Let’s say you were the owner of a basketball team that happened to employ the best player on the planet, a hometown guy who brought your club its first title ever. This player is why the building sells out, why sponsors clamor — and pay big money — to be associated with your franchise, and why the value of said franchise has skyrocketed in two years.
Now let’s say you heard said player is not entirely happy and is considering leaving in a year to head West. Wouldn’t you — for your fans and your own financial self-interest — do everything you could to keep that player happy and wanting to stay with you? So, if you were going to make a major move that could impact the team, wouldn’t you at least consult with him?
Then you’re not Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gilbert decided to let very successful Cleveland GM David Griffin go — he can say it was “mutual” or that there was just a difference of opinion, but we all know the code words — and did not consult LeBron James, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
Then LeBron James himself came to Griffin’s defense.
LeBron reportedly was “disappointed” and “concerned” with this decision — and he should be. Cavaliers fans should be as well. Griffin did as well as could be expected in the GM role: He traded for Kevin Love, he made low-cost moves that were smart (bringing in J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver, for example), he got Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to re-sign, and in the end his teams won 65 percent of their games and went to three straight finals, winning one.
LeBron had backed Griffin publicly on multiple occasions, not just in this tweet. Maybe he didn’t go far enough lobbying for Griffin to Gilbert, but he may not have seen it coming because who fires their GM — who was working the phones trying to pull off a trade all Monday — just 11 days before the start of a crucial free agency period?
Griffin also was well-respected around the league for his ability to handle Gilbert, an owner thought of as one of the toughest to work for.
This could be a way for Gilbert to save money (Griffin made less than half of the going rate for an elite GM). But not spending to keep a title team relevant is the kind of thing that might make LeBron more likely to leave. Which is why you talk to him.
Maybe Gilbert is star struck. Chauncey Billups is who Gilbert is chasing to step into the big chair.
Billups is a smart man, but he has never worked in an NBA front office before and he’s being thrown into a very difficult spot: upgrade an older, capped-out roster so it can compete with the more athletic Warriors, and keep LeBron happy. He may have former Buck Assistant GM passed over for their head job Justin Zanik by his side, but that’s still a new front office trying to find it’s feet at a crucial time.
Griffin will only be unemployed as long as he wants to be, he’s highly respected around the league. Maybe he takes a year off and does television, maybe a team grabs him as a consultant, we shall see. But he will have options.
And whoever lands him will be getting an elite GM.