As the Cleveland Cavaliers approach NBA free agency later this week (without a fully-assembled front office), there seems to be a bit of a change in narrative.
A week ago, fan uproar was ignited by owner Dan Gilbert letting GM David Griffin walk out the door despite his help in assembling a championship winning roster. While frustration is still being aimed at Gilbert, especially since he hasn’t made any hires since, a few people are starting to shift their cross-hairs towards the ousted GM.
Some are finding themselves critical of Griffin due to the fact Cleveland is heading into free agency with a minimal amount of assets. The Cavs are well over the salary cap, eliminating their ability to be big players with unrestricted free agents. Additionally, with no first round draft picks until 2021 and very few trade-worthy players, Cleveland has been unable to swing any significant deals.
As a result, some feel it’s only necessary to lay some blame at the feet of Griffin for putting the team in this position.
If you truly believe Griffin is at fault for the Cavs’ offseason predicament, that’s fine. Just know this line of thinking is wrong.
To be fair, yes, Griffin’s work over the past few years has indeed put Cleveland in a sticky spot when it comes to making significant moves this summer. This is simply fact.
However, to claim this is something to be frustrated about, that’s where you’d be incorrect.
Griffin did what he did to establish a roster which could win an NBA title. He moved draft picks, signed max players and quickly took advantage of any trade assets he came across to ensure Cleveland could contend for a championship year after year. Such is life when LeBron James enters the picture.
When James is on your roster, you have no choice but to make moves which serve only to put the team in a position to win. There’s no thinking of how trades and contracts impact the next season, much less beyond that. You’re forced to build a roster around the best player in the NBA in order to get to the Finals.
Simply put, the Cavs of the past three years weren’t a team which could afford to stockpile viable assets. Cleveland had one goal – win now. Setting aside draft picks, creating favorable contracts, or reserving cap space? Said tactics just don’t mesh with needing to assemble a championship-caliber roster ASAP.
It’s exactly why 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins was dealt for Kevin Love. James wasn’t here to mentor, and he had no interest in waiting on the young rookie to develop. Every season since James returned has been championship or bust, and if a proven All-Star could be had in exchange for a raw rookie, it was the route Griffin had to take.
Consider, too, the fact Griffin had to adjust to this shift in goals on the fly.
Cleveland headed into the 2014 offseason essentially tossing around the idea of James’ homecoming, but not relying on it. The goal back then was to have coach David Blatt turn a roster led by Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Wiggins into a developing bottom seed playoff team. On July 11, 2014, it became “how can we turn this into a title contender?”
As a result, Griffin flipped draft picks for core role players and sent the team’s combined salary far above the cap. If he came across a player who could be used as a trade chip, he figured out the best way to do so and pulled the trigger. Players with currently unfavorable contracts, such as Iman Shumpert or Tristan Thompson, may be causing difficulties in the trade market now. However, at the time both of these men played a part in Cleveland’s goal of winning a title.
So, to those upset about how Griffin’s moves over the past three years have put the team in a difficult position in the summer of 2017, just know Cleveland’s former GM was likely not even looking this far ahead. He chose not to be forward-thinking, simply because he couldn’t afford to. As tough as his moves have made the Cavs’ current offseason plans, they also went a long way in bringing home the team’s first championship in franchise history.
Don’t forget that next time you think Griffin is to blame for Cleveland’s lack of assets.