2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started earlier today with the Buckeyes Final Four trip . Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago. The Shin-Soo Choo trade came in at number nine. The Ohio State perfect 12-0 season was number eight. Chris Perez’ harsh and honest words clocked in at number eight. Our seventh-biggest story came around the same time of the year, but for a completely different team.
#7 The Cavaliers draft Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller
Cloaked in speculation and fan in-fighting, the mid-summer NBA Draft was undoubtedly one of the biggest nights of the 2012 calendar year in the city of Cleveland. What would take place on this night, however, would wind up being even bigger.
After multiple mock drafts and rumor mills had the Cavaliers leaving Secaucus, New Jersey with either Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, fans were treated to a curve ball when their fourth-overall selection was on the clock. Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the team’s admitted targets, was selected two picks earlier. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson was, per many draftniks, the top player on the board. Some were beginning to sour on the lack of aggression possessed by Barnes. So the Cavaliers did what every other team would do in their position: they took the player rated the highest on their draft boards.
They selected Dion Watiers, a shooting guard out of Syracuse University.
Fans immediately took to Twitter and comment fields alike. What was Chris Grant thinking? After all, this one mock draft on the Internet had Waiters not being selected until the seventh pick! SEVENTH! Chris Grant reached!! He reached I tell you! Uneducated talks of Waiters being a sixth man and selective analysis of empty statistics would soon follow. But the general manager who was being chastised for his wingspan was not done. All of the selections he had acquired over the course of the last two years were put to work when the Cavs traded up with the Dallas Mavericks to select a player who would immediately become their best true center in Tyler Zeller.
Here’s what we had to say immediately following the draft…
Take it away, Kirk:
To me, the most comforting thing with this draft (and last) was just how sure the Cavalier front office has been of themselves. In the end, maybe Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters don’t work out, but it won’t be because the Cavaliers got caught unprepared. At the four slot for two straight seasons, the Cavaliers essentially got the guy they targeted. [...]
There are concerns with Waiters, as with all picks, but one of them certainly isn’t the fact that he wasn’t a starter at Syracuse. Ask any Orange fan, and they’ll open laugh in your face if that’s your greatest concern with Dion.
The Zeller trade was a no-brainer for me. A guy who could’ve been a Top 10 pick in this draft slipped, and the Cavaliers were prepared and had the ammunition to make that trade up. If Zeller can be a longterm solution at the center position, he’s worth that trade and subsequent pick three times over.
You’re up, Ben:
Waiters has been compared to Dwyane Wade, which sounds a bit nuts (although it sounded nuts last year when Kyrie Irving kept being compared to Chris Paul) but he’s a 6-4, athletic two-guard who can get to the hole and finish inside. The Cavs certainly need more playmakers (as they currently have one) but an undersized scoring shooting guard? Forgive me for having Dajuan Wagner flashbacks.
The grades for the Cavs ran the gamut from A-to-F. Clearly, the Waiters pick was the biggest surprise and most polarizing selection of the draft. But after MKG went to Charlotte and Bradley Beal landed in Washington, the Cavs were somewhat stuck. Do they take a guy they don’t like (Harrison Barnes)? Do they take a guy who plays the same position as last year’s No. 4 selection (Thomas Robinson)? Do they trade down and hope Waiters is still there at 6 or 7? Roll the dice with Andre Drummond?
While I’m decidedly underwhelmed at the Waiters selection, I have a hard time for killing the Cavs for the pick.
During the summer of 2010, as the drill sergeant of a head coach in Byron Scott was being introduced to the Cleveland media, he envisioned a Cavaliers team that would get up the floor and do so with the utmost efficiency. Surely, it was an indirect sales pitch at LeBron James who, entering free agency at the time, was said to be deflated by the half-court sputtering of former head coach Mike Brown. Nevertheless, Scott had a utopian scenario where his team would hit the ground running; they would never lose a game due to fatigue. [...]
When I asked him point blank if he felt these players could fit the mold he desired, Scott confirmed. Call it company line, misjudging, or simply not wanting to suck any remaining life out of the situation at hand, but the new head was assuredly wrong. This team would go on to set depressing records, producing efficiency figures that were essentially compounded by increased pace of play. Needless to say, if Scott was in fact of the belief that his inherited team could meet his expectations, he found out the hard way that this was certainly going to take some time.
Enter Kyrie Irving. Enter Alonzo Gee. Enter Tristan Thompson. And now, enter Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, one of the best shooting guards in the 2012 draft class as well as a big man — a much-needed one at that — who can run the floor as well as any of his peers. A vision was there at the start, and now, a mere two drafts (and a D-League gem) later, the core of the Cleveland Cavaliers is starting to take shape.
Surely, Chris Grant had not had the chance to work Waitiers out — he had not even been afforded the opportunity to speak with the kid from Philly. But every chance he had to watch Waiters practice or play, Grant took it. Every person he could speak with who knew the shooting guard, he had them on the phone. Grant would say that he did more homework on the Syracuse guard than any player he had ever analyzed or selected.
Even Kyrie Irving approved. The fact that no one at all landed any heavy debate on the selection of Zeller — after all, how often does one call a help line to discuss how good things are going ? – shows just how solid of a move the three-for-one trade was.
Waiters and Zeller would go on to have some heavy polarity in their summer league stints. Waiters’ was cut short as his offseason involved little in terms of working out — recall, his agent adivised he not work out privately for teams. Zeller, however, showed that he has what it took to be an NBA center and left fans wondering if as much of a question mark as the Waiters pick was perceived to be, did Grant strike gold with Zeller?
Both players would go on to have crucial roles with the upstart Cavaliers. The ultimate grade given the Chris Grant’s 2012 draft night cannot, and will not, be handed out for many years to come. What can be stated with certainty, however, was that the night the Cavaliers added two key players in a few-minute span was easily one of the biggest stories of the 2012 sports year in the city of Cleveland.
Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY