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Three Readings on David Griffin’s Shock Exit From Cleveland

The Cavs GM is leaving at a crucial moment for the franchise

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Remember when we all freaked out because the Celtics were trading down and handing Markelle Fultz to the Sixers? That feels like 10 news cycles ago.

On a day when Jerry West was introduced as the newest member of the Clippers’ front office — and a day when the Cavs continued to be connected to Paul George in trade talks and Jimmy Butler became the most wanted man in the NBA — Cleveland punctuated it all by parting ways with GM David Griffin, whose contract was up at the end of this month.

Per The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the two sides just could not come to an agreement on a new deal and instead divorced after seven years together.

This league. This league. This freaking league.

Here are three ways to interpret the shocking news:

1. The Dan Gilbert Power Move

What Jesus was to the five loaves of bread and two fish, LeBron has been to Griffin’s payroll since James came back home to Cleveland. This year, the Cavs’ wage bill neared $130 million and it still wasn’t enough to beat the best team in the league. If Gilbert was trying to cut expenses while simultaneously attempting to improve his team, Griffin and his staff appear to be the scapegoats.

As Griffin and Co. worked the phones today, Gilbert decided he’d had enough and cleaned house, with Chauncey Billups rumored to replace him, not just as GM, but as president of basketball operations. Billups certainly has the clout to hold a front-office position, and it has been expected that he would move into a front office, sooner rather than later. But talk about a franchise to make your debut with. The pressure will be on immediately, on Billups and Gilbert. Since LeBron returned, Gilbert has been in the shadows, allowing Griffin to act as the face for management. By not offering him a new deal, and wanting to reportedly appoint his own guy, this may be Gilbert’s way of taking his team back. The question, as always is this: How does LeBron feel about that?

2. The LeBron Question Mark

Everything we know about the Cavs suggests that if LeBron James wanted David Griffin as GM right now, the Cavs would have retained him, and history says James wanted him to stay. After all, in April, he publicly backed Griffin. But Brian Windhorst reports that LeBron wasn’t consulted on the Griffin move.

What changed since April? Oh, right. They lost in the Finals. Maybe LeBron still wanted Griffin as of today, but Gilbert was more indifferent about Griffin’s value to the franchise. Besides, there’s history of LeBron demanding roster moves that could have complicated Griffin’s role in the organization.

LeBron’s future in Cleveland is unclear, and all of the Cavs’ moves are impossible to view through any other prism but that one. Only time will tell if this sudden organizational transition foreshadows the end of LeBron’s second tenure in Cleveland or if it merely was another intricate part of his larger scheme.

Update: According to Howard Beck, LeBron does not seem pleased with these developments.

3. The Finals Were the Breaking Point

Griffin traded for Kevin Love, had at least a minimal role in LeBron’s return, and built a team around him that was good enough to win an NBA championship. Because of LeBron’s larger-than-life shadow over the franchise, Griffin perhaps did not get the credit he deserved in most circles.

But the 2017 Finals made one thing abundantly clear: The Cavs simply weren’t deep enough to contend with the Warriors. Even with a starting lineup that was the best collection of talent outside of Oakland, Cleveland’s bench couldn’t provide a serviceable counterpart. LeBron played the best five-game stretch of his career in the Finals, and it wasn’t enough.

Just over a month ago, the Cavs looked to be flying high through the playoffs. Then they were stopped dead in their tracks by the Warriors, and now they look to be in disarray. They say winning cures everything, and the Cavs are showing us how losing can change everything.