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Steve Aschburner

Cleveland GM Chris Grant addresses the media regarding the hiring of Byron Scott during Friday's news conference.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

New Cavs GM faces the tough challenges head on

Posted Jul 3 2010 12:40PM

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Chris Grant, only moments earlier, officially had put behind him one of the heaviest responsibilities faced by the general manager of a professional sports team: Hiring a head coach. Byron Scott was elsewhere in the Cleveland Cavaliers' headquarters, dotting I's, crossing T's and learning where the best dry cleaners are after facing the cameras and reporters for the first time. That gave Grant a few minutes in a nearby conference room to pop a Diet Coke and lean back with his feet up, a job well done ...

Brrrrrrrrpppp! Wrong answer. Grant in fact carved some time from a hectic schedule that was only getting worse. Minutes removed from securing his team's new coach, Grant was just hours away from a Saturday sales pitch to LeBron James, the NBA's No. 1 free agent and the cornerstone of every championship ambition and filled upper-level seat in Quicken Loans Arena for the past seven years.


For the five other teams that had met, or soon would meet, with James and his representatives, their treks to a downtown Cleveland office building was a dreamy, even if desperate, shopping trip, a chance to hire someone else's superstar. For the Cavaliers, it seemed a little like recruiting your spouse to turn down an array of brazen suitors. Sure, they had home-court advantage, not just in the seasons and success James already had enjoyed with them but in his roots as a native of nearby Akron. But they lacked what some felt was the glamour of New York, the global reach of New Jersey's new owner, the shimmering allure of Miami or Los Angeles and the little-of-all-worlds (plus young nucleus) of Chicago.

The Cavs also had a GM who had been on the job less than a month. Grant, a 6-foot-10 former player at the University of San Diego, had climbed the NBA front-office ladder through nine years in Atlanta and five more with Cleveland. But he was thrust into this new role on June 4 after Danny Ferry resigned unexpectedly in the wake of coach Mike Brown's firing. The team was only facing its most pivotal offseason since drafting James in 2003, and while owner Dan Gilbert has been determined to take a larger role, Grant still is the point man for all trades, drafts and free-agent signings. Or, at the moment, re-signings.

Grant exhaled long enough to talk with late Friday afternoon, the clock ticking on the Cavs' presentation to James Saturday and the two-time Most Valuable Player's subsequent decision that will define both Grant's promotion and the franchise's fate. Yeah, that's all: Has this week been as rough as you've ever had? This has to be intense pressure right now, with LeBron recruiting, the coaching hire and everything else.

Chris Grant: I don't know. A few of us were talking last night at dinner that there's a lot of information out in the world right now, but we don't have time to pay attention to it. For us right now, this is normal operating procedure. We're talking to free agents, we're talking to other teams about trades. Obviously we have a very big free agent in LeBron -- that's not normal because there aren't many of those guys around. But we've been pretty clear on what we needed to do. We needed to hire a coach, which we did today. We need to re-sign LeBron, and we'll speak to him [Saturday] and get into our plans for him. And we'll continue to sign other free agents or make trades going forward. So this is kind of what you do during this year. So it doesn't necessarily seem stressful or abnormal. It's just that there's a lot going on and a lot of attention, right here in Cleveland. OK, right, there's nothing abnormal about helicopters! You're facing pretty much what Byron Scott is facing: A ton of uncertainty. When most of us take new jobs, we want to know where the copy machine is, where the restroom is. But he doesn't know if he's going to have the NBA's MVP or not. Same with you: Are you responsible now for tweaking a championship contender to get it over the top or scrambling to fill a very large hole and maybe start over?

Chris Grant: We've got a really good team in place that we're not trying to blow up or drastically change. Just a few tweaks to keep knocking on the door of a championship. We've got a proven owner, Dan Gilbert, and obviously the money he's put up. We're sitting here in this practice facility. Also putting money into trades and taking the luxury tax and consistently stepping up to the plate the last five years. There's obviously some unknown. But every year there's some unknown. You could make the case from the other side that there are a bunch of teams that have some cap space but only have three or four players under contract. That's a lot of unknown also.

