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The Underpants Gnome? Grading Chris Grant’s Moves As Cavaliers GM

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports


Maybe the timing came as a surprise but it was bound to happen. Today the Cleveland Cavaliers relived General Manager, Chris Grant, of his duties amid the NBA’s most disappointing season.


Grant has been much-maligned over the past season as one transaction after another has been a total failure for the Cavs. The draft pick of Anthony Bennett will go down, yes, I’m saying will, as the worst first-round pick of all-time. Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark have been disappointing and the Andrew Bynum experiment resulted in an unhappy soon-to-be free agent in Luol Deng.

A favorite internet meme of the Hickory-High crew is the Amin Vafa’s comparison of Chris Grant to famed-South Park characters: The Underpants Gnomes.


If you aren’t familiar with these gnomes (H-H czar Ian Levy isn’t), they made an appearance in a South Park episode where the local coffee shop, owned by the parents of Tweek, is theatened by the impending arrival of a Starbucks (well, Harbucks) franchise. Tweek’s parents rally Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman and Tweek to do a presentation on the danger of big corporations and capitalism. It’s at this time, during a coffee-fueled binge, that the kids notice gnomes stealing Tweek’s underpants. Eventually, they follow the gnomes to their underground lair where they have a giant collection of underpants. The boys, thinking the gnomes could explain business to them, ask the gnomes what they are doing with all the underpants (assets). The gnomes respond with this chart:

They explain that they collect a bunch of underpants, phase two is… phase three is profit. The kids ask what phase two is and the gnomes have no idea. They just keep collecting underpants and eventually it’s all going to work out, right?

In that vein, we are going to grade Grant’s major transactions as GM of the Cavaliers and of course, we’ll use a 1-5 Underpants Gnome scale to do so. Let’s begin!

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July 1 2010

Named Byron Scott head coach.

I’m not a big Bryon Scott fan, but it’s hard to argue with the decision-making here. Scott was a perfectly average NBA head coach at this point (352-355 with the New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets). You could argue he helped the development of Chris Paul, I suppose but I won’t be too hard on him here. In case you forgot, the Cavs actually had a strong desire to bring in Brian Shaw some three years before he would be hired as the Nuggets’ front man. The Cavaliers also attempted to lure Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who rejected a reported $30 million deal to stay in East Lansing.

We’ll give him 3 gnomes out of 5 here.

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July 9 2010

Signed forward LeBron James and traded him to the Miami Heat for first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, a 2012 second-round pick, another future second-round pick and a trade exception.

Look, his hands were tied here. On it’s face, this looks tremendously awful given LeBron’s success in Miami but Grant had no choice. The big issue here is what Grant got in return and what he did with those returns. For LeBron (who has amassed a 29.6 PER since leaving Cleveland), Grant got back a 2011 2nd-round draft pick (Milan Macvan) and a 2012 2nd-round pick (Jae Crowder). They also had the option to swap a 1st-round pick with Miami in 2012 but unbelievably chose to keep their own pick. Ew. He’s getting one gnome for this haul.

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July 14 2010

Signed guard Kyle Lowry to an offer sheet.

This would’ve helped a lot. No, seriously, it would have. Grant signed Lowry to a three year (fourth-year option) sheet worth roughly $24 million. Lowry’s per-36 PPG of 15 would look nice on this Cavaliers team. Although you could argue the drafting of Kyrie Irving would have made Lowry expendable but I think they could’ve worked well together. It didn’t matter, the Rockets matched and Lowry remained in Houston. Good try, good effort Chris.

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July 26 2010

Traded guards Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair to the Minnesota Timberwolves for center Ryan Hollins, guard Ramon Sessions and a future second-round draft pick.

This was a pretty solid move by CG. Hollins would be waived a year later but he was a nice piece during his one year with the Cavaliers (10.7 PER, 11.4 ppg per-36). Sessions was the fifth-leading scorer on a putrid Cavaliers team but put together a nice little season, he’ll come up again shortly but he was certainly worth the corpses they gave up. Telfair would appear in only 37 games for the Wolves while West was waived a few weeks after the trade.

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October 19 2010

Waived guard Danny Green.

This is the hindsight of all hindsights here. Green looked lost in the NBA at this point, it took going to the San Antonio Spurs to uncover the gem that he became, so I can’t kill him here. That consistent three-point shooting would be nice on the Cavaliers but remember he was a 27% three-point shooter at this point. I have to grade him poorly because of hindsight but it’s not totally fair.

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October 23 2010

Exercised the contract option on forward J.J. Hickson through 2011-12.

