Imagine sitting on a dais with roughly 100 pairs of eyeballs staring back. Cameras are streaming your introductory press conference live across the country as questions are being fired your way from every spot in the room. You’re in your mid-30s. Everything you had done was behind the scenes, now your every move is the subject of a headline. And the most interesting wrinkle of them all: The man to your left not only fired two of your best friends a month earlier, but he attempted to replace them—and potentially you—as you sat in on the interviews having no idea what your future would hold.1 Now he’s telling the world how excited he is to have promoted you. In fact, he says it’s the most proud he’s ever been about such a move, which, if true, doubles as a compliment and a backhanded dig to the recently replaced friend.
That man, prior to introducing you, went one by one, introducing four other men in a clear effort to make fans and media alike believe that the shepherding of a franchise is far from a one-man job. While the previous general manager was held in high regard throughout the organization, there were others who were responsible for managing the salary cap and collective bargaining agreement—”savant” is used to describe one specific man—while a host of folks scouted at both the professional and amateur level, all who are still with the team. While true, it serves to diminish the very role you’re taking on.
Koby Altman’s introductory press conference was one no general manager should have to endure. Altman is young and sharp, mixing intelligence with the rare ability to navigate the cultural terrain of the NBA. He’s been a part of a winning organization. Team owner Dan Gilbert, though courting a man with no experience just weeks earlier, referenced Altman’s education as having been from one of those super elite, smaller, east coast schools that only a fraction of folks have even heard of and even fewer can get in. Introducing a new general manager to a city is something regularly done by franchises in limbo—Browns fans should know this all too well. The sword-falling nature of professional sports dictates that failures lead to bloodshed, and as ownership doesn’t fire itself, front offices are next in line. Successful teams rarely exhibit turnover as only broken clocks get taken to the shop, yet here are the Cavaliers, Eastern Conference representatives in the NBA Finals for the last three years, champions of the entire league one summer earlier, left scrambling in attempt to make the rest of the world think that, despite reports to the contrary, all is well.
While they wouldn’t be visible on the actual broadcast, it became clear throughout the press conference that the two men were about to put on a tap dancing display that would have impressed Danny Kay, dodging every re-worded question surrounding Irving and the All-Star point guard’s “fluid” future with the franchise.2 Gilbert, when pressed on his inability to retain general managers, acted surprised that he has yet to successfully negotiate an extension with a general manager, instead leveraging a diatribe that extended several minutes, referencing the evolving landscape of careers in general. “You look at the resume of a talented person and they tend to not be in the same place,” Gilbert said. “Industries change, things change, and it’s part of the overview of why some of these things happen.” And at one point, a long and thoughtful question regarding the dysfunction and what could be said to make others believe it were in fact not true, Gilbert replied with “So, how are your summers?”
— Cavaliers GM, Koby Altman
“We’ve had a very active offseason, one I wish more of you would talk about,” Altman would say. “We think we’ve gotten better, we’ve added talented players, and we’re certainly more hungry.”
If there is any good news to be had, it rests in the fact that Gilbert has a long history not getting what he wants yet somehow succeeding. In 2010, it was the summer-long quest for the team to land Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, only to hire Byron Scott. When Chris Grant was fired in 2014, David Griffin was given an interim title and would have to interview for the general manager position while Gilbert was reportedly tossing Godfather-like offers at Kentucky’s John Calipari. Scott would give way to one year with Mike Brown before the team was able to ink the duo of David Blatt and Tyronn Lue. Calipari would opt to stay in Lexington, which allowed Griffin to construct a roster that would ultimately win a championship for the city of Cleveland. In Altman, the Cavaliers may not have had the owner’s top target, but they have a man who has been with the organization for six years and can provide a modicum of continuity for a team where perception is that of complete absence.
It’s easy to see this situation and picture the meme-ready cartoon of the hat-wearing dog sitting at the kitchen table with his coffee, surrounded by a room full of flames, murmering to himself “this is fine.” Whether it is rumors surrounding James’ impending free agency or news surrounding the potential trade of Irving, the entire press conference had an aura of two men completely at ease with the events which were unfolding before them. But just as it has happened in the past, be it intentional or not, there’s a chance that Altman can be the one to douse the flames. What he does between his introduction and the end of the 2017-18 season will be the driving force behind his future as an executive in the NBA. Though his best friends are no longer at his side, they did help pave the way for his next chapter.
Much like Griffin’s first summer at the helm where he had to negotiate with Irving, quickly clear enough cap space to land LeBron James, and then execute the trade to bring in Kevin Love, Altman will have to hit the ground running. Ditching the tap shoes will be the first step in gaining some much-needed traction.
- Argue as you wish about the use of “firing” here as you sip semantics tea. [↩]
- “Fluid.” Drink! [↩]
- In this instance, it’s LeBron James’ lack of recruting this offseason. According to Gilbert and Altman, James was insturmental in the signings of Derrick Rose and Jeff Green. [↩]
- It’s worth noting here, had Altman reached out to WFNY, we would have gladly shared such news. [↩]