Goodbye Griff: While We’re Waiting

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

For the second week in a row, though, it’s not really all that happy from the perspective of fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last week, of course, we were coming off the Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors which ended the Cavaliers’ reign as defending NBA Champions.

This week, we are stunningly forced to come to terms with the fact that David Griffin is no longer the GM of the Cavs. Monday started as something of a fun day of reflection for Cavs fans. It was the one year anniversary of the Cavaliers’ first NBA Championship and the city of Cleveland’s first title since 1964. The feels were strong as services like Timehop and Facebook’s “On This Day” feature reminded us of all our celebratory posts.

Then, as the day progressed, we found out that Griff was working on putting together a multi-team trade that would land Jimmy Butler in Cleveland. I can’t project if this would have been a good thing or not without knowing what the Cavaliers would have to give up, but Butler would be an ideal fit on a team that is trying to overcome the Golden State Warriors. There was tangible excitement among Cavs fans as we buckled down to see how Griff was going to improve the team.

Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, word came down Monday night that Griff was out. And just like that, the rug was completely pulled out from under Cavs fans’ feet. Whereas earlier in the day everyone was filled with pride, hope, and optimism, the evening brought nothing but doubt, questions, and doom. Needless to say, Cavs fans were not happy about losing Griff as the guiding hand of this franchise.

Not only are Cavs fans unsure about this move, but even LeBron James voiced some public displeasure with the move with this tweet:

LeBron may as well have put the words “NO ONE” in all caps, bold, italicized font. By “no one”, he clearly means Dan Gilbert. And thus, let the “LeBron James is leaving Cleveland again” rumors that were starting to warm up anyway will now be on fire. Be prepared for a long year of rumors, subtweets, body language experts, and assumptions.

I went to bed angry last night. I was and still am pretty upset about Dan Gilbert not being able to work things out with Griff. I trusted Griff’s vision and leadership. I had confidence that Griff would make moves to improve the Cavaliers this year, and should LeBron leave after next season, I trusted Griff to guide the Cavaliers to whatever the next phase would be. It felt like the Cavaliers were in good hands, and that’s an invaluable quality in the volatility of the NBA.

Having slept on all this and having more time to think about it all, though, I do think there are actually plausible scenarios where this is all for the best. Look, until someone reports what the actual difference in vision was between Gilbert and Griff, we’re all just speculating about what actually happened. While I don’t think letting Griffin walk was the right move, it’s possible that there was a fundamental flaw with his plan that Gilbert wasn’t willing to go through.

I could also listen to arguments that there were some real issues with some of the moves Griffin made. Trading two first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov, who became unplayable and then walked after a season and a half wasn’t ideal (it was a necessary move for that season at that time, of course, but it did affect the long-term ability to keep building around LeBron). The Channing Frye acquisition seems great on paper. He’s great for floor spacing, has shot lights out with the Cavaliers, and has had some big games in the playoffs. But he’s also unplayable in the Finals against the Warriors. Griffin left the Cavaliers without a backup PG to Kyrie Irving to start this season and Deron Williams never panned out as the eventual backup. The Cavaliers became a very one-dimensional team this season and in the playoffs, particularly against the Warriors, it left Ty Lue without a lot of options to adjust and to deal with what the Warriors were doing on offense.

Those are certainly all fair issues. But I look at the creativity of Griff’s process. I look at the leadership he displayed and the loyalty he earned from those who worked under him. I look at the level of respect he commanded across the league, especially while working for one of the least respected owners. Those things matter to me. I feel that Griff is one of the best GMs in the NBA and one of the best GMs in the history of Cleveland sports. It’s a bummer that he’s no longer with the franchise.

The bottom line is, it’s just hard to feel good and/or confident about what is happening. I don’t think LeBron James will leave because David Griffin isn’t there anymore. LeBron thinks much bigger picture than that. But if the replacement isn’t able to provide stability and improve the roster immediately, LeBron isn’t going to give the franchise the benefit of the doubt. LeBron doesn’t owe Dan Gilbert anything. LeBron is going to do what he wants. This move threw some uncertainty into the mix, and that’s a big part of the reason Cavs fans are so upset by this.

