Not too many people know Chris Grant. If he signs LeBron James to a max contract in 2014, everyone will find out who he is — the shrewd young general manager of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. He took over the GM job July 1, 2010 just after the departure of GM Danny Ferry and just before the notorious ESPN “Decision” of LeBron James to leave Cleveland. Tough start! Undeterred, Chris Grant has slowly and professionally made his own “decisions” that are steering the Cavaliers on a new path — one that may well lead to a return of the Cavs all-time scoring leader, LeBron James himself. Many will shout “Balderdash!” I suggest that the bashers look at the facts.
As the result of some clever trades that earned Cleveland not one but two lottery draft picks in 2011, Grant transformed the future potential of the Cavaliers. While much of the attention and kudos went to the delightful Nick Gilbert, the smiling, bow-tied son of Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert, it was the skilled trade of Grant that set it all up. On February 24, 2011, Chris made a trade-deadline deal that acquired former All-Star Baron Davis and a 2011 first round draft pick from the L.A. Clippers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. Grant bought out Davis’ contract and the lottery dice rolled golden — with the Number One 2011 NBA pick. Who did Chris and the Cavs select? Many will say it was a no-brainer, but Kyrie Irving’s college playing time at Duke was minimal due to a toe injury. Several talking heads were calling for the Cavs to pick the talented forward Derrick Williams. Chris chose point guard Kyrie. Who was right? Kyrie Irving became Rookie of the Year in his inaugural season and an NBA All-Star in his second. Derrick Williams is still working at getting established. Chris did his homework. Kyrie was an A+ choice.
Grant had more up his sleeve in the 2011 lottery. The Cavs second lottery pick was at number 4. This is where Grant’s rigorous research yielded an unsuspected gem, Canadian Tristan Thompson. With the pick widely panned by the sporting press, Tristan has steadily improved with a strong work ethic. Last year in his second season, he averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The 6’9″ power forward is a solid building block in the Cavs future. More highly touted picks have not matched Tristan’s performance.
In 2012 the Cavs found another number four pick. This time Chris “reached” according to most of the “experts” for Dion Waiters, a sixth man on an excellent Syracuse team. A sixth man? How can he be a number 4 pick? Easy, says Grant. The kid can play. In his rookie season, shooting guard Waiters started often and averaged a solid 14.7 points and 3.0 assists per NBA game. Not bad! Again the naysayers said Grant made a bum move. They were wrong.
In 2013 Chris shocked the NBA world by drafting another Canadian, forward Anthony Bennett from UNLV as the number one lottery pick (thank you, again, bow-tied Nick Gilbert!). The doubters were out in force again. Okay, it is too early too tell if Chris made the right decision (Bennett is still recovering from shoulder surgery as well), but, at this point, I would not bet against him. He has a professional system, a hard-working scouting staff, and a quality organization.
So, you may ask, “Where does LeBron fit into all this? Was he even considered?” The answer became obvious with the signing of Andrew Bynum. With two number one picks in Kyrie Irving (2011) and Anthony Bennett (2013), two number four picks who have surprised and shown upside in Tristan Thompson (2011) and Dion Waiters (2012), and two recent free-agent aquisitions in Earl Clark and veteran Jarrett Jack, the Cavs were showing real depth and potential. But Chris Grant was missing the key element that the Cavs really sought to attract the attention of LeBron James since he can opt out of his Miami Heat contract in 2014. They needed to have a Big Two that LeBron could join to become a Big Three. Many recent championship teams have had a Big Three. Boston won with Pierce/Garnett/Allen. San Antonio won with Duncan/Parker/Ginobli. And, of course, Miami has two straight NBA ring seasons with James/Wade/Bosh. Sneaky Chris Grant now has a Big Two to lure LeBron: Andrew Bynum, an All-Star center who is among the elite centers in the league when he is healthy (still a question here) and Kyrie Iriving, an All-Star point guard and rising NBA star.
And then there is coaching. Mike Brown coached LeBron in most of his years as he broke career scoring records in Cleveland. He urged LeBron to develop his defensive skills as a means to elevate his overall NBA game. He did. LeBron now owns four NBA MVPs and two NBA championships. Chris Grant brought Mike Brown back to Cleveland to correct a mistake made by former GM Danny Ferry who fired Brown in 2011. Ferry thought that LeBron did not like Brown as his coach and that firing Brown would insure that James would sign a new contract with the Cavs. Ferry was wrong. James bolted anyway. It was not Brown that was the problem. It was the lure of the Big Three combo with buddies Wade and Bosh that LeBron played with on the USA Olympic team.
Brown brings back the defensive mind-set that can turn a good team into a championship team. Mike Brown also coached Andrew Bynum with the L.A. Lakers in his only All-Star season when he averaged 18.7 points per game and 11.8 rebounds. Mike recently announced that Andrew will be the Cavs starting center on opening day if he is ready to play. Medical exams at the Cleveland Clinic are encouraging. He likely will start.
Connect the dots!
Chris Grant wants LeBron James back! If he does, he will have all three players that Cleveland drafted number one in the past 10 years — that’s right THREE NUMBER ONE draft picks in 10 years — and two in the past three years. The team of the future for LeBron is the team of his past: The Cleveland Cavaliers. Chris Grant bought back Mike Brown. Next bring-back target in his sights: LeBron James!
LeBron arguably is the best player in the NBA– even the best of the decade. Chris Grant has the potential to prove that he himself may be one of the best, if not the best, general manager in the NBA. Clearly they need to get together. Do not underestimate the skills of GM Chris Grant.
Together they can bring an end to the almost mythic curse in Cleveland — no pro sports team has won a championship since the baseball Indians in 1948. The Cavs have never won an NBA championship. They made the finals once — in 2004 with James. The football Browns have never made it to the Super Bowl let alone winning one. Can LeBron James can take back the mantle of the Chosen One to change Cleveland sports history in 2014? Whether it is popular with the fans and media or not, lesser known Chris Grant will make every effort to make that happen.