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David Griffin’s future in Cleveland: While We’re Waiting

Chris Grant was relieved of his duties as general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 6, 2014. Grant was to be the architect of the post-LeBron era, amassing a truck load of assets to parlay in to something bigger and better once his team, anchored by No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, had enough games under his drawstring to once again become a contender.

What transpired was a sequence of seasons and draft selections that left a bit to be desired, bottoming out as his team lost a game to a Los Angeles Lakers team that was forced to play a man who had fouled out, allowed to continue playing solely because he was the last healthy, active player available.

On the morning of February 6, the Cavaliers named David Griffin “acting” general manager. Griffin had served as Grant’s right-hand man, and was highly instrumental in many of the trades (draft picks for Luol Deng), acquisitions (The Andrew Bynum Experience) and draft selections (Anthony Bennett, anyone?) that had been made over the three years prior. That subsequent April, as the Cavs’ season had come to a painful, drawn-out end. Rumors were swirling that team owner Dan Gilbert had his eyes on making a splash of a hire, of the belief that it would be that that would right the ship. Nevertheless, Griffin sat in front of the local media, defiant in the belief that he was deserving of the team removing the “interim” tag from his title, stating he was not going to campaign for the job—”I’m not running for mayor,” he stated.

Is it possible, though with the Cavaliers doing nothing but win since that very day, that we could re-live a press conference with Griffin’s future shrouded with uncertainty?

Back in April, murmurs of Griffin’s impending free agency began to bubble up when The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Orlando Magic having interest in the Cavs’ mind-bending general manager. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst took things a step further roughly one week later reporting the Magic would offer Griffin a promotion, putting him in line with the Pat Rileys of the world as president of basketball operations. Then just last week, former ESPN newsbreaker Marc Stein reported, in a bit of irony, that the Atlanta Hawks would consider offering a similar role to Griffin. The latter is especially interesting for a later of reasons including Atlanta being the destination of Danny Ferry, the last Cavs general manager to not have his contract renewed, as well as it being a last ditch effort to Paul Millsap after his season ended abruptly large in part to the overarching success of the Cavaliers. Former Cavs assistant GM Wes Wilcox recently stepped down from Hawks GM into what’s being called “an advisory role.”

While many will want to short-change Griffin as the beneficiary of geography and storybook narrative, this would also short-change the word the general manager had to do in order to land LeBron James just three months later. “Return of the King,” the excellent book by Windhorst and ESPN colleague Dave McMenamin, details discussions surrounding James where Griffin told agent Rich Paul that if he could guarantee James’ return, he would clear the space. Paul quickly shot back, telling Griffin to clear the space and then they would consider Cleveland a possibility.

In the press conference mentioned earlier, Griffin dropped one of the best lines in recent GM history, saying his team needed to “get bigger, get smarter, shoot better, and be tougher.” He was armed with $26 million in cap space and a slew of draft selections, and had his sights set on Utah’s Gordon Hayward. This quickly changed, however, when Griffin found ways to deal Jarrett Jack’s bloated contract along with the likes of Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev to clear even more room. The rest, as they say, was history, but the kind of history that had fans glued to Twitter and refreshing web browsers with a never-before seen fervor until an essay hit Sports Illustrated on July 11.

While James’ presence has played an insurmountable role in Cleveland’s success since Griffin’s hiring, it seems myopic to ignore franchise-altering deals like acquiring Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov for Andrew Wiggins, Bennett, Dion Waiters and some late draft picks. Moving Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye midway through last season is oftentimes discussed as the move that brought the Cavaliers’ locker room together in a way that propelled them into the NBA Finals. This season, as the Cavaliers are coming off of their sixth playoffs sweep in the last three years, it was the mid-year acquisition of Kyle Korver from (ironically) the Hawks that has proven to be ever-so vital, the veteran coming up huge in Games 3 and 4. Griffin managed to trade two players who were injured and would provide the acquiring team with zero value. Let that sink in.1

There’s a chance this consternation is all for naught. It’s the perfect storm of an incredibly successful general manager in the final year of his deal and several teams interested in prying him away from the team which he helped guide toward a championship. It’s worth noting that Lue was also a bit of a free agent heading into the end of last season, spurning a mid-year deal to bet on himself, ultimately securing a five-year, $35 million extension this past summer. But its also worth noting that the Cavaliers have a bit of a history in paying coaches (many, many coaches) a lot of money, while not locking up front office members who construct the rosters that pave the way. Ferry left Cleveland for Atlanta in what was arguably the team’s most crucial summer to that point.

