There might not be a player in all of professional sports that has the level of influence over an organization the way LeBron James does. Ever since he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014, James has had his fingerprints over the majority of the moves the franchise has made. The man responsible for executing the moves that built a championship contender has been general manager David Griffin. While James has manipulated the franchise to ensure that his Klutch Sports mafia (JR Smith and Tristian Thompson) received lucrative deals, it was Griffin who has filled in the cracks with veteran players to fit around LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Griffin performed salary cap magic in order to work around the bloated salaries of Thompson and Smith, both of whom were paid above market value because of their relationship with James. It was truly remarkable what Griffin accomplished in his three years as GM, completely overhauling a roster while building Cleveland’s first championship team in franchise history. Yesterday the news broke that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert would not renew the contract of David Griffin and that they would pursue a new GM.
This move has ripple effects beyond Northeast Ohio. James came out publicly in April advocating for Griffin to be re-signed. Being the GM for a LeBron James team is not a simple task, there is pressure both internally and externally to always be going for a title. The fact that Gilbert did not renew Griffin’s contract is a bizarre move from an owner who has had public conflict with his best player. LeBron has been on the record about how Gilbert’s Comic Sans written outburst hurt both him and his family when he left Cleveland the first time. Even after winning a title, the relationship between Gilbert and James has been tenuous at best. With his free agency looming in the summer of 2018 and the highly regarded Jerry West taking a job in Los Angeles rumors of a potential James departure have been circulating. While these are just whispers during an NBA dead period, Gilbert’s refusal to retain the GM that James had a strong relationship with will certainly not be forgotten.
In the more immediate future, the GM that replaces Griffin will have massive shoes to fill. The NBA has become an arms race to try and knock off the Golden State Warriors, and the Cavs proved earlier this month that as presently constructed they cannot do that. Whoever steps in as Griffin’s replacement will need to find the right moves to help create a roster that can potentially unseat the Dubs, while not completely compromising the future. All of this needs to be accomplished without giving ground to up and coming teams like Milwaukee, Washington, and Boston, all of whom have young stars entering their prime. The Bucks are in prime position to take control of the post-LeBron Eastern Conference, with a young core built around a Greek superhero. With the exit of David Griffin, the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference could change dramatically by this time next year.