What New GM David Griffin Must Do to Stick with Cleveland Cavs

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

Jul 23, 2013; Independence, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers vice president of basketball operations David Griffin during a press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

David Griffin has his work cut out for him. 

The newly hired acting general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers replaces Chris Grant, who put together a collection of players that was dysfunctional at best and downright disgraceful at worst. A 2013-14 season that was filled with playoff dreams has plunged into a constant state of turmoil, one plagued by disappointing performances, in-house clashes and laughs from the rest of the league. 

For Griffin to stick in the job longer than the end of the season, he's going to have to make lots of changes. The interim tag can be a tough one for a general manager to get rid of successfully, but it is possible to do so.

Even when starting in this type of hole. 

Now this may seem strange to talk about in an article revolving around what Griffin can do to keep his job for a long time, but hiring him was a rather questionable decision. 

Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert got caught being rather hypocritical, after all. 

"We’re going to see Mike Brown succeed this year,'' Gilbert told Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer, before continuing:

I think he will be able to do good things in the next 30 games or so. I think this team is going to be able to do good things. They’re going to look at each other, look in the mirror, and they’re going to rally. We’re going to do everything we can to give them the air cover they need.

And that's not it. 

He was also quoted as saying the following to Boyer:

This coaching staff and this team can succeed. There is just no reason why they can’t. Obviously there’s challenges we’ve all seen. But they can overcome them and they can succeed. I believe in them. I believe the players and this coaching staff can figure it out with a positive outcome. We'll watch and see what happens here.

Wait. So the team can succeed and do good things. There's no reason it can't. 

But you still fired the general manager, also known as the man who put together the same team that you think can be successful? That's almost as bad as James Dolan doing away with Glen Grunwald, right after expressing confidence in the team that won 54 games the year before and actually emerged victoriously from a postseason series. 

And to drive home his point, Gilbert promoted Griffin, which was an internal move, because he also helped build this team that can be so successful. 

It seems like the owner was trying to find a scapegoat by firing Grant, but he picked the wrong one. It was Mike Brown who needed to go, as the troubled head coach has had an incredibly difficult time motivating and preparing his troops. 

Even more importantly, trades are necessary. 

I go through all that not to bash Gilbert, but rather to further reinforce the notion that this current roster can't be allowed to stick together. Changes were necessary, and they still are, regardless of who sits in the GM's chair.

No player on the Cavaliers should be untouchable anymore. Trading Kyrie Irving would be a tough sell to fans and he'll almost undoubtedly be kept, but Griffin must at least field offers for the superstar point guard. Everyone else can go without question. 

Yes, that includes Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev and anyone else you feel like mentioning. 

"Trading Waiters would be a step in the right direction, but it won't fix everything or even anything," writes B/R's Dan Favale. "Too many flaws exist to hope that the subtraction of one player will squeeze any success out of a roster that is already too far gone."

That cherry-picked quote admittedly picks up Favale's argument in media res, but it underscores two keys that Griffin must consider now that he has control of the roster. 

First, Waiters simply must go.

Not only is the second-year shooting guard a negative asset on the offensive end—though his play lately indicates that he could be turning things around—but he's been a major part of the toxic environment swarming around Quicken Loans Arena in 2013-14.  

There have been multiple reports throughout the year claiming that Waiters is causing trouble, and that ties directly into the second issue. 

Griffin must make moves that change the culture in Cleveland. 

Maybe that's as simple as just shipping off Waiters. Maybe it involves bringing in a few veterans who can essentially function as glue guys, terrific locker-room presences who make sure that chaos isn't present in Cleveland. 

Right now, Griffin is only considered the acting GM. The expectation is that Gilbert would conduct an exhaustive search during the offseason, attempting to find someone who can completely turn the team around. That will involve actually hitting on draft picks and convincing Irving to stay, but Griffin may not get an opportunity to prove himself in those areas. 

"It is expected that the Cavs will make another hire this offseason to fill the position long-term," writes CBS Sports' Zach Harper, and it's hard to imagine Gilbert failing to look externally. But looking doesn't necessarily indicate hiring, just a businessman willing to do his due diligence. 

Griffin certainly has a chance to stick around, but it's of paramount importance that he manages to create some chemistry in The Q. Fortunately, there's a great barometer by which that can be measured. 

Jan 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luol Deng (9) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the season, the Cavs traded Andrew Bynum for Luol Deng. It was a deal the Chicago Bulls were content making because it both helped them tank and freed up cap space. When Deng arrived in Cleveland, the plan clearly involved re-signing him once he became a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 campaign. 

Well, that doesn't look like much of a possibility anymore. 

First, it was a report from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News that Deng wasn't happy with his new team. According to Lawrence, the small forward said, "The stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess."

There's a laundry lift of stuff that was "going on," but the point is the existence, not the specifics. And it's led to another report, one that claims Deng will be moving on during the offseason. 

Here's ESPN's Marc Stein

That's right: What was supposed to be a season exciting enough to make LeBron James think seriously about leaving Miami to come back to the Cavs has descended into such farce that sources close to the situation are already saying that there's little-to-no chance Deng will agree to stay once he hits free agency. 

That's what has to change. 

Griffin doesn't need these Cavaliers to make the playoffs in 2013-14, nor does he have to make the organization start playing witness to a few more successful outings than it did under Grant's tenure. 

He just has to change the culture, to the point that Deng at least considers staying. That will be as sure a sign as any that he's successfully put his stamp on the team, and that it's a positive one. 

How he does that is up to him, though. He could do so by making sweeping changes via trade, calling out players in a public forum for even the slightest misstep or making it clear to everyone on the roster that his job is most assuredly not safe. 

This is not an easy task. There's no doubt about that. 

But if Griffin hopes to have a shot at making his mark during free agency and the 2014 NBA draft (which is so stacked that even the Cavs might not be able to screw up a top pick), he needs to take advantage of the dwindling days before the trade deadline and then spend the second half of the season installing a winning culture in the locker room. 

That's the only way he can possibly stick.