We feel like our core is good and we've got good pieces. We've got a nice mixture of young players. We have bigs, we have smalls. We have all our draft picks going forward. We have our mid-level exception. We have players who are valuable commodities that other people want to trade for. So I feel like we're in a good position. How much do you wonder about the mood of your fan base? The high and the low of what they're facing is enormous. If LeBron re-signs, a lot of people will be ecstatic, feeling like he came back -- even though he never left. Then again, if he leaves, some folks will react as if the franchise has been demolished.

Chris Grant:: We're very proud of our fans. I don't know if there's a better arena [full of fans] on a game-by-game basis in the NBA. ... Our job right now is very clear. We have a plan in place to bring LeBron in for a long-term deal and that's what we're working on. Our job is to keep building a winner, because we are so close. We haven't heard much about the Cavaliers being open to a sign-and-trade deal in which LeBron would leave with his six-year contract and you guys would get back some players, draft picks and/or cash. Is that not wanting to have a hand in LeBron's departure?

Chris Grant: That's just not an avenue we're going to pursue. What has prepared you best for this job?

Chris Grant: I've been pretty lucky. I started as an intern 15 or 16 years ago right out of graduate school [University of San Diego]. I went to a very stable organization in Atlanta -- Pete Babcock was the general manager, Lenny Wilkens was the head coach. We were winning 50, 55 games a year with Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, Mookie Blaylock and that group. We kept running into Michael Jordan, but we were a good team.

I was able to keep moving up, from video intern to video coordinator to advance scout to assistant director of scouting to director of scouting to assistant GM to vice president of basketball operations. So I was able to learn and grow, and I was lucky that people I was working with engaged and gave me different activities, which allowed me to learn.

Then coming here with Danny was great, because he gave us a lot of responsibility. 'I want you to organize this. You're in charge of this.' So it's been somewhat of an easy transition, because we all worked so closely together. But at the same time, it's moving over to the big chair, they call it. What are you most proud of, in terms of what you've been able to accomplish either in Atlanta or here? A particular signing? A scouting situation? Cultivating a relationship?

Chris Grant:I don't think there's any one thing. It takes more than one person to make all of those decisions. So if you're going to have a draft, you're going to listen to your scouts. If it's a trade, you're working with some of your professional scouts and [others in the front office]. I'm excited about some of the things we've been able to do with the flexibility of our roster over the last three or four years. Trading for Mo Williams was something where I thought we did a nice job. Getting Shaquille [O'Neal] was good. Antawn Jamison, I think we did a nice job with that. But those take more than one person, and we've got some great people who work here.

As a professional, when you work in an environment where everybody feels safe, and trusts, it's a fun place to come to work. That's our environment here. We'll be up till 3 in the morning and you'll never hear anyone complain. It's, 'Hey, we've got to get it done. Let's do it. Let's have fun!' We laugh, we cry, we eat together. Our families are all intermingled. I'm probably the most proud of that: Being part of something that's bigger than yourself. Were you surprised by Danny's decision to leave?

Chris Grant: I consider Danny a great, long-term friend. At some level, it was surprising because we'd had some success. But Danny is in a position where he's able to have his own freedom. Where he's able to take a year off, maybe, or not even do this anymore. Live in San Antonio for a year. He felt like -- I don't want to speak too much for him, but 'Hey, I feel good about possibly taking a year off right now.' So I'm happy for him. I still communicate with him. He's been my biggest cheerleader through this whole process, which has made it nice and easy. He said, 'Chris, you've got to do it.' It was great. Still, you didn't have any warning.

Chris Grant: I didn't want him to leave. I wanted him to stay. He's a friend. But I felt prepared. I'm still learning. I'm going to lean on all the good people we have. We're all trying to figure it out together. How do you deal with the stress of the job? What are your outlets?

