Few people know the Cavaliers as well as former general manager David Griffin – which is why he’s the perfect person to weigh in on Cleveland’s roller-coaster season. In just four months, the Cavs went from winning 18 of 19 to being completely broken to being, once again, the cream of the Eastern Conference crop.
In hindsight, who was responsible for the Cavaliers’ erosion of culture: LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Tyronn Lue, or Dan Gilbert?
“None of the above,” Griffin said on Tiki and Tierney. “I think it’s just fit. I think it was fit of the pieces. Locker rooms are like living, breathing life forces. When something’s off, you know it. You don’t always know what it is. You don’t always know what piece it is. But I think every piece that they were able to get out of the locker room – with the probable exception of Channing Frye – was probably not being terribly accretive to the group. So it worked in their favor, getting rid of pieces that were negative. But I don’t think it’s any one thing. . . . I think the one thing that’s difficult about playing with LeBron is the expectation is you’re going to win a championship and that you’re supposed to do that every year. Some people are better-equipped to deal with the pressure of that and scrutiny that comes with that than others.”
The Cavs dealt six players before the deadline and acquired Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Early results were favorable, as Cleveland beat Boston, 121-99, on Sunday.
“I certainly think they saved a season potentially by doing what they did,” Griffin said. “At the time they did that, they were really spiritually fouled at that point – and I think it was really obvious. I think they should get a lot of credit for how they handled it.”
Hood, especially, is exactly what the Cavs needed.
“I look at the Rodney Hood piece as one that’s really got a chance to be special for them because of his size, the skill, his defensive-mindedness, the fact that he has upside off the dribble – he can escape dribble either way and hit a pull-up, but he can also catch and shoot and he can guard multiple positions,” Griffin said. “To the point about (Koby Almtman) being in NBA gyms all the time, he knew these guys at a really, really deep level. These trades were made with intimate knowledge of who the players are, but more importantly who they’re going to be in the locker room and their fit. So as a Cavs fan, which I’m always going to be, I’m pretty excited about what this team could potentially accomplish.”
Griffin, of course, spent several seasons in Cleveland. He was named vice president of basketball operations in 2010 and general manager in 2014. Under his leadership, the Cavs won their first NBA title in franchise title in 2016.
“We tried to treat it as though we were raising a family,” Griffin said of his philosophy in Cleveland. “We shared quite a bit with everybody in the family. We wouldn’t talk to guys about who was going out, but if we were ever going to bring anybody in, we certainly talked to LeBron, we talked to Kevin, we talked to Kyrie. More importantly, we got great information from Mike Miller and James Jones. Really, we were raising a family. So yes, we absolutely shared things with LeBron. I’ve termed it a partnership, and it absolutely was. The guy’s a basketball savant. So if you’re not asking maybe the smartest player in the league what he sees, then you’re probably not really doing your job. . . . I promise you there’s no way the deals that got done get done if (Altman) is not cognizant of the fact that LeBron will be well-receiving of those. I think he was the perfect person for this job at the time and the perfect fit for Dan at the time. I just couldn’t be prouder of what he’s accomplished to this point.”
Griffin also discussed the seemingly fractured relationship between James and Gilbert.
“I think it’s really interesting that LeBron continued to do only one-year contracts,” Griffin said. “It made it very difficult for Dan and for the organization to build in a sustainable way because you always felt like you had to win this championship. Dan and his partners, they had a saying in their business, which was, ‘Nothing clarifies like clarity.’ We were crystal clear on our mission: win this championship. So I think where the relationship gets fractured is because LeBron was on year-to-year (deals), it made it very difficult for Dan to feel like the money he was spending – which was unprecedented and remains unprecedented – that that money was being appreciated. (Dan thought), ‘If I’m going to do this, at least tell me you’re going to be here.’ I think that created a natural tension because of that.”
While Cavs fans hope James remains in Cleveland beyond this season, that is yet to be determined. If he does leave, though, Griffin believes the city will handle it well, relatively speaking.
“I think to a huge degree he’s earned the right to do what he wants to do, even within Northeast Ohio – and it’s because he’s done so much for Northeast Ohio,” Griffin said. “There are literally thousands of kids in Akron who are going to get the opportunity to go to college because of what his foundation has done. The things that he’s done for the city in terms of the economic reality that comes from his presence and being on national TV all the time and having everyone come and flock downtown, we have more hotels and more restaurants in more density of all types because he came back. So if he makes the decision to leave and go somewhere else, I think the city will be much less up in arms than they were the first time around.”