When Chris Grant is formally introduced this afternoon as the ninth general manager in Cavaliers history, he’ll be in a far different situation than any of his eight predecessors.
Never in the franchise’s 40 previous seasons have the stakes been so high, but never have there been so many questions and unknowns (not to mention, so few answers).
The Cavaliers don’t know if superstar LeBron James is going to re-sign as a free agent, they don’t currently have a head coach (Tom Izzo has emerged as the hot candidate) and they don’t have a true center (Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are free agents).
They’ve also got no draft picks, only a few tradeable commodities and limited salary cap flexibility.
They do have a high-priced point guard who can’t play defense and flops miserably in the playoffs (Mo Williams), an emotionally troubled backup who still faces legal problems (Delonte West) and an aging power forward who disappeared in the postseason (Antawn Jamison).
Other than that, the 38-yearold Grant is walking into his dream job.
Grant, who previously worked for the Atlanta Hawks before becoming an assistant to former GM Danny Ferry in Cleveland, is highly respected around the league and ready to make the leap, but he’s facing a lot of tough questions that don’t really have answers at the moment.
It all begins — and ends — with James, the two-time league MVP who, even if unintentionally, basically has tied the franchise’s hands behind its back.
Everything the Cavaliers have done, are doing and will do over the coming weeks is aimed at re-signing the 25-year-old superstar, including the firing of former coach Mike Brown, the resignation of Ferry and the courting of Michigan State’s Izzo.
Don’t let anyone, including owner Dan Gilbert, tell you otherwise.
If James says he’ll re-sign if the water fountains at Quicken Loans Arena are painted green and gold in honor of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, a crew will be out within the hour.
If James says he wants a mural of himself on the walls at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the paint brushes will be ready.
A mostly reasonable young man, James won’t make those demands. (Of course, he also didn’t have to demand Brown’s firing, because the Cavaliers knew full well it was necessary to have any chance of bringing back their franchise player.)
Also a mostly reasonable man, Gilbert can’t be blamed for making James his No. 1 priority (and Nos. 2 through infinite). All he’s got to do is look at the potential devaluing of his franchise — some reports have put the drop at $130 million — if the small forward leaves town (not to mention much smaller crowds at The Q and decreased traffic at that little ol’ casino Gilbert is building).
The unavoidable situation, then, is this: Everything the Cavaliers are trying to do right now is based on two vastly different scenarios — one with James and one without.
Take Izzo, for example.
Gilbert’s Michigan State ties make for a nice story angle, and rumors the Cavaliers have offered Izzo a monster contract certainly show they’re trying to land a big-name coach who is acceptable to James.
But, heck, even Izzo doesn’t know if he wants to leave a lucrative college job to come to Cleveland and coach in the NBA. He might consider it — if James is in his starting lineup. He’ll sneeze at the possibility if James ends up in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Miami or Timbuktu.
You can extend that line of thinking to any potential trades Grant might be pursuing (Williams is supposedly on the block, as is West), to any possible free agents the Cavaliers might want to sign with their mid-level exception and, yes, even to any painting at The Q or Cleveland Clinic Courts.
To take things one step further, Grant really doesn’t even know if he’s in charge of all basketball operations right now (though he likely knows he’s not).
He’s responsible for signing James, but the Cavaliers have absolutely no power, because they’ll give James three years at max money if he wants three years, four years if he wants four years and six years if he wants six years.
The only thing Grant can do — besides offer to personally paint water fountains and murals — is to inform James the Cavaliers will give him whatever he wants for however long he wants.
Grant could also conduct the most crackerjack, bang-up coaching search of all time, but all that could go for naught as well.
Suppose Izzo agrees to come to Cleveland, but only if James re-signs, and then that doesn’t happen. Then Grant has to start all over again.
Or suppose Grant somehow finds a person he thinks is ideally suited to lead the Cavaliers, James or no James. Think Gilbert is going to sign off on that if James’ future is still hanging in the balance and the owner believes landing someone like Izzo might seal the deal with LeBron?
Right now, do we even need to go into the obvious problems of trying to trade Williams and/or Jamison and their lofty contracts? That will be difficult even if James is back, but it’s virtually impossible to orchestrate a positive, productive deal without knowing what the 6foot-8, 250-pounder is going to do.
There are questions, folks, and lots of them, but Grant and Gilbert won’t be able to provide many answers this afternoon.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.