Ben McLemore

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Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin on drafting Anthony Bennett No. 1: “You f–k up sometimes”

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“This is a SHOCKER. Nobody had this.”

That is what I wrote in our instant draft analysis back in 2013 when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett No. 1. Bennett was considered a lottery pick by most teams, but teams had him more in the 7-13 range. Out of UNLV, Bennett was an athletic guy with a lot of questions. It wasn’t a great draft, but the Cavaliers took Bennett in front of Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel, C.J. McCollum, and Ben McLemore, to name a few. We all know what happened from there, Bennett played just 151 games across four NBA seasons and is already out of the league (he was in training camp with the Suns this year but was released). He is the poster child of a draft bust.

Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin — who was the No. 2 guy behind Chris Grant back in 2013 in Cleveland — owns up to the mistake in Jason Lloyd of The Athletic’s new book  The Blueprint: LeBron James, Cleveland’s Deliverance and the Making of the Modern NBA. An excerpt is up at the Athletic.

So when the Cavs front office sat down before the draft to cast their vote on who to take, the final tally was 9-1 in favor of Bennett. The one vote against taking him? Chris Grant…

“The issue with Anthony was, and we had no way of knowing it at the time, the kid had no desire to overcome adversity whatsoever. As soon as it was hard, he was out,” Griffin explained to Lloyd. “His whole life, he rolled out of bed bigger, better, and more talented than everybody else. As soon as it was hard, it was over. And I was the one on campus at UNLV. I’m the one who got sold the bill of goods and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. You f–k up sometimes. But I feel bad Chris took it for that, because Chris was the one guy who wasn’t sure.”

Talking to people around a draftable player and getting a sense of their drive and work ethic is one of the most important — and most challenging — parts of being a GM. Just like for students in school or the rest of us in everyday life, grit and determination matter more than talent. The greatest have both — Michael Jordan personifies it, but from Bill Russell through LeBron James everyone in the pantheon has both — but there are a lot of guys in the NBA now who have some talent and a lot of grit, and were willing to put in the work needed to become an NBA player. J.J. Redick had the shooting skills in college, but he reshaped his body and his game to become a quality NBA two guard, and he’s just one of many examples.

Not knowing Bennett lacked grit is on the Cavaliers’ staff, but it’s always hard to predict. Projecting the future of any 19-year-old at anything is next to impossible, and that doesn’t change if you’re doing the research before making a multi-million dollar investment. He might have put in the work in college, but things changed.

(Hat Tip Bleacher Report)

Three questions the Sacramento Kings must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 32-50, missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

I know what you did last summer: Their “summer” really started last February at the trade deadline when they moved DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield. The Kings had an active summer, and that included moving on from a lot of guys on the roster: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ben McLemore among others were gone. To replace them they drafted De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, rolled the dice on Harry Giles, the Kings finally got Bogdan Bogdanovic to come over, then in free agency landed some solid veteran free agents in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.

THREE QUESTIONS THE KINGS MUST ANSWER

1) How do the Kings balance the minutes between their best young players and their veterans? George Hill is clear and away the best point guard option on the Kings, but they just drafted the speedy and talented De’Aaron Fox. Zach Randolph, while his skills are fading, is a solid four coach Dave Joerger can trust, but Skal Labissiere could become the most skilled power forward on this roster. Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran big who will not beat you with mistakes, but the Kings are trying to season the talented Willie Cauley-Stein at center.

It’s the biggest question coach Joerger has heading into the season, how to balance out the minutes and opportunities for the veterans on this team vs. the best young prospects on the Kings’ roster. It’s easy to say “George Hill is there to develop guys like Fox and Buddy Hield” but that doesn’t mean Hill is just another coach riding the pine most of the time. The Kings aren’t going to win a lot of games, but veterans like Vince Carter can show young players how to compete (Carter, who has been in the league since roughly the Taft administration, may well be the best three on this roster still). The hope has to be that as the season goes along, as the young players get minutes and good developmental coaching, their role grows as the veterans take a step back, but will it work out that way?

Tied to this: How long are these veterans going to be Kings? Part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Hill is that at some point a team hurting at the point guard spot due to injuries or whatever reason come calling. These teams will want Hill, and in return the Kings can get a quality young prospect or a good pick. The question is how long before the calls come, and how much demand will there be (especially for the aging Randolph and Carter)? It may happen this season, at or before the trade deadline, or it could be next summer, but expect the Kings to make a move.

