Yesterday started with a flurry of trade rumors involving new superstars potentially heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It ended with us wondering why the guy working said trades was inexplicably let go by the team.
On the one-year anniversary of Cleveland’s first ever NBA Championship, owner Dan Gilbert let the man who assembled the roster – GM David Griffin – walk out the door. In doing so, he added an element of chaos and uncertainty at the absolute worst possible time.
The Cavs, fresh off a lopsided Finals defeat to the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, approached this offseason looking to improve their chances for another potential Finals rematch. The necessity to do so was increased thanks to LeBron James‘ contract expiring next summer. The task to bolster the team wasn’t going to be easy, and would most likely require incredibly savvy moves. However, Cleveland fans felt solace in having someone in Griffin who has a history of pulling off impressive trades.
Yet, as said fans were scouring Twitter for the latest rumors on Paul George or Jimmy Butler, they instead came across word Griffin and the Cavs were parting ways.
It was alarming. It was frustrating. Most importantly, it was unnecessary.
In what could politely be described as an incredibly crucial offseason, Gilbert added unneeded drama which both hurts the team’s chances this summer and puts a monstrous cloud of doubt over its future.
Based on everything we’ve seen, Gilbert and Griffin are parting due to the former’s inability to create a healthy working environment for the latter. Gilbert reportedly teetered between overbearing and absent, and wasn’t interested in giving Griffin more power despite his earning it. Apparently the idea of elevating his salary to ensure he was no longer one of the lowest paid GM’s in the league was too much to handle.
If you’re wondering, yes, the intent of this last paragraph was to point out how bad Gilbert looks in all of this. Griffin was able to build a championship roster while hamstrung by the salary cap and a lack of trade assets. He was able to flip ill-fitting players for key contributors, all while being paid far lower than he deserved.
Much of the frustration, though, comes from where the Cavs go from here.
Cleveland, knee-deep in crucial trade talks just days before the draft, no longer has a GM. Per reports, the team will likely hire former player Chauncey Billups, potentially as the president of basketball operations, and then look for a new GM.
If you’re wondering about Billups’ front office experience, there is none. He retired from playing in 2014, and has been an analyst on ESPN ever since. Despite this, Billups is being tapped to potentially run the Cavs’ front office.
This, of course, is just the perfect setup for a team which needs to find additional talent with limited assets so it can win now or risk seeing its best player walk out the door at season’s end.
Even if Billups ends up being a decent fit, and even if he ends up hiring a solid GM, it doesn’t erase the impact of Gilbert’s extremely ill-timed and questionable decision to let Griffin go.
This entire situation has become a heaping pile of unnecessary drama. Cavs players – particularly James – are not happy. Fans have been in an uproar since the news broke. Many are openly wondering if Gilbert’s move has set the wheels in motion for Cleveland’s eventual downfall.
Again, this is a Cavs team seen by many as the only competitor for the Warriors right now. The offseason focus was to compete with Golden State in the NBA arms race. Instead, the first thing to occur was front office upheaval. Cleveland is now bogged in self-started chaos.
It’s also chaos that could’ve been avoided.
Had Gilbert just put his ego in check, realizing he had a solid (and underpaid) front office on his hands, perhaps Griffin is still on board. Hell, maybe he receives his extension after last year’s championship. You’re hard-pressed to argue against such logic.
Instead, Gilbert continued his trend of not re-upping his GM’s contract. His response to the unavoidable outcry since has been nothing but a press release which felt like a pre-made template for all front office changes. Based on his typical habits in similar situations, I wouldn’t hold your breath for much more than that.
As for what happens from here, well, it doesn’t look pretty. If Billups is indeed hired, along with a new GM, the already difficult task at hand has been made tougher thanks to Gilbert deciding now was the best time to clean house.
Billups simply has to find a way to beat the Warriors. Without assets to trade. Or cap space to work with. Oh, and make sure you get something done, because James may end up leaving next summer.
Best of luck.