or were a season or two ago) and let us build our team that way in peace!”

That’s going to be the trick of building through the draft.  There’s no way of knowing what you’re players will become or how far they’ll develop.  Solid rookie seasons and improved second year campaigns do not always mean a player will develop into a rotation player for a championship team.

This is (in my opinion) what the Thunder are experiencing now.  They got it right with Durant and got it way right with Russell Westbrook (currently averaging 23.8/5.1/8.4) but they’re still missing that third guy if you’re not convinced that it’s Jeff Green or James Harden.  Green’s averaging 18PTs and 6.8 REBs but hasn’t been able to entirely quell fears that this Thunder team is not a finished product.  And critics have already talked about Harden as a bust just because he is not Tyreke Evans or Stephen Curry, two players taken after Harden who have flashed considerably more star power, be it on considerably worse teams.

And what happens if Thunder GM Sam Presti had hit home runs on every one of the players and constructed a young super team.  Would he have been able to pay enough to keep them together for more than 5-7 years?  Would they have developed enough in the time before they got too expensive to keep together?

The Thunder will probably be just fine.  No need to worry about them.  But we should be careful of saying, “We’ll do it just like they did it.”  No offense to Chris Grant, but I just don’t trust that a GM will hit enough with 10 picks (most of them second rounders) to rebuild us into a competitive playoff team.

Not that I have any problem selecting 1-5 in any of the next three drafts, but we need to be much more aggressive than just waiting to see how these picks pan out because, let’s face it, you can’t get good players to commit to playing in Cleveland, not even if they’re from near there.

I don’t know if a formula exists, but I don’t think the draft focus is as reliable as some have suggested. Next up, we’ll look at how several contending teams this year got to be that way – and pay special attention to any who might be from mid-market land.