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As far as David Griffin is concerned, the so-called “repairing” of the relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was not necessary.
Griffin, the former general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, said his former superstars in Cleveland were never really at odds in the first place.
“For me, what I publicly perceive that relationship is viewed as is what I always viewed it as to begin with. I never looked at their relationship as being strained. We had a natural collision of things,” Griffin told Dime Magazine. “We had probably the greatest player of his generation in LeBron James, who was going to be the most ball-dominant, most efficient dictator of outcomes on the floor in Finals, and he’s always going to be that.
“And then we had a 23-year-old Kyrie Irving, who had already made the most important shot in franchise history, who knew he was capable of more and who wanted the opportunity to do more in terms of leading a franchise. It didn’t have anything to do with ‘wanting his own team.’”
Griffin does not believe Irving wanted out of Cleveland to escape the gargantuan shadow cast by James, regarded as the best active player on the planet by many.
“At the time (Irving) made it clear that he might be happier elsewhere, I think he was at a point where he was just looking for a platform to see how good he could really be and he was not going to get that on a team that had LeBron James, because if your goal is to win a championship, any coach in the world is going to put the ball in LeBron’s hands because he’s the most efficient, ball-dominant play-creator in Finals history,” Griffin said. “So he’s going to have the ball, and that’s problematic if the way you’re going to grow and evolve is to prove that you’re capable of making people better at a similar rate. It was natural that eventually they’re going to need different platforms. I think from a human perspective, what people now perceive to be a thawing of their relationship is where they always were. It’s just that their basketball realizations were different.”
Griffin reflected on his time during trade deadlines during his tenure in Cleveland and the stress that came with it.
“It is when the only thing that’s going to mark success is winning a championship, because your margin for error is much smaller. A lot of people can go into the trade deadline really fixated on, ‘I’m only going to make a deal if it’s a great deal and it makes me look good,'” he said. “We (in Cleveland) didn’t have that luxury. We went into the trade deadline needing to get better, and I think you saw there were teams in the league that recognized they needed to get better.
“It’s why I had so much appreciation for — whether you like that individual deals or not — I had a great appreciation for what Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, what they did at the deadline. They declared a side, and then went all in to a huge degree. When you do that, yes, you have a radically more stressful trade deadline.”
Even though his departure from Cleveland stemmed from an inability of him and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to agree on a contract extension, Griffin praised Gilbert’s willingness to do whatever it took to be successful, which climaxed with the Cavaliers winning Cleveland’s first championship in 52 years via winning the NBA title in 2016.
“We were really blessed in Cleveland, because Dan Gilbert will spend whatever it takes to win. We were able to build an incredibly deep, very good staff,” he said. “Most of those people are still there, and the quality of decisions you make as a franchise has everything to do with the quality of information you’re getting and the strategies that you’re employing.
“Dan supported that process with incredible financial resources and was a big part of the decision making process that led to that infrastructure as well. I think we were blessed to be in a situation where we knew we would be brokering in better information than most at the trade deadline.”
While the common belief is today’s NBA players making their preferences regarding where they play public, as with the case with Irving, Jimmy Butler and most recently, Anthony Davis, Griffin doesn’t see that perception as fair.
“I think this perception that players are more vocal now or more willing to share their opinion is probably not entirely fair, but I think it comes from a confluence of different events that have transpired in the last few years,” Griffin said. “The most recent CBA changes were really designed to help small markets teams keep stars, but the unintended consequences of that is it sort puts an alarm clock on. It says, ‘Hey, look, you’re going to take the super max at this point and if you don’t want it from the team you’re going to get it from, you need to burn their house down.’ And I think that’s what agents have, that’s what they’re applying to the super-max and what it was intended to do.”
However, as always, the bottom line figures in most if not all decisions.
“Unfortunately, now the money around the game is so great, guys that are signature shoe guys, by way of example, make so much money off the court, the money that you can give them in a super-max contract isn’t enough to mitigate the money they can make off the court,” he said. “Whereas the original consequence that was intended was, you’re more likely to keep a star home, I think what you’ve seen is the star recognizes, ‘I don’t want to be forced to stay here, I want to make my own decision.’ Their reaction is to do what you’ve seen done.”
Griffin, a regular contributor on NBA TV, recently played a part in helping to judge which one of four contestants put through the rigors of GM duties to see if they have what it takes to head an NBA franchise for a show called, “GM School,” which debuted Tuesday night.
He said the angst that comes with being an NBA GM at the trade deadline came to be enjoyable for him.
“I think I, over time, got more comfortable in my lack of comfort, which takes time,” Griffin said. “By the end, the trade deadline was a really enjoyable process. In the beginning, when you’ve absolutely got to get better, it’s pretty stressful.”
Griffin’s name has come up with the recent firing of Dell Demps by the New Orleans Pelicans. Has he gotten the itch to return to the fore in terms of heading an NBA franchise?
“It’s fascinating actually. Projects like ‘GM School’ and NBA TV that I’ve been able to do have made it possible for me to be more selective, and it’s also been eye-opening for me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot being removed from the day to day of a team that I really believe will make me better if I ever go back.
“I’m sure there is a situation that would speak to me, an ownership group that I could be in lockstep with and a head coach that could deliver the vision that we have. I think if you can be in a situation where you build a family that loves each other enough to tell each other what they need to hear, if you can be empowered to do that and be part of that with ownership, it’s an exciting situation.
“I think there’s fewer and fewer of those, so it’s a blessing to be able to be removed from it and really pick and choose your spot.”