Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - While not on the level of new Coke, the 2013-14 edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers has turned into a massive failure, dare we say, a disaster.
The fall guy became general manager Chris Grant, who was shown the door on Thursday afternoon.
"This has been a very difficult period for the franchise," owner Dan Gilbert said in a statement. "We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group."
When situations take turns this badly, there is plenty of blame to go around. Grant deserves the lion's share for the simplest reason imaginable - he hasn't made good decisions.
Grant took over the Cleveland situation at the worst possible time imaginable, when LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach. That's the biggest rebuild since the post-Civil War era.
Grant got lucky with the lottery and got Kyrie Irving with the 2011 No. 1 pick.
There's no question, at the age of 21, Irving is a top-five choice as a franchise foundation. Plus, take a look at the 2011 draft, and the next-best player to Irving is a galaxy away in terms of talent. Kemba Walker? Jonas Valanciunas? Kawhi Leonard? A Morris twin?
An easy pick, Irving is someone you can build a team around, but he may not be the slam-dunk (pun intended) mortal lock franchise guy you might think. He's injury-prone, or at least, has been, and his game has some flaws, mainly defense. I don't know if he hates it or not, but Irving displays a puzzling indifference to stopping the opposition.
To be clear, Irving is not what is setting this franchise back. He's dynamic, explosive and despite the injury issues, a very tough kid who wears the pain of losing very clearly.
It's almost every other decision Grant made since then that is setting this franchise back.
Tristan Thompson was taken fourth in the Irving draft. He's a solid grunt who will never be spectacular. Not the worst thing to be, but at four, maybe you want more. Take another look at that draft and the Cavs will probably wish they selected Valanciunas in a few years.
The next draft brought Cleveland Dion Waiters with the fourth pick. That was a reach, but before destroying the Cavs for taking a selfish, non-defensive shooting guard, retrace that draft. The best player in 2012 has clearly turned out to be Damian Lillard, but the Cavaliers wouldn't take him with Irving already in the fold.
That same draft, Grant parlayed three draft picks of his own for Tyler Zeller. That's a fairly lofty price tag for a player who is just going to be a rotation guy. Zeller actually seems like he'll be a solid player and the picks were just the 24th, 33rd and 34th picks.
(Also, Grant did well to get extra picks throughout his tenure. What he traded them for, well, that wasn't very good.)
To sum up, the Cavs have taken a great No. 1 pick, a marginally decent fourth pick, a bad fourth pick and a 17th pick they acquired for three picks.
Grant hasn't earned a pink slip just yet. Sure, the Cavs haven't made the playoffs, but it's only been two years.
The offseason of 2013 will go down in sporting lore for Cleveland. It's where you exactly pinpoint not just the demise of Grant, but the precise time when the Cavaliers franchise hit serious, long-lasting darkness.
The first move was the firing of Byron Scott and the re-hiring of Mike Brown.
Scott lost the team and had to go. No problem there. The Brown hiring seemed like a logical move, but quickly turned into a bad decision.
Brown is a defensive genius and he was unfairly jettisoned by the Los Angeles Lakers after five games of last season. He is also a strict coach who allows little freedom on the floor.
His best players, or the future of the organization (Irving and Waiters), are not good defensive hands. It's not that they aren't plus-defenders, they are detriments.
Brown is a bad fit for this Cavaliers team. He's a capable man, but his disciplinarian style and defense-first mentality doesn't work for this core. It's not that his philosophy is incorrect, but it's just incorrect for this mix.
More on that later.
The Cavs once again agreed in principle with the devil and got the No. 1 pick in the draft. Sure, it was a sensationally bad draft, but Grant compounded the woes by selecting Anthony Bennett, a tweener forward from UNLV coming off shoulder surgery.
After he finally recovered from the injury, he was out of shape, out of the rotation and Bennett's finally showing mild signs of being an NBA player. There are guys with MIT on their diplomas (and ages under 30 on their driver's license) who say Bennett might actually be the worst player right now in the NBA.
Brown and the organization have diddled Bennett around between both forward spots. With Thompson entrenched at the big forward spot, small forward, which has been a gaping chasm since James left town, would've made sense, but why do that?
The biggest crime in how the Cavs have utilized Bennett is by not sending him to the D-League. What better a spot to use a rookie who isn't contributing and a little lost? Pride apparently is the reason Bennett isn't honing his craft in Small Town, USA.