Gilbert put his neck on the line with this move. When Griff fired David Blatt two years ago, it was Griff’s neck on the line. If the team faltered under Ty Lue, it would reflect back on Griff and probably would have cost him his job immediately. Now, it’s Gilbert’s reputation (or what’s left of it) on the line. If the Cavs fall into disarray and make bonehead moves or panic moves and everything falls apart, it will all come back to this one decision. And that is on Dan Gilbert.

Dan Gilbert is the owner who ended the Cleveland Championship curse. LeBron James deserves the most credit for that. David Griffin deserves a ton of credit for it. All the players deserve credit. And yes, Gilbert deserves credit for stepping up to the plate and spending without blinking his eye. For that, I’ll be forever thankful. But the lack of respect Gilbert seems to show to those around and within the organization and the lack of stability that Gilbert seems to crave is all wearing thin.

As a fan, I’m trying to stay somewhat hopeful. Losing Griff does not mean the Cavs won’t be back in the Finals this year. It doesn’t mean the team can’t improve. It doesn’t mean LeBron is automatically gone. As long as the Cavs have LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love (or whoever they end up trading Love for), they’re going to be really good, really fun to watch, and a serious Championship contender. It’s merely the uncertainty and the unnecessary drama of it all that is bothersome.

So I really just want to end this with one more ‘thank you’. Last week, I thanked the Cavaliers for an incredible season and a great ride. This morning, I want to thank Griff for the job he did with the Cavaliers. He will forever be The Architect, a title he doesn’t like out of humility but a title he deserves. He delivered the Cavaliers the players who won the franchise its first ever NBA Championship and for that he will always be something of an unlikely hero to all of us. So thank you Griff, and good luck on your next step wherever that may be.

  • Chris

    Hope is a powerful thing. It wins elections.

  • RGB

    Then fire Lue and hire Laimbeer. Nice.
    Bad Boys 2.0!

  • Harv

    we’d have the slimiest front office double talk since Carmen Policy toothy-grinned his way into town lo those 18 years ago.


    Snark noted; misspelling corrected. 🙂


    Gilbert is building his own city in downtown Detroit. Only stands to reason that he plans to turn the Cavs into the Pistons and then relocate them.

  • Steve

    The consummate pro.

    Besides, it’s not like he’s not going to find another job quickly. Might as well keep up with what other teams are looking to do.

  • Steve

    Gilbert also strung Griffin along long enough that all the other job openings got filled.

  • CBiscuit

    They sure can and did stop him (if said wheeling and dealing was taking place by him which again, I highly doubt). His contract was up at the end of the month. He was sent packing yesterday.

    In all of the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve seen lawyers ushered out of firm asap when it’s known they’re leaving because of the competition for business, the inside trade info, etc. Analogous here would be why allow your org to show your cards and give your latest intel to some insider you’re not going to have around?

    Frankly, I think he did a great job from what I could see and agree w Steve that he was a true pro–but if you’re going to do it…do it the day after the Finals so you can quickly regroup w your new team and make a run at trades pre draft and pre FA. Very odd.

  • nj0

    Difference being, the Celtics didn’t completely bottom out (and are actually winning) while doing it.

    Hinkie’s overall plan seems sound to me. What annoys me about him is how he veils proven strategies in technocratic, guru-esque new-speak and expects people to be impressed. Clearing cap space, acquiring future picks, improving your chances in the lottery… that’s nothing new.

    To me, Hinkie’s approach is ultimately myopic because it ignores that behind the numbers are human beings. So while having five losing seasons to possibly win one championship may make sense on paper, in reality it doesn’t work because people – owners, fans, players, the league – won’t endure that.

  • Harv

    to me it’s quite plausible Griff was negotiating under employment uncertainty, because his boss is volatile and because of how the NBA works. GMs often strike deals with each other contingent upon approval by respective owners, rather than pre-approval. It would be: would you guys consider an outline of a deal that looked like this? In this era’s NBA, with the Cavs now subject not only to the luxury tax but the “repeater” tax, every salary dollar carries enormous penalties that can be calculated and presented to the owner only after all players and salaries are identified.

