Yesterday, just before the Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off against the Milwaukee Bucks, the team made an announcement which many saw as just a formality. Cleveland made public its signing of point guard Deron Williams, despite the fact reports confirmed it was coming this past Saturday.
On the surface, picking up Williams definitely feels like a move which would’ve made far more impact six or seven years ago. The three-time All-Star isn’t exactly the same player he once was, and was only made available when the Dallas Mavericks decided to buy him out.
However, to grade this move based solely on who Williams is now compared to what he once was doesn’t do it justice. When you consider how he fits with Cleveland, the need he fulfills, it changes everything about this signing.
In doing this, you don’t see the Williams signing as underwhelming. You instead view it as yet another impressive move made this year by Cavs GM David Griffin. Tasked with continuously improving the roster of the defending champs, and doing so this season with incredibly little to work with, Griffin has still been able to make the right moves for Cleveland.
By now everyone knows the trades Griffin has made over the past couple seasons and how they’ve positively impacted the team. Snagging J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for Dion Waiters and a couple role players in 2015, swapping Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye last season. Both of these deals went a long way towards getting the Cavs their first NBA Championship in franchise history last year.
Coming into this season, though, Griffin’s task of improving the team was made far more difficult. For one, the rival Golden State Warriors altered the landscape of the league by signing Kevin Durant in the offseason. The Warriors once again became heavy favorites, and the pressure increased for Cleveland to counter such a huge signing.
Making things tougher on Griffin was LeBron James’ public and animated call-out for more help during the Cavs’ subpar month of January, a demand made difficult for Griffin to fulfill thanks to the fact he had very little to offer in terms of putting a trade together. Outside of Shumpert, unappealing draft picks and some bottom-of-the-rotation players, the cupboard was bare.
Keep this in mind when you consider everything Griffin has done to this roster since the beginning of the season.
His most recent move, Williams, fixes Cleveland’s most glaring issue – getting a capable backup point guard for Kyrie Irving. Instead of just going after the first available name or settling for scraps, Griffin signed a point guard who can lead the reserves, effectively run an offense and create opportunities for both his teammates and himself. He was able to make this signing for just the veteran’s minimum of $900,000.
This of course comes after Griffin’s pickup of forward Derrick Williams, the 2011 No.2 overall pick who had been failing to meet the expectations many had for his career.
Signing him to a ten-day contract hardly moved the needle for Cavs fans at the time. Since joining the team, however, Williams has played an important role in coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation. In seven games, he’s averaging just over ten points per game and is providing the kind of front court depth the team has badly needed all year. Though only on his second ten-day deal, Williams’ play has convinced many, even James, that he needs to stick around for the rest of the season.
These two midseason free agent pickups also take attention away from Griffin’s best move of the year – trading Mike Dunleavy and Mo Williams’ contract for sharpshooter Kyle Korver. The former Atlanta Hawk has almost single-handedly lifted a bench unit which struggled to contribute more often than not before he arrived.
So, while no blockbuster move was made at the trade deadline, and no mammoth free agent signing occurred before the season, Griffin has still found ways to make the Cavs better. He’s done so utilizing minimal assets and without having to get rid of any core players. He didn’t panic when James went public with his demands, he didn’t make desperate trades to appease the masses. Griffin simply did what was best for his team by finding the best fits for it.
Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams and Deron Williams don’t match up to a signing like Durant. But what they do, combined, is make Cleveland a better basketball team. That Griffin was able to bring them together without losing anything of value is just more proof he’s in the upper tier of NBA GMs.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook