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No player in NBA history has wielded as much power as LeBron James, so it’s usually a safe bet that the Cleveland Cavaliers do not act without taking his opinion into account. However, based on LeBron’s reaction to Monday’s decision not to renew the contract of general manager David Griffin, it seems as if he and owner Dan Gilbert are not on the same page. And that could spell big, big problems for Cleveland.
In this case, we did not have to rely on secondhand accounts and anonymously sourced reports for insight into LeBron’s state of mind. Those exist, but one James tweet made it quite clear that he isn’t happy to see Griffin go:
If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland! Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1????
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 20, 2017
That “If no one appreciated you Griff I did” opening speaks volumes. As noted by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and others, James lobbied for Griffin to receive an extension several times this season and has largely approved of the executive’s attempts to build a championship squad around him. These quotes from early April are about as strong as such statements get:
“It makes no sense why he shouldn’t get an extension,” James recently told ESPN. “He’s pulled every move — he’s tried to make every move happen — to better this team to be able to compete for a championship. So we wouldn’t be in this position, obviously, without him and without the guys that are here — from the coaching staff to the players to Griff. He’s been a big piece of it.” […]
“He went out, we needed some interior help, he went out and got Timo [Timofey Mozgov],” James told ESPN of the deal Griffin struck in January 2015. “We needed some perimeter defense, some perimeter shooting, he made a trade to be able to get Swish [J.R. Smith] and Shump [Shumpert]. And that was the start of it. We needed more interior depth, he got Perk [Kendrick Perkins]. We got guys. We brought guys in. We needed some more athletic wings, he made a move, I don’t know how he finagled it to get RJ [Jefferson] here. And so on and so on …
“I mean, all the guys that are here. We wanted a stretch-4 to help Kev out, we make a trade to get Channing [Frye]. I mean, I can name all the pieces that he’s been able to [acquire].”
Griffin also added sharpshooter Kyle Korver and waiver-wire reserve Deron Williams during the 2016-17 season to help shore up the Cavs’ depth. While those players did not excel in the NBA Finals, they aided the team’s sprint through the Eastern Conference Playoffs and constituted improvements on the alternatives. Meeting LeBron’s high standards is a very tough job for any general manager, and Griffin did his best to reach those levels. He usually did, and whichever team employs him next will get a fine executive.
It remains to be seen if this situation affects LeBron’s desire to remain in Cleveland. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on his podcast last week that James has considered a future move to Los Angeles, and unpopular moves like this one could push him closer to the door. On the other hand, it’s possible that James will quickly build a rapport with the next general manager — likely Chauncey Billups, according to Woj’s report — and decide he should stick with the Cavs until his retirement.
Regardless, the chances of LeBron leaving town for the second time seem greater than they did a few days ago. It’s usually not a good sign when a star player answers reports about his growing discontent by stoking the fire:
Dan Gilbert didn't consult with LeBron James prior to parting with David Griffin, sources said. James had advocated for Griffin extension
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 20, 2017
Source: LeBron is "disappointed" at Griffin's departure, as well as the timing, & "concerned" abt what this portends for Cavs going forward.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 20, 2017
Upsetting a player who’s represented the East in seven straight NBA Finals typically isn’t good business. There’s plenty of time for LeBron to feel better about things, but that process will have to start soon. At the very least, the next Cavs GM knows which player to call first.
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