Sitting on the sidelines so far in this campaign, as PRO HOOPS CENTRAL has been on sabbatical, there have been some interesting stories emanating from the Association as we near the halfway point of the season. However, the story that has been most troubling from this corner, is the lack of progression taking place with the club I covered as a Radio Reporter from 1995 through the 2007 NBA Finals; the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a mediocre at best NBA Eastern Conference, the club started out Monday with a record of 16-28; amazingly just two games out of the final playoff seed in the Conference.
Cleveland fans filled with hope when back in April, Team Owner Dan Gilbert had a “Dallas Type Moment,” as he walked into the team’s locker room and saw head coach Mike Brown sitting at his desk; meaning the last three seasons under former bench boss Byron Scott were just a bad dream. After dismissing Brown back in the Summer of 2010, Gilbert realized that defense wins championships and brought his former coach back into the fold. This time around, Brown had himself an elite NBA point guard to run his offense in All-Star Kyrie Irving, an option he never came close to having in his first tour of duty with the team.
The Basketball Gods blessed the club with their second number one selection in three years, in last June’s NBA Draft and the team’s General Manager Chris Grant was expected by most pundits to select Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, a player who was injured at the time of the Draft, but was said to have a huge upside as a future big man in the NBA. Most longtime NBA observers thought that the big man from Kentucky would be a natural fit for a club run by Mike Brown, but apparently the team believed otherwise.
The Cavaliers have needed go-to players at the small forward and center slots since the Summer of 2010, however Grant pretty much shocked the World Of Basketball when he selected power forward Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. The move perplexed fans of the squad as the four-slot was being ably manned by Tristan Thompson, taken with the fourth pick in the same Draft the club acquired Irving. Talk of a trade surfaced immediately in the media; but the team still has both players on the roster.
To say that Bennett has underwhelmed with his play as the first selection in the NBA draft would be far more than kind. The rookie is playing in the Association at the small forward position and the only impression he has made so far is a bad one. He has played in 32 of the team’s 44 games, always coming off the bench and averaging 2.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.2 assists in 10.2 minutes per contest. Those are unacceptable numbers from a first round pick and so far there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
In a recent private conversation with a veteran Cleveland reporter, who has covered the club since the nineties; I learned that the Cavaliers locker room is not a happy place currently. Irving reportedly is making his displeasure with the team’s lack of direction known off the record and it is not surprising he feels that way. The young man is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Association for years to come and does not want to spend his career on a team in the basement.
Grant took a low risk/possibly high gain gamble this summer, signing veteran center Andrew Bynum to a contract. The move did not work out as Bynum has already been shipped along with some low value future draft picks to the Chicago Bulls, for veteran small forward Luol Deng. The veteran has done a nice job since moving into the starting three-slot for Cleveland, averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 boards and 2.2 assists per game. However he is a Free Agent at the end of this campaign and may not be a great long-term fit for the team. Deng is only 28-years-old, but he has taken a beating in the Association and does get injured quite often.
Chris Grant was a Danny Ferry disciple and Gilbert hoped that he could fill the position long-term. I think it has been proven that he is incapable of building a team. I would love to see them get a Donnie Walsh type guy, who would come in and shake things up like he did with the Knicks. You can have all the ones, twos and fours you want, but this team NEEDS a Three And A Five and have since the Summer of 2010.
Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan during his campaign for the Presidency; asked the American People if they were better off than they were four-years before. As we reach the Summer of 2014, Cavaliers fans and Dan Gilbert will have to answer the question whether the club is better than it was four-years previously. The answer to that question should determine Chris Grant’s fate as the General Manager for the club.