INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert likes the players on his team, but that didn’t stop him from canning the man who acquired all of them but Anderson Varejao.
General manager Chris Grant was fired Thursday afternoon after 3½ seasons on the job and 8½ years with the organization overall. He had one more season left on his contract.
The Cavs’ record during Grant’s tenure as GM was 80-199, with the .287 winning percentage representing the worst in the league in that span.
David Griffin, who joined the Cavs as vice president of basketball operations in July 2005, will serve as acting general manager. Prior to coming to Cleveland, he spent 17 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, the last three as senior VP of basketball operations.
“Look, there’s a lot of talent on this team,” Gilbert said during an afternoon press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I think everybody knows that. This coaching staff and this team can succeed. There’s no reason why they can’t.”
Pressed on why Grant was fired if the talent he acquired was good, Gilbert said, “We just felt it was time for a shift in certain cultural aspects and a different environment.”
Gilbert, who did not address finding a permanent GM or whether Griffin might be considered, didn’t give a direct answer when asked if first-year, second-stint coach Mike Brown’s job was safe.
“We’re going to see Mike Brown succeed this year,” he said. “I think he will be able to do good things in the next 30 games or so. This team is going to look at each other and look in the mirror and they’re going to rally.”
The Cavs, who were expected by most to make the playoffs and finish with a record near .500, fell to 16-33 Wednesday when they lost to a Los Angeles Lakers team that had dropped seven straight, 13 of its last 15 and 19 of its last 22.
The injury-plagued Lakers finished a 119-108 victory at Quicken Loans Arena with four healthy players and another who was allowed, under NBA rules, to continue playing after picking up six fouls.
Cleveland has lost six straight and eight of its last nine heading into a game in Washington tonight. The Cavs entered Thursday with the fourth-worst record in the NBA, 5½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and 13th in the 16-team East overall.
“The bottom line is the fans, season-ticket holders, supporters and corporate sponsors in Cleveland deserve more,” Gilbert said. “We really are solely motivated by one thing around here, and it’s not the value of the franchise, it’s not a profit-loss statement and it’s not a spreadsheet. It’s delivering to the fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the fans of Ohio what they deserve. They deserve better than what they’ve seen this year.
“We’re going to turn over every possible stone. We’re going to commit any funds that we need to. We’ve always done that and will continue to do that. We’re going to be aggressive.”
Grant, who came to the Cavs as vice president of basketball operations/assistant general manager in 2005, took over as GM after Danny Ferry resigned following the 2009-10 season. Brown was also fired as coach that summer after five seasons on the job.
After a somewhat confusing coaching search — it initially looked like Brian Shaw was going to be hired — Grant settled on Byron Scott, then immediately had to deal with losing superstar small forward LeBron James to the Miami Heat.
Scott was fired after going 19-63, 21-45 and 24-58 in three seasons on the job and Brown was quickly hired for the second time.
“I have a tremendous appreciation for the players that are here and the coaches that I have worked with, as well as our front office,” Grant said in a statement released by the Cavs. “I thank them all for their dedication and commitment to the Cavaliers.”
Grant’s tenure as GM began with him stockpiling draft picks and creating salary cap space. His best trade came when he sent Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis and an unprotected first-round pick, which led to Cleveland getting Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall choice in 2011.
Grant also drafted Tristan Thompson at No. 4 that year, Dion Waiters at No. 4 in 2012 and traded for No. 17 pick Tyler Zeller. He chose Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and Sergey Karasev at No. 19.
Other than Irving, who will make his second NBA All-Star Game appearance in three years in the league, none of those players have achieved anything that resembles greatness, and even Irving has been criticized for his lack of defense, domination of the ball and concern about what he calls his “brand.”
Grant’s offseason acquisitions of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark have also fallen short of expectations. He managed to deal Bynum for All-Star Luol Deng, but even Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, has struggled a bit since arriving in early January.
Gilbert, however, remains optimistic the Cavs can turn things around in the final 33 games of the regular season.
“We have what we need,” he said. “That’s why there’s such a gap and why the disappointment is so large. With what we have and the expectations, which I think is rational, clearly the won-loss record is nowhere near what we thought it would be.”
When the Cavs won the draft lottery in 2013 for the second time in three years, Gilbert vowed his team would not be back for the festivities in 2014.
Asked Thursday if he thought his team could still make the playoffs, he said, “We’re really focused on the future and the chemistry and the culture and the environment of this team. If we can turn that around, good things will happen. Anything is possible.”
Gilbert maintained that the Cavs will continue to be aggressive leading up to the Feb. 20 trade deadline and explore all possibilities that become available.
“We’re just going to keep going,” he said. “We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to stop. … Our resolve is unlimited.”
Gilbert added that he believes the players and coaching staff “will figure it out” and said reports about discontent among some players were not a concern.
“If we were going along as we’ve gone along and there wasn’t discontent, I would probably be more concerned,” he said. “These guys are competitive guys. They want to win, there’s no question about it.
“Clearly, we’ve had some issues putting it all together, playing as a team, chemistry and all that. I just believe it can be turned around.”
If it’s not, more changes could be coming.
“This is the most challenging time in the almost nine years we’ve owned this franchise,” Gilbert said. “We are not happy. No one’s happy.”