INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant addressed the media for almost 14 minutes Wednesday.
That in itself is news.
The only other times Grant has made himself available for comment in a group setting this season came at media day prior to the start of training camp and after the Cavs acquired Luol Deng earlier this month.
Grant’s question-and-answer session at Cleveland Clinic Courts also is a sign things are not going well for the team he has put together.
Other than after trades, or at the trade deadline, the only other time he’s talked to a contingent of media members during the season since succeeding
Danny Ferry in the summer of 2010 was in December of that year.
At that point, the Cavs were in the midst of a stretch that saw them lose 36 times in 37 games en route to a 19-63 record under Byron Scott.
Things aren’t as dire right now, at least record-wise, but they’re not good.
After a 3-2 road trip, the Cavs just completed a 1-4 homestand that dropped their record to 16-29.
Questions about All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s commitment to winning have surfaced, as have inquiries about whether second-stint coach Mike Brown has been able to reach his players.
“There’s times of adversity,” Grant said. “There’s times when it’s hard. That’s when it’s time to bear down and work and get after it. That’s what we have to do right now.”
Polite, professional and polished, Grant acknowledged some of the team’s shortcomings, but was mostly positive and optimistic while touching on a variety of topics. He was not asked if he felt his job was in jeopardy.
On whether Brown has reached his players
“Mike has done a fantastic job with these guys individually,” Grant said. “He spends an enormous amount of time watching film, working with guys, teaching, coaching. I believe he has connected with guys.”
One night earlier, Brown characterized his team’s “competitive spirit” as “nonexistent” after a 100-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, who entered the game with an 18-25 record and were minus three of their top six scorers.
After a 99-90 home loss to Phoenix on Sunday, when the Cavs shot 2-for-22 in the third quarter while being outscored 25-6 and blowing an 18-point halftime lead, Brown called that stretch “hard to watch” and criticized his team’s mental focus.
Grant said he remains convinced he has the right coach in Brown, who, with LeBron James starring, led the Cavs to 66 regular-season wins in 2008-09 and 61 in 2009-10 but was fired following a playoff series loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The GM repeatedly referenced Cleveland’s 3-2 road trip — it came right before the 1-4 homestand — as proof the team is making progress.
“We’re in a tough stretch right now,” Grant said. “We played really good basketball on the West Coast. I thought that Denver game was one of our better games of the year. Our guys came together. We moved the ball. We were very consistent in our approach.
“We came home and had a terrible homestand. That’s really what it is. We’re all accountable for it, including myself. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing.”
On Irving, who has been criticized for dominating the basketball, failing to play solid defense and being more concerned about NBA All-Star Games, Olympic gold medals and what he calls his “brand” than doing everything necessary to make the Cavs successful:
“He’s a special young talent,” Grant said. “We see him growing and maturing constantly. Even in the last two weeks, I’ve seen a different guy, a different person, trying to lead and do things. Losing hurts him just as much if not more than anyone.”
On No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who is averaging 2.8 points on .279 shooting after spending one season at UNLV:
“I give the kid a lot of credit,” Grant said. “He’s had a tough start. … For him to keep fighting and get his body right and keep working … for him, that showed (Tuesday) night. I’m excited for him. We’re four months into his NBA career.”
Bennett had a career-high 15 points against New Orleans — it was the first double-figure scoring game of his pro career — while tying his career high with eight rebounds and establishing another career high by playing 31 minutes. Thirteen of the points and all the rebounds came after the Cavs had fallen behind by 15 points in the third period.
Bennett had not played in six of the previous seven games, leading to a lot of talk that he should be sent to the Canton Charge of the NBA Developmental League.
Grant denied Bennett wasn’t sent to Canton because the Cavs didn’t want to become the first team to have a No. 1 overall pick play in the D-League. The GM also said his preference was to have Bennett play for the Cavs, but didn’t rule out sending the forward to the D-League at some point.
On owner Dan Gilbert
“Dan wants to win,” Grant said. “He’s passionate. People know that.”
Gilbert guaranteed the Cavs would win an NBA championship before LeBron James when the small forward left for Miami in 2010. James has made three NBA Finals appearances with the Heat and won two titles.
Since James left town, the Cavs have gone 19-63, 21-45, 24-58 and are 16-29 this season. They haven’t made the playoffs since James’ departure, though they still have a decent chance this season because the Eastern Conference is in such bad shape.
At the draft lottery in May, Gilbert vowed the Cavs would not be back in 2014.
“He understands,” Grant said. “He wants to win. He’s supportive. He’s very involved as far as asking questions and debating and talking, but in the right way. … He’s been great, but at the same time, he wants us to win, as do we.”
On whether he’s put enough talent together
“We’ve seen it,” Grant said. “We know it’s there. It’s more the consistency of it. The lack of effort is just not acceptable. It’s not who we are and who we want to be. That has to be addressed head on. There’s no excuses for that.”
After being in total rebuilding mode for the three previous seasons, this was supposed to be the season the Cavs made a significant jump.
Grant signed — and later traded — former All-Star center Andrew Bynum, as well as veteran combo guard Jarrett Jack and forward Earl Clark. Bynum was eventually suspended, withheld from all team activities and traded for Luol Deng, while Jack and Clark have not lived up to expectations.
In the draft, Grant took Bennett with the No. 1 pick, Sergey Karasev at No. 19, Carrick Felix in the second round and signed the undrafted Matthew Dellavedova. Only Dellavedova has come anywhere close to being a steady contributor.
On whether the Cavs have chemistry issues
“All of the guys are capable of playing at a very high level,” Grant said. “Every time we walk on the court, we feel like we have an opportunity to win that game, regardless of who we’re playing. The guys are capable. The talent’s there. We’ve got to execute it.”
During a player’s only meeting called by Irving following a 29-point loss in Minnesota earlier this season, things reportedly got extremely heated.
Questions have also surfaced as to the compatibility of guards Irving and Dion Waiters, who both like to have the ball in their hands a lot.
Cavs players have said all the right things after wins and losses and repeatedly backed Brown’s defense-first approach, but their performances have sometimes indicated otherwise.
“I don’t think anybody likes to lose,” Grant said. “Certainly, you walk on the floor as a competitor, as a coach, from the front office, we’re all accountable for the wins and the losses.”
Grant then once again referenced the 3-2 road trip.
“We know it’s there, because we’ve done it,” he said. “We’ve got to keep pushing people and keep people accountable.”
Asked if it was possible that he has assembled the wrong collection of players, Grant said, “It’s way too early to talk about those type of things. We’re barely halfway through a season with a new coach and a lot of new players.”
On whether he would make more moves prior to the Feb. 20 trade deadline
“That’s not our focus right now,” Grant said. “Our focus is, ‘Hey, we’ve got some talent on this team and we’ve got to get them to play more consistently.’”
Grant added he’d be willing to make another move this season if the right opportunity presented itself, but vowed not to panic.
“We’re not going to make any irrational decisions,” the GM said. “We’ve got a team that has a lot of talent on it and a ton of flexibility and assets, so I don’t think we should sacrifice those things.”
Waiters was selected to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge, to be held Feb. 14 as part of All-Star Weekend. Waiters was one of four Cavs selected to participate last year (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller) and had 23 points on 11-for-12 shooting in 19 minutes.
* Center Anderson Varejao, who missed his first game of the season Tuesday due to a hyperextended and bruised left knee, went through portions of practice. He is listed as “day-to-day.” The Cavs play in New York tonight.
* Karasev was optioned to Canton of the D-League.