Griffin hasn’t spoken of this uncertainty much this season, focusing on the task at hand. Even if asked, he would say something very similar to what he did three years early, feeling he doesn’t need to campaign for a job he deserves. In 2014, Griffin hitched this belief to one where he felt he and ownership were on the same page in turning the team around. This time, he can let his body of work speak for itself.

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  1. Let’s also not forget the decision to swap Ty Lue in for David Blatt. []
  2. Your reminder that recaps, too, can be #ActualSportswriting. One of the better ledes I’ve read in a while. []

  • RGB
  • Saggy

    Did you get rid of a bad contract in exchange for Kyle Koerver and Deron Williams? How about getting rid of Dion Waiters and some draft picks for Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and Timo Mozgov, and then winning a title?

    If you answered YES, please accept no respect from the NBA community when they vote on executive of the year awards.

  • scripty

    This concerns me a little but I presumed he’d wait until the season ends and then when the market for his services is dictated, he then re-signs an appropriate deal with Gilbert.

    There’s really no “President” on the Cavs now anyway.

    http://www.nba.com/cavaliers/team/executives

  • NankirPhelge

    Pay the man.

  • maxfnmloans

    The man is a wizard. I really hope he doesnt leave. But, perhaps he wants a different challenge, on a team where he might gain more respect for his acumen because outsiders wont say “Yeah but, LeBron”. The Magic definitely pose such a challenge, especially after letting their free agent white board out on Twitter. What a buncha maroons

    I hope he stays, but if he leaves because he wants a challenge, then vaya con dios. Please accept this laurel, and hardy handshake on your way out the door

  • humboldt

    Contrast the Magic’s white board blunder with the singular, all-caps “MINGO” written on a Berea white board during the Lombardi-Banner era (as reported by Chuck Klosterman). That was our master plan….Barkevious Mingo

  • RGB

    Add President to Griffin’s title.

  • Harv

    The Griffin thing has been worrying for months. Way back in the beginning of the season Windhorst was predicting these storm clouds, what with his being one of the lowest paid GMs in a walk year. It’s hard to know what’s really happening, whether Gilbert is playing careless hardball like he’s negotiating just another commercial lease or whether Griffin feels like his talents will never be recognized when LeBron is on the roster. He seems like a real feisty dude, in the best way.

    I hoped a path was cleared with the reports that Dan’s running buddies, Forbes and Cohen, had been removed from hands on stuff … maybe Griffin didn’t appreciate multiple alphas giving him suggestions. But maybe it’s Gilbert, who’s hardly immune to self-destructive decisions.

    Oh, well. What’s a LeBron-era season without some unnecessary drama.,

  • Harv

    [digging the Mel Brooks love]

  • Chris

    The *ONE* year we decide not to trade down

  • jpftribe

    Maybe it’s Griffin that wants to explore options. Landing LeBron is a once in a generation deal, and frankly, it’s one you just don’t screw up. You do what you have to do. When the HS hottie wants to take you to prom, you don’t ask who pays for the tux.

    Getting out from under LeBron’s shadow and an owner where he will have more control may be really appealing to him at this point in his career. The offers he gets now may be the best he gets. He signs a long term deal with the Cavs, LeBron retires and it’s whole different ballgame.

    Not trying to diminish what he has done, but let’s face it, LeBron is the Cavs and vice versa. With him, they are finals caliber. Without they are lucky to make the playoffs.

  • mgbode

    The man is a wizard.

    So, you think Washington signs him. Would be a bold move.

  • mgbode

    I mean, everyone knew that was a horrific draft. I doubt anyone wanted to trade up.

  • JNeids

    Everyone but us, probably.

  • RGB
  • RGB

    Sooo, I was watching the Food Channel Saturday morning and guess what comes on?

    http://images.zap2it.com/assets/p13240708_b_h3_ab/ayeshas-homemade.jpg

    When in holy hell did this happen?!?!
    Stephen and his insufferable spawn prance on the TV screen. I though I was going to vomit.

  • RGB

    No love for Elvis?

  • humboldt

    In my preferred version of reality, Mike Lombardi had that note bronzed and keeps it in his pocket to look at every day, especially when times get tough

  • NankirPhelge

    He’s just a hunka hunka burnin’ Brown.

