Running a team around LeBron James isn’t as fun as one might think, at least in former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin’s experience.
Griffin, the New Orleans Pelicans’ new vice president of basketball operations, told Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer he was “miserable” trying to build around the superstar and knew he would leave after the Cavs won the 2016 title.
Pressure mounted on Griffin in Cleveland
Griffin was promoted to general manager in February 2014 and that summer James decided to rejoin the Cavs to bring a title home. The GM at first celebrated, then broke down thinking of burden.
The pressures of annually supplementing LeBron James with a contending roster mounted endlessly. “Everything we did was so inorganic and unsustainable and, frankly, not fun. I was miserable,” Griffin says. “Literally the moment we won the championship I knew I was gonna leave. There was no way I was gonna stay for any amount of money.”
James was also under year-to-year contracts and Griffin said the teams “won despite our culture to a huge degree.” He told SI he wanted to do things differently and realized if you prioritize the destination despite everything “that might be the only time you get there.” The feature was about his renewed optimism and drive building the Pelicans.
The Cavs reached the NBA Finals four consecutive seasons beginning in 2014-15, all against the Golden State Warriors. After coming back from a 3-1 final series deficit, the city got its first championship in 2015-16.
Griffin “privately wept in an Oakland broom closet,” Fischer writes, while the team partied.
“I didn’t watch the league, and I didn’t love the game anymore. I was so fixated on outcome that I just totally lost my joy.”
Griffin took time off from basketball operations and did NBA TV appearances. He accepted the job with the Pelicans in April.
Griffin describes difficulties in working with LeBron
Griffin recognized two key aspects of a team led by James. He was the uncontested star of the Cavs, as he is again with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his signing was dubbed the return of the king. The first thing is, anything good will be attributed to him and anything bad likely won’t. Via SI:
“The reason [it’s overwhelming] is LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame. And that’s not fun for people,” Griffin says. “They don’t like being part of that world.”
The second is that there are dilemmas specific to leading a superstar to his coveted title. Much has been made of how much say James has in choosing his coach and how much say the coach has in doing his job. Griffin said James approved of him in part because they had dialogue.
“You’ve got to be willing to have very difficult conversations with LeBron,” Griffin says. “I always was, which is why we had a great relationship, because I would tell him what he needed to hear and he respected that I was telling him that for the right reasons.”
Griffin told SI he doesn’t think James is “the same animal anymore about winning” and that there’s not much else for him to accomplish.
Many believe James signed with the Lakers to further his entertainment businesses and Hollywood career. He’s currently filming the anticipated “Space Jam 2” and has other film ventures in the works.
Then there’s his statement from 2017 that he wants to play in the NBA with his son, LeBron James Jr. (aka Bronny) will turn 15 in October and the scouting reports are mixed. His dunk sealed his team’s Big Time Hoops tournament title over the weekend and James took the heat for being, well, a little Lavar Ball-esque.
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