Admit it, you thought Hickson would turn into a real NBA player at some point. You drafted him in all your Fantasy leagues waiting for the one year when he became a 20-10 guy. 2010-11 looked to be that year and while his scoring increased, his FG% plummeted all the way down to 45.8%. His PER stayed relatively the same and he never made the leap Grant, the Cavs, their fans, the internet, fantasy basketball magazines and everyone thought he would. Good move at the time, hindsight, meh.

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February 24 2011

Traded guard Maurice Wiliams and forward Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for guard Baron Davis and a first-round pick

Mo Williams and Jamario Moon and all you got back was Baron Davis?! Oh, they included a first-round pick. Wait, it’s not protected? In case you aren’t aware, this Clippers pick would turn into the number one pick and Kyrie Irving. This was a slam dunk for Grant and crew. There was luck involved sure, but still, to get the Clippers to send an unprotected pick for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon? This Grant guy is a genius!

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Draft 2011

Selected guard Kyrie Irving (1st overall pick) and forwards Tristan Thompson (4th overall pick)

Kyrie barely played at Duke while Thompson played quite well in his only year at Texas. He won Big 12 freshman of the year honors and although the pick was considered a surprise due to how early he was taken, I thought it was a decent pick at the time. Jay Bilas had him ranked 7th on his list and most had him around that range, so it was a reach in it’s most pure sense but not a stupid pick by any means.

Thompson hasn’t developed into the star the Cavs had hoped — averaging 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in his three years with Cleveland.

Irving is a star off-the-court but has yet to take the reigns as a star on it. The 21-year-old has missed significant amounts of time in his early NBA career and while he looked to be on the right path in 2012-13 en route to the All-Star game he’s seen his points, rebounds, steals and shooting percentage go south this season. Not a bad first overall pick by any means but still the far and away best player from the 2011 draft.

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March 15 2012

Traded guard Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga to the Los Angeles Lakers for forwards Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, a protected first-round pick and other considerations.

I mentioned Sessions above, he had played well with the Cavaliers but he wasn’t an untouchable piece. This trade made sense at the time, Walton and Kapono were just throw-ins, the big caveat was the protected 1st-round pick and “other considerations.” Again though, the Cavaliers did little to nothing with the assets they received.

They drafted Jared Cunningham with the 2012 1st-round pick and selected Nemanja Nedovic with a 2013 1st-round pick they received when they had the right to swap first-round picks with the Lakers in 2013 and chose to do so. Sessions and Eyenga weren’t anything special, but the Cavaliers again received made little to nothing of their given assets.

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Draft 2012

Selected guards Dion Waiters (4th overall pick) and Jared Cunningham (24th overall pick), center Bernard James (33rd overall pick) and forward Jae Crowder (34th overall pick).

Man, that’s a pretty big haul. Before we get into Waiters, Grant jettisoned Cunningham, Crowder and James for Kelenna Azubuike (who had only played 12 games since 2009 due to injuries) and the draft rights to 17th overall selection Tyler Zeller.

Cunningham was a non-factor for the Mavericks but Crowder and James have become bit-pieces for the Mavericks earning 10.8 and 14.1 PER respectively. Zeller’s been okay but his 11.5 PER leaves a lot to be desired for and certainly was not worth moving two guys with equal levels of production at roughly the same position. This wasn’t good.

Waiters, what can you say that hasn’t already been said about him? A guy with seemingly all the talent and ability in the world but is beginning to earn a reputation as a bad guy to go with a 33% career three-point percentage. He’s been described as a toxic influence on the Cavaliers locker room and has publicly feuded with current Cavaliers head man Mike Brown.

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January 22 2013

Traded forward Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies for guards Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, forward Marreese Speights and a future first-round pick. Waived guard Jeremy Pargo.

At the time, this had to have looked like the steal of the century. Well, maybe that’s overstating it but Leuer was a complete non-factor on both Milwaukee and Cleveland, averaging a mere 10 minutes per game. Ellington would have a solid 37 game stint with Cleveland before moving onto Dallas, ditto for Speights who ended the season with the Cavs before departing to Golden State. The future first-round pick is protected 1-5 and 15-30 in 2015, 1-15 and 15-30 in 2016, 1-5 in 2017, 1-5 in 2018 and unprotected in 2018. The Cavs may reap the benefits of this pick but it wil be awhile.

Leuer, on the other hand, has found his stride in Memphis and has become something of a revelation with a new-found three-point ability to the tune of 16.8 points per game per 36 minutes.

Again, Cleveland got themselves a ton of assets but in the end, what was it really worth? I guess you could say Leuer for picks and that may pay off down the line but at this time, it looks like a big loss for the Cavs.

