CLEVELAND - When David Griffin first became the Cleveland Cavaliers permanent General Manager in May of 2014, I have to say initially I wasn't that impressed.
Griff seemed to be that guy that read too many motivational books by Pat Riley, or Rick Pitino. Some of his dynamite drop-ins that day included:
"This is not about being first, it's about getting it right."
"Fit extends to every decision we make."
"The bandwith of this organization is mind-numbing."
"I don't want us to chase any trend, I want us to get results."
There were a lot of those fortune cookie nuggets that day. Bruce Hooley and I used to have fun playing some of them back on our radio show on ESPN Cleveland back then.
But as the summer of 2014 progressed, something pretty special happened.
1. Kyrie Irving agreed to a long-term deal to remain with the Cavs, despite the turnover of coaches and GMs.
2. LeBron James sent out feelers that he wanted to come back to Cleveland. But in order to make it work, there had to be moves made to free up space. Griffin went to work: He dealt away Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to the Nets, Alonzo Gee to the Pelicans, Carrick Felix to Utah, Scotty Hopson to the Hornets, and Tyler Zeller to Boston.
3. But James also wanted assurances that there would be some reinforcements coming with him. Enter Kevin Love. It's easy to ask for such a move, but harder to bring into fruition. Griffin found a way to swing a three-team deal with the 76ers and Timberwolves to bring Love to the Cavaliers. The price was first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, along with former first overall pick Anthony Bennett.
Anyone can ask for such moves, it takes someone with talent to make it work.
Fast forward to January of 2015
The Cavaliers aren't gelling as fast as hoped. They need more reinforcements. It's apparent that Irving, James, and Dion Waiters cannot all co-exist.
Enter Griffin. Waiters goes to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert go to the Cavs and three players with nonguaranteed contracts -- Alex Kirk and Lou Amundson from the Cavs and Lance Thomas from the Thunder -- join the Knicks.
Griffin also turns one of the picks he acquired in the trade into a chip used to trade for Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov.
The Cavs start to find their legs within a month and are on their way to the first of three consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
And finally, a look back to January and February of 2017
The defending NBA Champion Cavaliers have lost to the New Orleans Pelicans and are 5-6 in the month of January.
J.R. Smith has sustained a fractured thumb and the Wine and Gold are suddenly shorthanded.
LeBron James, who has watched the rival Golden State Warriors add Kevin Durant in the offseason, is getting more and more frustrated. It boils over in the locker room in an expletive-filled postgame rant.
"We need a f---ing playmaker," James told the group of reporters. "I'm not saying you can just go find one like you can go outside and see trees. I didn't say that. I just hope that we're not satisfied as an organization," James said. "I just hope we're not satisfied."
(Dino Note: This was the first time for me that I thought that Griffin might not come back as we continued to hear about him being in the final year of his contract. )
Griffin had just acquired Kyle Korver. But when the King calls you out, you have to find a way to respond. The Cavs GM turned around and got Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, and Andrew Bogut to help fill out the roster. You can criticize how they played at the end, but you cannot argue that Griff did as well as anyone could expect given what little resources he had.
I bring all of this up as the Cavaliers face a future without the architect of the 2016 NBA Championship.
It's not as easy as it looks, folks.
I don't know what all went into the mutual decision for Griffin to depart. If the Cavaliers rejected other teams' requests for interviews, then there had to be at least some interest on the part of team owner Dan Gilbert to bring Griff back.
I have a feeling a lot has to do with the Cavaliers' intent on going after the Paul Georges or Jimmy Butlers of the world.
I don't think Griffin was keen on trading away Kevin Love, which is likely a starting point for any of the rumored big deals to have any chance of succeeding.
I'm not sure Griffin was eager to deal with a year of the soap opera known as: LeBron James, Staying or Going?
I don't think Griffin was looking forward to another January of being called out by James to improve the team. It didn't go down well when it happened earlier this year. "The comment about the organization being complacent I think is really misguided," Griffin said of LeBron calling him out. "Organizationally there is absolutely no lack of clarity on what our goal is. We are here to win championships and there is no other solution."
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 20, 2017 ">ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
"Dan (Gilbert) and I know now that we are a team built largely on the concept of fit. We are now at a point where the fit is not right for us to continue w/ one another."
No matter the reason, one thing is clear about Griffin: He should go down as one of, if not the finest General Managers in the history of Cleveland sports. Ahead of John Hart, Ernie Accorsi, Chris Antonetti, Wayne Embry, Hank Peters, Danny Ferry, Mark Shapiro, and the endless cycle of people that have gone through 76 Lou Groza Blvd. since 1999. Trailing perhaps only Paul Brown.
Not a bad legacy to put in the fortune cookie.
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