A lot of people deserve credit for the turnaround the Cleveland Cavaliers organization has seen in the last 365 days.
Some people will say first and foremost that none of this happens without LeBron James making the decision choice to come back to Cleveland. He’s in the MVP conversation and the only thing that will probably hold him back from winning it is the first two months of the season. Since January 15, you’ll be hard pressed to find a player who has performed better.
Of course, it also helps that LeBron – as well as Kyrie Irving and others – had some new toys to play with once he came back from his two-week hiatus. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov will also get a varying amount of credit for sparking the Cavs.
Owner Dan Gilbert might also receive praise for his work this offseason, making amends with LeBron. He was also the driving force behind David Blatt being hired in Cleveland. Gilbert is also opening up his pocketbook to pay two coaches at the same time after firing Mike Brown with four years still left on his contract.
Then you have Kyrie, who’s taken the big step we all wished for. He single-handedly beat two powerhouse Western Conference teams in the Portland Trail Blazers and defending champion San Antonio Spurs. He’s also shooting the best he ever has from deep and at the rim.
And some people will even say David Blatt deserves the most credit of all, being able to make these players buy in. It may not have happened as soon as we all wanted it to, but these guys are clicking at the right time of the season. Lol, who am I kidding #FireBlatt
I’m not here to say who deserves more or less credit or that so-and-so doesn’t deserve any credit. When it comes to a conversation like this, variance is a must have. But I’ll be damned if first-year General Manager David Griffin doesn’t get his just dues.
In case you forgot or were understandably hiding from Cavaliers action, Griff took over as interim GM the night after the weirdest/worst game since my fandom started in 2002. After the Cavs were beaten by a four-man Lakers squad, Chris Grant was fired the next day.
The loss was just the tipping point for Grant. He made controversial and questionable picks such as Tristan Thompson (at the time), Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and Carrick Felix. He was also responsible for signing free agent busts Jarrett Jack (4 years, $25.2 million!!), Andrew Bynum, and Earl Clark – all in one offseason.
In his first trade deadline, in a surprising move, Griffin dealt for 76ers big man Spencer Hawes, sending Philly Clark and Henry Sims along with draft picks. Hawes became the Cavs’ best 3-point shooter at 44.8%. Though I was disappointed he wasn’t re-signed in the offseason, he’s now having arguably the worst season of his career.
Griffin went on to draft Andrew Wiggins and made the contentious decision to include him in a deal that brought in Kevin Love. And even though I didn’t have enough foresight to see the big picture, Griff did. And now, finally, so do I.
Griff and the Cavs were all in.
But the season started out rougher than expected. Some had anticipated a somewhat slow start for the Cavs, after all, this was a severely face lifted team from just a season ago. But not like this. Not a 19-20 start.
Before the Cavs went on a six-game losing streak, one without LeBron James at their service, Griffin decided to speak out publicly against the rumors about David Blatt’s job being in jeopardy. He also preached patience.
David Griffin: "I'm disappointed that the slant has been so negative." Says that Cavs expected this to be "a work in progress,"
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 4, 2015
LeBron wasn’t healthy and the Cavs weren’t complete. Griff knew this, we didn’t.
The very next day, the Cavs dealt Dion Waiters for Smith, Shumpert, and a pick in a three-team deal.
Two days later the Griff worked some more magic and traded two first rounders to Denver for Mozgov. This was viewed by many as an overpay by the Cavs, but Griff had a plan and executed it. He saw both trades as one big deal, only having to give up Waiters, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and a first round pick for their three new players.
And it just so happens that the New Big 3 and the Cavs roster go together like Kevin Love and dreamy faces.
Shumpert has brought perimeter defense the Cavs needed but didn’t have, along with occasional floor spacing. Smith has brought exceptional floor spacing with more offensive ability and surprisingly good defense and effort. Mozgov, perhaps the most important of the acquisitions, filled a depleted center position that got even worse with the season-ending Achilles injury to Anderson Varejao.
And, most importantly…
A Varejao torn Achilles that led to a Dion trade would be the biggest kick to my nuts.
— Dan Armelli (@dano708) December 24, 2014
J.R. and Timo have filled an emotional role that I desperately needed because my fandom for certain players is usually very inexplicable.
Griff was able to get guys that both fit with the team and provide entertainment. And while that might just be a coincidence, I’m not sold that Griffin didn’t do his due diligence on their characters. Of course, he was really taking a chance on J.R. Smith. But the odds of him acting out on a championship contending team has gone down significantly. Instead of him untying opponents’ shoelaces during free throws, he’s doing cartwheels during post-game interviews.
This is just the type of team David Griffin talked about when he was named interim GM. Some laughed at the time, but a few days after Griffin was named acting GM, he said:
“I want to see us smile more,” he said. “I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes. I want guys to accept making one and then move on.”
Some dude most of us never even heard of talking about smiling more – he was now making the day-to-day decisions for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a professional basketball team.
But that’s just the kind of guy David Griffin is. He has a positive attitude and serendipity or not, this Cavs team has reflected it since January 15.
Some will say that he just fell into a great situation, which is partly true. Chris Grant did do a great job of acquiring assets (picks) to provide maneuverability. It wasn’t any skill of Griffin’s that helped the Cavs win the lottery and consequently get Love to Cleveland. He also wasn’t responsible for luring LeBron James coming back to the Cavs.
But he still had to pull the trigger on trading the number one pick in Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota. And if you think that’s no big deal, then you weren’t around for the hundreds of daily Twitter threads constantly debating whether the trade should’ve happened or not.
Griff also made a few deals that I think fly under the radar. Griffin may not have been a deciding factor that helped bring LeBron back, but he created the necessary cap space to sign him onto a max deal. He also created his own flexibility for moves in the future.
First, Griffin was able to convince a team to take on Jarrett Jack’s behemoth of a contract. He, along with Sergey Karasev, were sent to Brooklyn, while Tyler Zeller and a first round pick were shipped to Boston. In return, the Cavs got a heavily protected pick from Boston that they will likely never see. Oh, and enough cap space to sign LeBron.
Griffin also dealt Carrick Felix (who is not currently in the NBA) and a second round pick to Utah for the unguaranteed contracts of John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, and Malcolm Thomas. These three players were then traded with Cavs 2015 second round pick Dwight Powell and two second round picks to Boston for Keith Bogans and two more heavily protected second round picks.
Bogans and a second round pick were then traded to Philadelphia for another protected second round selection. Trading Bogans gave the Cavs a ~$5.3 million trade exception, which was used to bring in… Timofey Mozgov.
These moves that Griffin initiated in the offseason enabled the Cavs to acquire the players that have made them look like one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
So if you think he’s been able to make this Cave team that we see before us just because of the cushion of picks that was leftover from Chris Grant, you are sorely mistaken.
David Griffin is enormously responsible for bringing together one of the more fun-inducing and talented teams we may ever see in Cleveland. And I thank him for that.
This is a man who has beaten cancer, twice. Not only has David Griffin put together what seems to be a perfectly fitting team, he did so in a manner that should be commended. He comes off as a leader in every sense of the word. He’s honest, knowledgeable, and just seems to love the game of basketball. He deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done so far and faith in what’s to come in the future.