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It’s official: Cleveland Cavaliers fire GM Chris Grant

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UPDATE 2:07 p.m.: The Cleveland Cavaliers have confirmed the report, they have fired general manager Chris Grant. David Griffin, who had been an assistant to Grant, will step in as the interim GM.

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise,” Owner Dan Gilbert said in a released statement. “We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

“There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change.”

1:03 p.m.: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made it public last June, standing on the stage at the NBA Draft Lottery where his Cavaliers had once again gotten the top pick in the draft — he said he was tired of being at the lottery, he wanted to make the playoffs next season.

Instead the Cavaliers are an absolute mess. A tire fire. At 16-33 they have lost 8-of-9, have a bottom 10 offense and defense, have serious chemistry issues in the locker room, have a coach in Mike Brown who clearly doesn’t have the players attention, and Wednesday night the Cavs lost at home to a Lakers team that had dropped seven in a row, was on the second night of a back-to-back and by the end of the game only had four legally eligible players they could put on the court.

This organization needs a complete and total shake up and that started Thursday when the team fired GM Chris Grant, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Gilbert had grown increasingly frustrated with the losing and dysfunction within the Cavaliers and the loss to the Lakers – who finished the game with four eligible players – was the breaking point…

Grant had a reputation as a hard-working executive, but failed to construct an infrastructure of talent to return the Cavaliers to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left as a free agent in 2010.

Current assistant GM David Griffin is expected to become Cavs’ interim GM, Wojnarowski reports.

This firing was coming for a while.

Grant has been the guy in charge of building this roster after LeBron James bolted town. He had one shining smart move, drafting Kyrie Irving. Which with the top pick in that draft was a no brainer.

But look at his other top picks — Tristan Thompson is a potential rotation player out of the No. 4 spot; Dion Waiters shot up the board late and was the No. 4 pick taken in front of Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond; and the pick of Anthony Bennett at No. 1 last season was a surprising reach at the time that has yet to pay off at all.

Grant brought in Mike Brown, who has had about as much attention and control over this team as your high school substitute history teacher did over your class. Mike Brown’s seat just got insanely hot, he may survive this season but it’s hard to see him lasting beyond this summer.

Grant rolled the dice on Andrew Bynum, but that came up snake eyes. Grant made the trade to bring in Luol Deng to turn this season around in Cleveland. Not only has that not worked, Deng was reportedly dismayed at what he saw in the locker room.

What is wrong in Cleveland is not easily fixed. It’s going to require a good general manager and a few years.

They still have the All-Star Irving — while his progression slowed this season (thanks again, Mike Brown) he is still potentially an elite point guard who can be a franchise cornerstone with the right guidance. He is not bolting — he will take the guaranteed huge money of his first post rookie-deal contract (just as LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and every other star who eventually bolted town did). They have time to build something around him and keep him in town.

Grant being fired was the first step in that process.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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