So it looks like Tony Bennett, the man with the soothing beautiful voice, might have made a better choice than the one the team currently employs.
While killing the Cavs is perfectly reasonable when it comes to Bennett, the options weren't fantastic. Considering the three best rookies this season have been Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke, Cleveland wouldn't have been best served taking any of them because they are all point guards. That's the one solid position in the Cavs organization.
The Cavs used another first-rounder this summer on Sergey Karasev, a bigger Russian project than space travel. It was a late pick, but Karasev has made no impact yet.
The free-agent signing of Jarrett Jack made sense when the Cavs thought they were a playoff contender. Now, they have a three-year, $19 million backup, shoot-first guard who, wait for it, can't defend.
And now we land on Andrew Bynum.
It appeared like such a low-risk, high-reward signing. If the Cavs got anything out of Bynum, it was great. If not, it was $6 million to try. What happened was actually something worse. Bynum, according to the team, became a distraction in an already fractured locker room.
Oh, forgot to mention the reported fight between Irving and Waiters in a team meeting. Yeah, that allegedly happened over Irving's teflon status with Brown.
Grant traded Bynum, a first-round pick, a swap of first-round picks and two second-round picks for Luol Deng, a prototype Brown player. Deng is the very definition of a professional, and during the team's six-game losing streak, he has said the kind of things that go on with the Cavs wouldn't happen in Chicago.
The final straw came when the Cavs lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, who were five minutes from plucking a guy from the stands to play. The Lakers finished with a player on the floor who had six fouls and still beat Cleveland.
So Grant is a goner, a well-deserved one. His decisions set this franchise back years, but let's be problem-solvers. That's what Gilbert wants.
"There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term," Gilbert said in his statement.
How can he do it?
It's only been a little over half a season, but Brown is absolutely the wrong man for this job. His style is grating on everyone and the constant public chastising of the team's defense also is wearing on his youngsters.
Fire Brown now because, not only is his style not working, it's hurting the organization.
Deng is not happy and probably not interested in staying long term on the sinking ship U.S.S. Cavaliers. Take whatever you can get for him at this point and thank him for his time in Cleveland.
Play Bennett at the small forward and let him develop. He's actually played some decent basketball lately, so maybe something is getting through to him.
The only goal for the franchise at this point should be to make Irving as happy as possible. It's a hard mentality to swallow since placating to a superstar is potentially a formula for disaster, but it can't get worse.
Reports surfaced that Irving isn't happy. Who would be? Irving is eligible for a max deal and should be a mortal lock for one in Cleveland. He has to agree to it, and that's the problem.
If Irving doesn't want Waiters around, let him go. If Irving doesn't want Brown around, let him go. It's bad to rebuild so quickly after rebuilding, but that's the reality staring Gilbert in the face.
James isn't coming back to Cleveland as a free agent. What's his incentive, other than making a city love him again? From a basketball perspective, he'd have a better chance at long-term success in Utah, or even Philadelphia.
Move anyone and everyone Irving doesn't get along with and make him as comfortable as possible. His re-signing is paramount. Despite being a lousy defender, Irving is already a top-12 player in the league and his future in Cleveland is the only existing ingredient vital to building a winner.
Yes, it's been bleak in Ohio. It might get worse, but what's happened in the past has proved that course of action wasn't working. The man making the decisions made poor ones.
David Griffin has the job for the moment. An actual good move or two might get him the job permanently. Make sound decisions, don't reach on draft night and for the love of Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Larry Nance, keep Kyrie in Cleveland.
- Damian Lillard will have a huge All-Star weekend. He's on the Western Conference team and participating in the dunk contest, 3-point shootout, skills challenge and Rising Stars game. That's a long weekend when he could use some rest (he's 18th in the league in minutes per game). But I get the hook of doing all of it. It's pretty cool, but if I was Portland coach Terry Stotts, I wouldn't be ga-ga about it.
- Reports say Mike Woodson believes he will be fired before the All-Star break. He clearly won't be in New York over the long haul, so why not just do it now?
- Movie moment - Philip Seymour Hoffman was my favorite actor. My favorite performance of his was "Charlie Wilson's War." Of course, there's a soft spot for "Along Came Polly," but you could never say you thought he was actually bad or over-acting.
- TV moment - Barring a United States vs. Canada final in hockey, it's possible I watch under an hour of the Winter Olympics.