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.