November 22, 2014

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Noland: GM to blame for Cavaliers’ woes

The big story isn’t that the “Andrew Bynum Experiment” is over in Cleveland. The big story is what it is temporarily masking.

That is, the Cavaliers are a team — no, make that a franchise — headed nowhere fast.

For that, the finger must be pointed directly at general manager Chris Grant, whose seat, likely already warm, could get uncomfortably hot over the next few months.

Chris Grant

Chris Grant

In what was supposed to be the season in which the Cavs made a quantum leap forward while actually trying to win, virtually nothing Grant did in the offseason has panned out.

Thus, we have a highly disappointing team that was 10-19 and had lost four straight and six of its last seven heading into a game against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena.

The 7-foot, 294-pound Bynum, suspended for conduct detrimental to the team on Saturday, is highly unlikely to play another game in Cleveland, unless he’s with the visiting team.

“He’s suspended indefinitely, and we all know what that means,” coach Mike Brown said Saturday before the Cavs went out and lost in Boston.

There are many issues with Bynum — he doesn’t love the game, he’s a total liability defensively when forced to guard a mobile, jump-shooting center and he will always be one step away from another serious knee injury — but his departure, in and of itself, isn’t really that big of a deal.

The Cavs will try their best to trade the 26-year-old, who seems closer to 46, for something, anything. If they can’t, they’ll almost certainly flat-out release him prior to Jan. 7, which means they will have only invested $6 million and a little more than one-third of their season on this failed experiment.

(There was, of course, also an Andrew Bynum Fathead Tradeable giveaway slated for fans attending the Warriors game, but that promotion was hastily canceled.)

An intelligent and thoughtful young man but also a malingerer and even a malcontent at times, Bynum deserves credit for busting his behind and making it back in time to play in the season opener.

The former All-Star — he will never approach that level again — showed flashes of brilliance, but letting him go is not going to change the Cavs’ fortunes all that much.

To be perfectly blunt, the Cavs stunk with him and, given the way they’ve been playing, are fully capable of continuing to stink without him.

There are numerous reasons for that — All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s frequent dominance of the basketball and inability to keep his man in front of him immediately come to mind — but the one that stands out above all others right now is Grant.

No matter how you slice it, he’s the guy who selected Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He’s the guy who took Sergey Karasev, who rarely plays, at No. 19. He’s the guy who took somebody named Carrick Felix in the second round.

Thank goodness for Australian tough-guy Matthew Dellavedova, whose signing as an undrafted free agent looks like Grant’s biggest accomplishment surrounding the 2013 draft.

There’s more, too.

Grant also signed young veteran Earl Clark, who has turned out to be nothing more than a taller, thinner version of Alonzo Gee. Together, they comprise the worst small forward combination in the 30-team NBA.

Grant also signed combo guard Jarrett Jack, who, while a great locker room presence and still a very solid player at times, is already showing signs he will become the latest version of Bimbo Coles and John Battle (read: washed up) long before his four-year contract expires.

Going back further, Grant hit on Irving with the No. 1 pick in 2011, but anyone who follows basketball at all would have done that, aside from those few smarter-than-everyone idiots who wanted the Cavs to take Derrick Williams.

Tristan Thompson, despite his improved shot now that he’s become a right-hander, remains an average starting power forward. Whether the No. 4 pick in 2011 will ever be more than that is highly debatable.

Dion Waiters, the No. 4 pick in 2012, keeps getting better and seems to be developing an understanding of how the game should be played, but there’s a chance he could be headed out of town prior to the trade deadline due to a lack of chemistry with Irving.

Tyler Zeller, the No. 17 pick in 2012, wasn’t even in the rotation until last week, when the Cavs seemed to realize the Bynum experiment wasn’t working out.

Even the ultra-quick rehiring of Brown to succeed Byron Scott as coach is a question mark right now. That will change eventually because Brown, while still far from an offensive guru, can coach circles around the totally overrated Scott.

As for the Bynum experiment, it’s hard to fault Grant for that. It was a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing that did not pan out, but the $6 million it will end up costing is basically chump change to owner Dan Gilbert.

The much, much bigger issue is the Cavaliers’ continued struggles on the floor. Whether those struggles are due to immaturity, selfishness, a lack of mental and physical toughness, poor chemistry, a lack of talent, coaching or all the above is a story for another day, but this team definitely has issues.

Ultimately, the blame for that falls on the front office, which once again leads us back to Grant.

Top-tier free agents — we made it this far without even mentioning You Know Who — don’t flock to Cleveland to begin with. Given that the Cavs went 19-63 in 2010-11, 21-45 in 2011-12, 24-58 last season and continue to struggle now, that’s not going to change.

Something has to, though. This franchise has already brought in a lot of new players and a new coach. Unless the results improve fairly soon, the logical step is for the next change to occur one step up the ladder.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.