2) Which young players on this roster develop into quality NBA players? The Kings have eight guys on rookie contracts plus a couple other young players — they have 10 players 25 and younger. The Kings are in the player development business now, and the question is which ones will find their way to become NBA players of some level — stars, starters, rotation players, whatever?

There are interesting questions up and down the young roster. Harry Giles will be out until at least January (if not the season), but can he get healthy and if so how much can he contribute? Skal Labissiere showed promise at the end of last season, can he build on that (he didn’t at Summer League)? Can Justin Jackson get stronger, develop his shot and become a rotation player at the three? Just how good is Willie Cauley-Stein? Same question for Malachi Richardson? A lot of these questions could get answered on the Reno Bighorns, which is where some of these players will go to get run.

For me, the most interesting battle to watch is at the two. The Kings got Buddy Hield back as the main piece from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and in 25 games with the Kings he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from three. However, the Kings are also very high Bogdan Bogdanovic, who Vlade Divac called the “the best player in Europe” and he is going battle for that starting spot. Which one of these two develops into a starter and takes the job, and who does not. We’ll see how Hield develops, but watching him as a rookie — and his both lack of understanding and interest on defense — and I saw a sixth man. A gunner in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold — which is not a bad thing, those guys have had good careers and helped a lot of teams. Is Hield on that path, or can he develop into something more?

3) Can management and ownership be patient? The Kings have a good plan in place. They have young players with potential — De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more — and some veterans were brought in to mentor them and set a tone. Whatever you think of the young talent (I like the potential) or how many veterans they brought in (more than I would have) it’s a solid rebuilding plan. One that’s not going to yield a lot of wins short term (they retain their first round pick next draft) but is a respectable and reasonable path.

The problem is the Kings have never stuck to a plan long enough to let it play out. Look at it this way, since they drafted Cousins in 2010 the Kings coaches have been Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and Dave Joerger. That’s not counting the three different GMs and a change of ownership. With each successive move the plan shifted, and with that, the roster and the style were never settled.

This falls to owner Vivek Ranadive — he has to be patient. It’s not in his nature, but he needs to be. I don’t know that I would have chosen Vlade Divac to run my team, but now that Ranadive has let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Divac and the staff there have planted a garden, let it start to grow and blossom, and know that it’s going to take years to bear fruit. The biggest mistake the Kings could make right now would be to at the All-Star break (or next summer) change plans, bring in a new GM and coach, and completely change directions.

Three questions the Memphis Grizzlies must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 43-39, lost to San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs

I know what you did last summer: Memphis moved on from the “grit n’ grind” era by letting Zach Randolph and Tony Allen leave via free agency. Vince Carter also left, and the Grizzlies got younger and looked to the future re-signing JaMychal Green (two-year deal) and took a gamble on a young player with potential who didn’t work out in Sacramento in Ben McLemore (who will be out with a broken foot until Christmas at least). The Grizzlies also drafted Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks, and added Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers.

THREE QUESTIONS THE GRIZZLIES MUST ANSWER:

1) Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are gone, did the Grizzlies lose their identity? Did they get worse? This season is going to be different in Memphis, the “grit n’ grind” era has come to an end with the Grindfather himself down in New Orleans (a team that could use some grit). Randolph rejuvenated his career in Memphis and was loved by fans. Memphis’ identity will change some this season.

The thing is, on the court those losses aren’t that serious. Randolph was a bench guy asked to put up shots, and at age 35 Allen could still defend some but opposing teams didn’t have to guard him on the other end of the floor. They were rightfully beloved, but be blunt their on-the-court skills can be replaced.

Memphis is going to be competitive and about at the same level if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can stay healthy and continue to contribute. Those are both All-Star level players (although neither likely makes the team this season in the stacked West) — Gasol added an efficient 19.5 points per game last season and showed he could shoot threes, Conley averaged 20.5 points per game, shot 40 percent from three, and remained a quality defender. If the production from those two is about the same this team will be around the same number of wins and hang around in the fight for one of the bottom three playoff spots in the West.

Those two should get a little more help this season, too. Chandler Parsons should be able to give them more than 34 unimpressive games (see the next question). JaMychal Green is a year older and should take another step forward. James Ennis has been working hard this summer on his ball handling, midrange game, and being effective in the pick-and-roll. The Grizzlies will get more out of the backup point guard spot (will that be from Mario Chalmers is another question). The Grizzlies are not threatening the Warriors, but healthy this is still a playoff team.

