The Cleveland Cavaliers’ stunning selection of UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft was a momentous moment for all the wrong reasons. The decision to take a 6-foot-8 tweener was kept under wraps tighter than Area 51 and shocked nearly everyone.
Five years later, Bennett’s legacy is as one of the biggest busts NBA history. In January, Bennett was cut by the Brooklyn Nets, and in May, he was waived by a Turkish professional team. Chris Grant, the Cavs’ general manager in 2013, was roundly criticized for taking Bennett and was fired less than a year later. However, in a story by Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, one of Grant’s former deputies, ex-general manager David Griffin, disclosed that his boss was one of the few voices in the organization opposed to taking Bennett:
“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,” (David) Griffin said. “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 [expletive] up sometimes. But I feel bad Chris took it for that, because Chris was the one guy who wasn’t sure.”
Those are harsh words. As Lloyd recounts, the issue wasn’t Bennett’s talent or his questionable measurables, but rather his drive, which the team found underwhelming from the moment he was drafted:
Bennett purchased a home in Independence, not far from the Cavs’ facility so he would be close. But it didn’t take long for team officials to begin questioning his work ethic, and it soon became clear Bennett couldn’t play either forward position. He started out as a rookie behind Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and free-agent pickup Andrew Bynum. He never passed any of them. He showed up to his first training camp overweight by at least fifteen pounds and out of shape. When he appeared in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage on the campus of Baldwin Wallace University in early October, Bennett was gassed after only a couple of trips up and down the floor.
After Cleveland got an extended look at Bennett in an NBA setting, they dumped him in the Kevin Love-for-Andrew Wiggins blockbuster. Bennett was a laughingstock, the likes of which the NBA community hadn’t seen since Darko Milicic. However, the Cavs’ front office was in an extremely tough bind. The draft was not brimming with LeBrons, Melos, Boshes or Wades like in 2003.
Had they landed the pick one year earlier, the Cavs could have drafted Anthony Davis, but the 2013 draft looked to be barren near the top. Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum and Rudy Gobert would later emerge from that year’s class, but at the time, they were afterthoughts.
Cleveland actually tried to auction off the pick, but to no avail. It appears those involved are still bitter about the hand they were dealt, even if it all worked out in the end.
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