  • maxfnmloans

    its amazing that he acts like he knows what he’s doing when he writes articles for the Ringer. They’re unintentionally hilarious

  • maxfnmloans
  • RGB

    …Goes back to look at 2013 draft…

    Ewwww, yuck.

  • RGB

    They could have traded down to the third-round and not missed anything in that draft.

  • mgbode

    Why? It’s not Friday the 13th or Halloween. Those are the only days it is expected you should bring up a page detailing that particular draft.

  • humboldt

    He has made an art form out of failing upwards–in many ways the perfect symbol of late capitalism

  • Petefranklin

    Didn’t the Titans want to trade for Mingo?

  • scripty

    Maybe Griff is running a long con. Remember how those franchises would keep all that cap space and then Lebron used that to kill them all who he didn’t sign with, maybe Griffin is letting these other franchises twist in the wind a little.

  • Saggy
  • chrisdottcomm
  • chrisdottcomm
  • chrisdottcomm

    The window in the East doesn’t open for at least another 3 years and Griff knows this. Taking on a struggling Eastern Conference team as President is the equivalent of a lone All-Star player free agent moving from the West to the East, there’s almost no impact.

    We all know he’s not enticing any large name free agent players to the Hawks or Magic, but we also know his genius is in his player trades and contract knowledge.

    But we also know that the Devos and Ressler are not going to spend like Gilbert which ties Griff’s hands, so we can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

    So in summation, offer him money and I think he takes it.

    (this was the most in cohesive comment ever)

  • mgbode

    I remember reading there was only tepid interest from teams below us about trading up.

  • JNeids
  • Petefranklin

    I thought Banner turned down a trade for mingo with Tennesee.

  • Same policy applies to Griff as the rest of the 2016 title team: stay or go, I’ve got nothing but love for you. I saw a Cleveland pro sports championship in my lifetime, so I’m good. You want more money or power or a different challenge or a better title elsewhere? Go for it.

  • mgbode

    I don’t recall that one specifically. It’s possible.

  • CBiscuit

    Well she is rather attractive IMO…I’ll give her that. Not sure what her “brand” or skill set is though.

  • RGB

    Her “brand” is her husband’s punchable face.

  • This is an admirable position to have. I wish more Clevelanders shared it.

  • tsm

    It makes no sense for him to leave now for any reason other than money. He has a chance to win another title or two with LeBron and improve his resume even more. He can always go for the rebuild with another club after this era ends. Conversely, Gilbert would have to be an idiot to let him leave over a few million and a title of president given all the money he is spending now. Dan, ride out the remaining years of LeBron’s prime with Griffin.

  • I just don’t see the point of approaching it any other way. Sure, I’d love to have some 90s Bulls-esque run at the top and accumulate rings like the Mandarin. But as has been said time and again, these guys are human. They aren’t beholden to stay here and toil on our behalf just because we like them. Like most everyone else, I got frustrated and hurt when LeBron left or when the 90s Tribe stars left because there was unfinished business. But these Cavs accomplished their mission, so I’m not going to hold grudges with them. Griff might want to show what he can do without an aligning of the stars that brings in a generational talent. LeBron might want to resuscitate pro basketball in NYC. Swish might want to focus on pipe distribution in Vegas. Good luck and goodbye. Demanding more than a championship seems selfish to me.

    Just don’t go to like Boston. Or the Lakers. They’ve had more than enough.

  • Harv

    it makes sense for him to leave if he finds the environment toxic and no substantive changes will be entertained. Or if he feels he should make market value for a championship-building GM, but ownership does not recognize that as his accomplishment. If it’s money it’s ridiculous, given the differences are far less than, for example, the luxury tax Dan pays for an aging back up point guard or the purchase price of a second round pick who’s never active..

  • Harv

    agree, and I’ll go one better: I’m fine if LeBron leaves again. If he wants to go play with his pals somewhere else, go for it. I’ll be grateful for the finest three consecutive seasons by any athlete in Cleveland history.

  • tsm

    Jim Brown – 1963 nfl single season rushing record 1863 yards, 1964 nfl champs, 1965 nfl championship game and league mvp – let’s call it a tie.

  • JNeids

    “accumulate rings like the Mandarin”
    It’s only Monday and I already have my nominee for Comment of the Week.

  • Joykstevens

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  • Pat Leonard

    This is delightfully obscure

  • RGB

    He is one of the first Browns players I remember as a young fan.