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Friday, February 7, 2014
Time to cut Cavs' Bennett some slack

By Marc Stein

He's still just 20 years old.

He didn't have a summer league, or even a fall, to properly prepare for his first NBA season because of a serious shoulder injury.

And he never asked to be taken No. 1 overall in a draft that, weak as it looked beforehand and is proving to be now, had none of the experts projecting him to be the top pick.

So ...

Maybe we all should be cutting Anthony Bennett just a bit more slack.

Anthony Bennett, Mike Brown
A turbulent environment in Cleveland certainly hasn't helped Anthony Bennett's development.
Just a bit.

Bennett's unsightly rookie season took another hit Thursday when the Cleveland Cavaliers abruptly fired general manager Chris Grant, who was responsible for drafting the UNLV freshman ahead of, say, Nerlens Noel or Victor Oladipo. And one of the reflex reactions, in the aftermath of the news, was that Bennett's Year 1 struggles sealed Grant's fate.

Wrong.

Grant lost his job midseason because Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, after guaranteeing his team would not be back on the lottery dais in 2014, felt he had to make some sort of statement/big change in the wake of Cleveland's humiliating home loss to the most depleted team that the Los Angeles Lakers have ever fielded.

So Gilbert naturally fired the executive with the expiring contract and the poor draft record as opposed to the coach who's in Year 1 of a whopping five-year deal.

Yet what happened against the Lakers was merely the low point after months and months of disarray and dysfunction. Kyrie Irving's star has lost a hard-to-believe amount of gleam given how much praise he was generating as recently as last July at a Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas. Dion Waiters' reputation for coachability, and as a teammate, is worse yet. And the general toxicity in the air around this team -- where rumblings of player discontent with Mike Brown are getting louder by the day -- makes you wonder if they have any hope of re-signing newly acquired (and shell-shocked) Luol Deng in free agency.

That's right: What was supposed to be a season exciting enough to make LeBron James think seriously about leaving Miami to come back to the Cavs has descended into such farce that sources close to the situation are already saying that there's little-to-no chance Deng will agree to stay once he hits free agency.

So let's just say that the work environment for Bennett's leap into a spotlight typically reserved for the more NBA-ready Kyries and Anthony Davises hasn't exactly been nurturing.

The kid certainly shouldn't get a completely free pass. Not after you miss your first 16 shots as a pro and still have a stat line in February that doesn't come close to Kwame Brown's rookie numbers. He has plenty of work to do that only he can tackle, as our own David Thorpe neatly explains in his Bennett take Friday, starting with shedding even more weight than he's managed to lose.

But the Cavs, until recently, haven't committed to making sure Bennett gets the no-matter-what minutes he needs -- at power forward -- to transition to the NBA game and rebuild his confidence. With Gilbert's postseason pipe dreams slipping away even in the easy East and Brown making no impact on this team defensively when that's his supposed specialty, they would be wise to realize that salvaging something from Bennett's rookie season should be one of the priorities from here.

Cleveland has amazingly landed the No. 1 overall pick twice since LeBron's departure. Focusing on getting to something resembling a good place with both Irving and Bennett, over the season's final 33 games, thus strikes me as a far more reasonable (and advisable) goal than worrying about the owner's ill-advised playoff guarantee.

By more than just a bit.