A Positive Spin On A Dizzying Week For the Cavs

In case you stepped away from sports news for the last few hours, Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin is gone, likely replaced by Chauncey Billups and perhaps Justin Zanik. LeBron James is reportedly not happy with the move and tweeted his support for Griffin. The Cavaliers are may be trading for Paul George or Jimmy Butler, and Butler may be requesting such a trade. The flip side is that if LeBron James were to leave after next season, Kyrie Irving may push to be traded as well.

So, where does that leave the Cavs?

Obviously, any time you lose a general manager that constructed a championship roster, it feels like a loss. David Griffin was spectacular not only at his job, but behind the scenes, as well. He’s a known commodity, has done an ton for the organization in the way of being an advocate for different departments within the building, and it’s never good to venture into the unknown when you have someone like Griffin within your reach.

The loss of Griffin coupled with the swirling trade rumors likely spells the end for Kevin Love’s Cleveland tenure. He would have to be included in any deal that will return a star and Brian Windhorst has already reported the Phoenix Suns may be willing to part with the fourth pick in a trade for Love. Love’s stint in Cleveland has been rocky, but he put together a fabulous season and was part of one of the most remarkable moments (The Stop) and images (embracing LeBron as time expired) during last year’s decisive Game 7.

Reports of meddling by owner Dan Gilbert bring to the surface memories of issues that have plagued the franchise prior to LeBron’s return. Gilbert seems reluctant to forfeit total authority over basketball decisions and it likely just cost him (and us) one of the better general managers in the NBA.

But all is not lost.

The Cavaliers still have an opportunity to add an elite talent. Love is spectacular, but if moving him nets the Cavaliers Jimmy Butler, that is an upgrade. Butler is an elite defensive player who has the size to guard multiple positions. If the Cavaliers are gearing completely for a match-up against the Golden State Warriors, Butler is undoubtedly a better option. Beyond his defensive prowess, he is an elite scorer and would provide the Cavaliers with another ball handler to help ease the time LeBron is not on the court. While on the same level of shooting as Love, he hit catch-and-shoot threes at a similar rate last year and was over 50 percent from the corners. There would likely be an adjustment period, but not one they couldn’t overcome. He also has two years left on his contract and is close with Cavalier star Irving. Even in a worst-case scenario of LeBron leaving after next season, Butler being on the roster would be a major reason for Irving to want to remain with the franchise.

The other trade target is Paul George. George fits better on both ends of the court. He has the ability to play power forward on defense and the size to give Kevin Durant fits. On offense he is a better shooter and knows how to work off the ball. The downside is he has only one year left on his contract and has reportedly told teams he plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers after next season.

In terms of the front office, the initial response to Chauncey Billups was that he lacks the sort of experience to manage a roster that is as strapped for assets but high in expectations as the Cavaliers’. Reading further into the reports, however, shows signs of optimism. Billups’ role would reportedly be as President of Basketball Operations, with a more seasoned general manger there to help the process.1

In this scenario, Billups would hire a general manager with the day-to-day front office experience that he doesn’t have on his résumé, league sources said.

While Billups doesn’t have experience calling shots, he does have the reputation and relationships that could help him succeed in a role that wasn’t bogged down in the day-to-day transactions. If his role was to set the culture and be the go-to guy for all basketball related issues, he would be more likely to succeed. He also has the name recognition to help keep owner Dan Gilbert at bay when he attempts to meddle in basketball decisions. We laugh at Gilbert’s penchant for former Pistons, but that may give Billups the sort of authority over Gilbert to keep him at bay. Billups is also friendly with head coach Ty Lue as well as LeBron, likely helping to smooth over any hard feelings over a Griffin departure as well as ensure the entire basketball operation would be on the same page. We know LeBron’s love for former players and an established relationship with Billups can only help the Cavaliers navigate what will be a difficult final season of James’ contract.

If reports connecting former Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik to the Cavaliers’ job are true, he would provide the experience that Billups lacks. Zanik was a favorite to become the general manager of the Bucks before their search turned messy due to internal politics.

Zanik spent more than two years with the Jazz before moving to the Bucks last year. He is well respected around the league and has more than a decade’s worth of experience in contract negotiation.

This isn’t to say that moving on from Griffin and creating turmoil during the busiest period of the offseason was a good thing. Far from it. Most Cavaliers fans would prefer a deal had been worked out and Griffin had remained. But when dealing with temperamental owners like Gilbert, coming out of this type of situation with an established structure staffed by respected if not qualified candidates is as close to a win as you can hope.

  1. Ed. Note: This makes the entire compensation question a head-scratcher. If Dan wasn’t willing to pay Griff, why is he willing to may multiple people do to his job? []