CLEVELAND — Chris Grant said there’s no “clear-cut, obvious, no-holds-barred” choice with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Grant should know. Not only is he the Cavaliers’ general manager, he’s also a devoted scout, studying college games and prospects like a marine biologist researching whales.
So this draft isn’t like 2011, when Grant had to choose between Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams. He pretty much knew Irving was the man the entire time, and boy, Grant sure made the right call on that one.
If the Cavs keep this particular top pick, you can have faith Grant will do so again.
After all, a quick look at Grant’s notable transactions entering his third draft shows he typically makes the most of his opportunities:
• First of all, he drafted Irving over Williams. That wasn’t what a lot of Cavs fans wanted. But while Grant hears the fans, he knows he has to run the team as he sees fit, and acts accordingly.
• That may not sound like a big deal, but honestly, not all franchises in all sports handle business that way. Some actually allow the media and fans pressure them into making key decisions. And we’ve all seen how well that’s worked for the Cleveland Browns.
• Secondly, Grant traded J.J. Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi and a conditional draft pick. (No way we’re getting into the conditions of the pick here.) Granted, Casspi has been a bust, and Hickson played well this past season in Portland. But Hickson failed fast and furious with the Kings — making that trade pretty much a draw.
• Grant drafted power forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall pick in 2011. Some guys chosen after Thompson have been better, but not significantly better. And most of those guys were bypassed by a lot of teams, not just the Cavs. Meanwhile, the circumstances vary, but Thompson has been better than both Williams (selected second) and Utah’s Enes Kanter (third) during their first two NBA seasons.
• Last summer, Grant shocked everyone by taking shooting guard Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick. Waiters proved he could fill it up from the start, and was even better once he learned the pro game and the finer points of shot selection. He was fantastic in February and finished as a member of the first-team All-Rookie team.
• In January, Grant stole big man Marreese Speights, guard Wayne Ellington and another conditional first-round pick in a deal for little-used forward Jon Leuer. The Grizzlies were desperate to shed salary, and it was Grant who stepped in. Even if Speights and Ellington are elsewhere next year, for half a season, Grant was a major winner.
Now, none of this is intended to say Grant is the second coming of Red Auerbach or Jerry West. The Cavs have finished dead last in the Central Division in each of Grant’s three years, including a 24-48 season this time.
And Grant hasn’t done very well when it comes to unrestricted free agents. In fact, he’s landed just three — Anthony Parker, Joey Graham and C.J. Miles.
But he’s obtained tons of draft picks, preserved and even created major salary-cap space, and put together a promising young core. That was the idea after LeBron James split town with barely a moment’s notice. The idea was patience and “building the right way.”
So far, you can’t argue Grant has followed the plan. Have there been a few bumps? Well, of course. That’s life in the big city, kids. Has Grant done at least as well as Cavs fans could hope, given the circumstances? You’d have to say yes.
The winning results may not have come as quickly as fans would like, as persistence is rarely popular in pro sports. But what choice did Grant and the Cavs really have?
Bottom line: No matter what Grant does with the first overall draft pick, history tells us he’s not likely to mess it up.
That has to be a good feeling for Cavs fans as the team enters another critical summer.