2) Do the Grizzlies get anything out of Chandler Parsons? This feels like an annual question. Parsons, battling knee injuries again, played in just 34 games last season and didn’t look good when on the court — he wasn’t creating shots, and he wasn’t spacing the floor, shooting just 33 percent from three. He was signed to be the third guy to be in the core with Gasol and Conley, and to this point he has done little in Memphis save eat good barbecue.

This is really about his knees — if he can move freely, he can contribute. If his knees hamper how he moves, he will not. If he can contribute on offense, the Grizzlies look a lot more like a playoff team, even in the crowded West. If he can’t, the load on Gasol and Conley may be too much.

3) At what point — next summer? — do the Grizzlies decide it’s time to go full in for the rebuild? Right now, the Grizzlies are not changing their plans or goals — Gasol and Conley were untouchable when teams called about trades this summer.

But for how long? Gasol sounded this summer like a guy who doesn’t want to be on a team treading water in the West for much longer. Gasol has two seasons and a player option on his deal, Conley has three plus an option, and at some point Memphis may want to consider moving one or both of them in trades, while their value is high, to get assets back that help the eventual rebuild. Grizzlies ownership/management isn’t there yet, but if the team struggles this season will that change around the trade deadline? Will it change next summer? This era of Grizzlies basketball — the best era in its history, with a couple of trips to the conference finals — is starting to wind down. At some point, Memphis will want to make moves while their best players still have trade value.

But that time is not yet. Not this season.

Report: Grizzlies consider Marc Gasol, Mike Conley “untouchable”

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The perception among some fans is that with Zach Randolph in Sacramento and Tony Allen sitting on the free agent market too, the “grit ‘n grind” era in Memphis is over and the team is about to tear it down and rebuild. And without Allen (who could still be re-signed, depending on what happens with JaMychal Green, the restricted free agent who is in a bit of a standoff with Memphis) that era does die.

But the Grizzlies are not about to dump assets and rebuild. Not even close.

Matt Moore breaks it down in a fantastic piece at CBSSports.com.

The Memphis Grizzlies consider All-Star center Marc Gasol “untouchable” and have refused to enter his name in any trade conversations, two sources close to the situation told CBS Sports this week. Gasol has been the subject of rampant speculation this summer that he could be dealt, despite being just two years into a five-year max contract signed in 2015 that doesn’t make him eligible for free agency until 2019….

Typically, the idea that Gasol could be available stems from the perception that Memphis has lost momentum and “needs” a rebuild. The Grizzlies, in reality, have made the playoffs the past seven years, and their decision to re-sign both Gasol and Mike Conley (who is also considered “untouchable” according to sources) was made with the intention of building around the duo long-term.

For Memphis, the concern is beyond simple wins and losses, however. For a small market, the Grizzlies may not have a center of Gasol’s quality for literally decades. Other teams can make moves with an idea toward mobility and flexibility. A team like Memphis has to pursue discipline in retaining its stars because of the challenges the team faces in obtaining big-name upgrades. The Grizzlies’ best path toward contention isn’t to trade Gasol, even for a high-value draft pick.

There’s another factor at play: Memphis the city has embraced this roster and this team. The physical, grinding, hard-working style of play is something the fans relate to, and they fill the building. The fans love Gasol and Conley. In a small market, that matters. It’s easy from the outside to take a “they can’t win a title with this roster, tear it down and rebuild” attitude, but that would not sit well with the Memphis fan base. Tearing it down means years and years of losing, years and years of largely empty buildings, and a lot of work to re-connect with fans. Why would they throw a successful business model away?

Gasol has said if the Grizzlies aren’t going to try to find a path forward he might reconsider his position, but right now he’s not asking for a trade. This is a Grizzlies team that won 43 games last season, will not miss Randolph as much as some fans think, will get more out of Green, has to get more out of Chandler Parsons (he can’t give them less), and made some smart gambles on guys like Ben McLemore. The bottom of the West is stacked, but if the Grizzlies stay healthy, they likely make the postseason.

Bottom line, Gasol is not on the block. Sorry Celtics fans. While we’re at it, Anthony Davis is not on the trade block right now, either.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.