    So you’re Griff and you don’t know yet which way the boss blows. Even if you have a bad feeling, this is one of the crucial GM weeks, especially for a championship contender. I’m going all out, to show I’m worth the salary and power I’m demanding. Or, like a player in a walk year, to audition for my future potential employers. If the other GM thinks I’m dead man walking, that not my biz, I can only do what I can do.

  • Steve

    Right, there’s nothing new about it, he just went to a further extreme than most are willing to put up with.

    I don’t know if I would call Hinkie myopic, instead those other people. The alternative for the Sixers wasn’t pretty. 30-40 wins and stuck on the treadmill at the bottom of the lottery is a bad place to be. The Sixers spent the previous 10 years maxing out at 43 wins and winning one playoff series only because Rose’s knee blew out, with their best player being Iguodala. I’d contend that part of the negative response to Hinkie’s three terrible W-L records comes from a highly agitated (and of course, these are Philly fans we are talking about anyway) fanbase. I would take three years of Hinkie to get the kind of young talent they have now, rather than deal with that.

  • CBiscuit

    He’s supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody ever believed he was real. Nobody ever knew him or saw anybody that ever worked directly for him.

    Nobody’s ever seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night.

  • CBiscuit

    Could be so. It is plausible indeed. But under this theory, Gilbert is incredibly disorganized, fly by the seat of his pants, and capricious…maybe not the kind of power hungry and volatile madman that could lead our country or anything–but still enough that would make me uneasy about him running the org. So no offense, I hope you’re wrong!

  • nj0

    Myopic in the sense that he wasn’t aware enough to realize his job was in jeopardy. A better GM would have been able to sacrifice just enough of the plan so he could remain employed while still achieving the end result of acquiring young talent.

    To offer an example of that, I’d point you no farther than the Browns. As complete of a tear down as last year was, the front office was smart enough to retain Joe Thomas. By the time we’ll be ready to compete, he’ll be older and (most likely) not worth what he’ll cost. So despite what the numbers say, Sashi was smart enough to realize that the fan ire created by trading him would greatly outweigh whatever we would have gotten in exchange.

  • Harv

    like, the kind of guy who would ferociously lash out at midnight in a comic sans attack letter that would make any player, GM or coach wonder whether it’s worth it. And induced one meh FA to refuse to play here even for triple his other offer. Here’s Gilbert’s positives over 13 years: he hired Griffin on his 3rd attempt to find a GM, he’s opened his wallet wide, he won the lottery the year Kyrie came out and he arranged the universe so that LeBron would be born in Akron (or maybe that was Stepien, I have to check the year).

  • JNeids
  • CBiscuit

    Yeah, I was being a little tongue in cheek about Gilbert…a little too subtle on my end. I know he’s the kind of capricious owner we all know him to be and it always makes us uneasy. Be that as it may, I think this parting of ways was done (or settled in his mind) a long time ago with the faint possibility they could win another ship and it would stay execution…and that it is plausible there was no plan B ever set in the interim. We’ll see what plan B they come up with on the spur…

  • Chris

    I just pictured the scene in Batman Begins where little Bruce is with his parents on the monorail/train thing, but minus the part where the father is an obsessive philanthropist.

  • jpftribe

    Yup. And time will tell if Gilbert didn’t agree, or thought he could do it himself.

  • Steve

    I would bet that he knew his job was in jeopardy, and simply had no interest in changing the plan, whether he didn’t care if he was fired or thought he could talk ownership into sticking to it.

    As far as the Browns, man do I disagree. They came about as close as possible to a zero win season. There was little about the season to enjoy, and many made that very clear. Having Joe Thomas instead of a first round pick in the future made a difference?

    But, as is typical with the Browns, fans seemed to operate almost solely at opposite ends of the spectrum. Many were all in on the plan. Taking on Osweiler’s contract for a second rounder was pretty much the highlight of the season. They would see a Thomas trade as similar.

  • Steve

    Robocop is the correct movie comparison for Gilbert/Detroit, and it even takes place in the right city.

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  • BenRM

    Yup. He was the only one. It also certainly had nothing to do with all of the politicians you elected who allowed and encouraged the situation.