Chris Grant: In the whirlwind of all this -- what has it been, six weeks -- I really haven't had time to think about that. The objectives have been very clear: Find a coach. Re-sign LeBron. Sign other players, and make trades. So there hasn't been time to sit around and say, I'm really stressed. Our group has been working pretty hard. ... Whenever we can grab a minute to sleep, we do.

You worry about stuff. You want things to turn out well for the organization. But as far as stress-release, I haven't had a chance to sit back and say, 'I need to work out more.' ... The best part if just seeing my kids [Grant and wife Kelly have three sons: Cameron, Boden, Hudson]. How old are they? They probably want to know what LeBron's going to do as much as we do.

Chris Grant: [Laughing] No, they're 5, 3 and four months. All these other teams are seen as the aggressors, coming after your player. The Cavs are considered to be in a defensive posture, just hoping to retain him. We don't hear about you talking to Chris Bosh, for example, about a sign-and-trade. Are there things you want to do aggressively in this offseason -- free agents, trades -- that you just can't attend to yet?

Chris Grant: think we can attend to them. We've got a good team. You don't break up good teams. Other teams are aggressive because they need players, quite frankly. In our situation, we've got a team that won 127 games [the past two seasons] and we're knocking on the door. LeBron's important to that, he helped establish and build that. But as far as feeling like we can make a trade, nah, we've been aggressive with that. ... And once again, when you have a good team, you don't have to blow it up. It's easy to get rid of good players. I've been part of teams where you do that. But to continue to build on top of a good team, that's what we have to do. The sense of "team" could really be put to the test in the NBA next season. There are a couple of teams that would like nothing more than to say, "We've got our two or three superstars. We're going to fill out the roster with whoever we can find." The Cavs are more traditional in having a group of quality players, with a pecking order and not just haves vs. have-nots. Would you be comfortable with two mega-stars and 10 minimum-salary guys?

Chris Grant: I can't comment on other teams' approaches. Our approach is to try to win this thing every year. Whoever we can get and what other opportunities present themselves, we have to be ready to make a decision at that time. We're not planning for three years or four years from now -- we're planning for right now. You never know how life is going to play itself out. In professional sports, as crazy as it can be, with the talented players we have around LeBron and with the age of our team, we ought it to ourselves, our team, our fans, to take a shot at this thing every year.

We're not focused on, `Well, two years from now, we're going to have $39 million in cap space and these give guys will be free agents.' We did go through free agency a few years ago and built through that to this point. We're going to try to build on top of this team and knock the door down. Besides the fact that Boston began playing its best basketball of the season in the Eastern Conference semifinals, did anything stand out about what caused your team to lose that series?

Chris Grant: For us, unfortunately, we had a great season but toward the end, Shaq broke his thumb and was out six weeks. We added Antawn, which was absolutely the right thing to do, but Shaq and Antawn hadn't played together. And then 'Bron didn't play the last four games -- his elbow was bothering him. So we weren't probably as cohesive, as far as guys playing together going into the playoffs. It's OK to take a couple of games off. We didn't necessarily mean to rest guys -- guys were hurt. But we were sluggish in the first round against Chicago. We were starting to find our pace a little bit in the second round against Boston ... but they're a good team. They started to find their swagger also. They had been there before and had some toughness about 'em, and guys were starting to get healthy.

It was one of those things where, it's hard to get there. You spend the whole year getting there, and if you don't progress through the playoffs, it hurts. Everybody. Guys, the coaches, the ownership, front office. Do you feel that you need to sell LeBron a little bit on you, in this job? Because it's you now, it's not Danny and you, and that he can have as much faith in you as he had in Danny?

Chris Grant:: We have a plan in place, and it's greater than one person. This is about a winning organization. A proven owner who's willing to spend. And LeBron's part of all that. He's helped build what we have here today. We've played deep into the playoffs the last five years. It's because we've got the right guys and good teammates and they care and they compete.

We're not satisfied -- that's obvious, because there have been some changes. But it takes more than two or three or five people to win at the highest levels. I'll bet on our guys and on our organization against anyone.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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