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April 24 2013

Named Mike Brown head coach.

I stated above that I’m not a big Byron Scott fan, I’m even less so of Mike Brown. I don’t want to say he was made by LeBron James (but he was made by LeBron James). A great assistant, I have no doubt about that, but a lost soul in the head coaching ranks. After completely losing his team in Los Angeles, Brown was re-upped by the Cavaliers who had just fired Byron Scott after a few unsuccessful years.

It remains to be seen where Brown will go with the Cavaliers but I don’t think it’d be compeltely out of the realm of possibility that he sees Grant in the unemployment line soon. He’s clearly lost this team as well and it will take a lot of rehab to get him back to the upper echelon or even echelon of head coaches.

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Draft 2013

Selected forwards Anthony Bennett (1st overall pick) and Sergey Karasev (19th overall pick) and guards Allen Crabbe (31st overall pick) and Carrick Felix (33rd overall pick). Traded the draft rights to guard Allen Crabbe to the Portland Trail Blazers for a 2015 second round-pick and a 2016 second-round pick.

Well, well, well, Anthony Bennett. Like Waiters, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said. You can read it elsewhere on the internet. The guy has been a total bust for the Cavaliers and is on pace to be the worst first round pick in history. Yes, worse than Kwame, worse than Olowokandi. The worst part: it’s not even close.

Bennett is the first rookie since Brown to not be selected for the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend. This pick was total and complete failure. It’s not like there wasn’t warning signs either, this was a pick that was questioned at the time and it still should be questioned — it more than anything cost Grant his job.

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July 12 2013

Signed guard Jarrett Jack and forward Earl Clark.

Jack was a super-sub extrodinare last season with the Warriors, this looked like a great get for a team with playoff hopes. It hasn’t worked. Jack is shooting a career-low from the field and his three-point percentage is plummeting quickly. He hasn’t been bad for the Cavs, he just hasn’t been… good.

As disappointing as Jack has been, Clark may have him beat. A solid rotation player on last year’s Lakers mess, Clark has fallen off a cliff this season. Minutes down, points down, rebounds down, assists down, yeah, it hasn’t been good. He hasn’t found a role on this Cavaliers team and it may be a lost season for the 26-year-old who should be entering his prime. The only thing up is three-pointers, he’s taken a lot more which is good to see. But, he’s shooting only 34.8% from deep.

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July 19 2013

Signed center Andrew Bynum and waived guards Chris Quinn and Kevin Jones.

How are you just going to give Chris Quinn away like that? C’mon Grant! Just kidding, the story here is Bynum. The 7’0 ball of potential, the oft-injured center who couldn’t lace up last year for the Sixers was going to be the big free agent splash for a team that had to take a risk to get to the next level. I thought it would pay off, a lot of people did. It didn’t. Bynum struggled to get his legs under him, eventually got into form and had a few good games but wasn’t anywhere near the Bynum of old. Rumors swirled that he was thinking about retiring from the game, that he no longer had love for basketball and that his constant knee pain was preventing him from enjoying the ride. We’ll double up on this grade because…

January 6 2013

Traded center Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks and the right to swap 2015 first-round picks with the Cavaliers to the Chicago Bulls for forward Luol Deng.

Grant cut ties with Bynum, sending him and a multitude of largely worthless (at least thus far) picks for two-time All-Star Luol Deng. Deng was brought in to be a calming influence on a Cavaliers team bursting at the seams. The idea that Deng, who played under coaches Scott Skiles and Tom Thibodeau, would whip these idiots into shape and get them playing right.

Turns out, Deng can’t even do that. Not only has he struggled in the transition (16.6 points per 36 vs. 18.3 with the Bulls), word out of Deng’s camp is he’s very unhappy in Cleveland. All signs point to Deng, a soon-to-be free agent bolting out of town the second the buzzer hits on this season making this yet another lost trade for Grant and the Cavaliers.

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Like most GMs on the way out, the bad has outweighed the good as of late. Grant overall wasn’t terrible, like the underpants gnomes he collected assets, be it draft picks or role players, but nothing ever came of them. He got lucky with a Clippers first-round pick becoming the number one pick and Kyrie Irving but otherwise most trades ended up with the Cavs taking on a soon-to-be free agent who was off the team after a year or two.

The most recent draft picks — Waiters and Bennett — have been total failures and the main reason he’s history. If either of those two guys met even close to their expectations, Grant getting a handful of himself on a majority of his trades wouldn’t have mattered.

But, here we are.

  • Dodgson

    Great article. I never understood the Bennett or Waiters picks, even at the time. I guess that I forgot that he had made some good moves previously.

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