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

Posts Tagged ‘Sam Presti’

Misc,NBA Basketball

2012/10/22

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…

NBA Basketball

2010/11/29

CAN HE BUILD IT? I HAVE NO FREAKIN’ IDEA.

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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.