Cavs' $100,000 bet on Dellavedova wins

CLEVELAND -- It was after midnight on draft night in 2013 and then-Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was working hard to finish a deal.

Within a minute of the Memphis Grizzlies taking Janis Timma with the 60th and final pick, assistant general manager Trent Redden was on the phone going after a guy the Cavs were calling their "Mr. 61," as in 61st pick. He was an undersized Australian from St. Mary's who had slipped through the back end of the draft.

To say Matthew Dellavedova was unwanted isn't true. Undrafted, yes, but he had several contract offers rolling in that night. One was from the New York Knicks. A little bidding war unfolded and the Cavs kept upping their offer. Finally, Grant reached the number agent Bill Duffy was looking for: $100,000 guaranteed on a two-year contract that was otherwise non-guaranteed.

This is now looking like one of the greatest moves in team history after the gritty little Aussie had yet another incredible Finals game, this one including 20 points and a vital flailing banker in the fourth quarter that was as improbable as this career path.

Grant is no longer with the team, fired last year after a disappointing start to the season. Neither is Mike Brown, who was fired as the coach. But there are plenty of relics they left that are making a mark in this series the Cavs now lead 2-1 over the Golden State Warriors after a 96-91 Game 3 win.

But none of their decisions is looming larger at the moment than Mr. Dellavedova. Brown watched Dellavedova extensively when he was at St. Mary's because Brown's son, Elijah, was considering accepting a scholarship to play there. There was no missing Delly when watching the Gaels; there were a list of achievements, but all you really need to know is they retired his jersey less than a year after he graduated.

Grant knew St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett well, and the coach raved about Dellavedova. The Cavs found themselves intrigued.

Then summer league started. The stories have grown in the two years since, but generally all agree Dellavedova was horrible from the first practice onward and only marginally improved over the two weeks in Las Vegas. The Cavs will never admit it, but they must have wondered if they'd flushed $100,000 down the drain for a player who didn't look like he'd be able to cut it at the next level.

It didn't get much better in the preseason, with it appearing at times that Dellavedova might be headed for the waiver wire. That included one dreadful night in Cincinnati against John Wall when Dellavedova had six turnovers in one quarter.

There were those in the organization that did want Dellavedova cut despite the moderate investment in him. But Grant believed in Dellavedova and his potential. He liked his temperament and thought his constant aggression, at the very least, would push young star Kyrie Irving in practices.

When they had to make the last cut, Grant made the call and decided to keep him.

Grant drafted Irving and Tristan Thompson, who were hits, but also Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, who were not. He also made a series of moves to acquire picks that enabled the Cavs to make trades that landed them Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.

Finding the Dellavedova diamond, though, might end up being a legacy move.

"The fact that Chris believed in Delly to the level that he did is paying off for the organization in spades," said Cavs general manager David Griffin, who was the team's assistant GM before ascending last year. "Everyone benefits from everyone that comes before them."

Grant ended up being like the starting pitcher who labored through seven innings with no stuff, dragging the Cavs through four generally miserable rebuilding years. Griffin has acted as the closer, coming in and firing fastballs to finish deals as LeBron James' grand slam return changed the game after Grant had been sent to the showers.

Within weeks in the 2013-14 season, Dellavedova was earning playing time from Brown, who loved his relentless play even if execution at the NBA level sometimes proved a challenge. After Brown left, Cavs coach David Blatt quickly fell for his dedication to the system and his defensive energy and, like Brown, found himself finding minutes for him even as the Cavs brought in other point guards to try out.

Now in the Finals, Dellavedova has morphed into the Cavs' second-most important player to this point, which defies all kinds of realities. He's been just as likely to make a clutch shot or free throw as he is to achieve a vital defensive stop or go crashing to the floor.

Dellavedova played so hard in Game 3 that he turned into one giant cramp after the game and had to go to the Cleveland Clinic to get treatment for dehydration. The former Mr. 61 is earning the lowest salary of any player in the Finals -- $816,000 for the season. His teammates drive Lamborghinis, Ferraris and, in James' case, a $60,000 Kia he gets paid millions to be seen in. Dellavedova drives a Mazda.

"The guys love Delly because he plays with all his heart," Blatt said late Tuesday night. "What's not to love about the guy?"