David Griffin Deserves Praise as Cleveland Cavaliers' Overlooked Architect

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 18, 2015

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You can't give David Griffin credit for bringing LeBron James home; the allure of unfinished business and a hunger for legend-building took care of that. But feel free to tip your cap to the Cleveland Cavaliers' general manager for doing just about everything else that eventually led to the Cavs reaching the NBA Finals ahead of schedule.

Before James arrived, Griffin hired head coach David Blatt to preside over a young roster in need of steady stewardship.

More importantly, Griffin stuck by Blatt after the game's best player showed up and changed everything, top to bottom, about Cleveland's plans.

That was a quietly difficult situation, as James probably could have conditioned his arrival on getting to pick the head coach. And even if James signed off on Blatt beforehand, Griffin did a masterful job all year of shutting down the noise surrounding Blatt's coaching acumen and job security.

During a postseason press conference, Griffin stuck to his guns, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today and Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio:

It's easier for Griffin to support his coach now after Blatt's defensive scheming and slowed-down pace helped the Cavs take two wins from the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. Questioned for most of the year, Blatt vindicated himself by pushing the right buttons on the big stage.

Griffin also pulled off a bold preseason deal, sending the franchise's last two No. 1 picks, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.

Aug 26, 2014; Independence, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love (left) and general manager David Griffin pose for photographers at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

And when that move wasn't sufficient to create a championship-caliber roster, Griffin dug deeper into Cleveland's war chest and fired off two more first-round selections and former lottery pick Dion Waiters to get back three rotation players in a pair of separate deals.

ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst explains how the roster machinations leading up to the Mozgov move were immensely complicated, which only makes Griffin's maneuverings more impressive.

But if all you know of the moves are the basics—that the Cavs got Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov for a pair of picks and Waiters—it's still easy to appreciate them. All three of Cleveland's additions logged major minutes down the stretch and contributed to a sterling closing run, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Griffin's moves have almost universally paid off. If not for rotten luck on the injury front, we might be talking about how he built an NBA champion on the fly.

If you step back and consider the risk involved in Cleveland's midseason trades, Griffin's courage is clear. Cleveland had already surrendered a ton of future assets to build a roster that was merely hovering around .500 at the time of the shakeup.

Instead of questioning his beliefs, he doubled down, betting on the present even when James was struggling to find his form.

As leaps of faith go, this was a big one—especially considering the unproven pedigree of all three veterans the Cavaliers acquired.

All of those guys—Smith, Shumpert and Mozgov—have clear roles in the Cavs' future, and Griffin has wasted no time getting to work on the next steps.

CLEVELAND,OH - MAY 26:  J.R. Smith #5 , Timofey Mozgov #20 ,  Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shake hands after a play against the Atlanta Hawks at the Quicken Loans Arena During Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NBA P
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

He started by assuring everyone at his postseason presser that restricted free agents Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova would get qualifying offers, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

Then, he tried to preemptively quell the panic of James' and Love's impending opt-outs, an unfortunate necessity according to Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:

Griffin will have to figure out Love's value, which will be tricky given his season-ending shoulder injury, the rising salary cap, interest from other teams and, most of all, Love's odd fit in the Cavs offense. Tristan Thompson's eligibility for an extension means Griffin will have to juggle the financial futures of both of his power forwards in the same offseason.

Smith is also likely to opt out of the final year of his deal, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com.

The road ahead could get bumpy, but Griffin has been a smooth navigator to this point. Cleveland should be confident he'll hold steady going forward. He's done enough so far to earn that kind of trust.

Now, you can say James' presence has made Griffin's job easier. And it's true that LBJ has the kind of league-wide pull to attract veteran free agents such as Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

But how much did those two really help this year? Even as the Cavs' rotation shrank and fatigue mounted in the Finals, Miller saw little time, and Marion saw none.

And for as many benefits as a general manager enjoys with a player like James on the roster, there are an equal number of detriments.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

There's the immense win-now pressure that accompanies James' presence—one that telegraphs to the entire league your desire to play for the present. That kills leverage and forces Griffin to operate within narrower constraints than most other executives.

Everyone he deals with knows there's an urgency to his dealings. He has to deliver because James is there, and he won't be the best player in the world forever.

What's more, Griffin is one of the few top executives in the league who isn't the most powerful personnel man in his own organization. In Cleveland, James is the franchise's most important figure, and you'd have to imagine ownership would side with James if there were ever a difference of opinion between him and Griffin.

Despite all that, Griffin has the Cavs where they need to be: They have cornerstone talents and the means to build a supporting cast.

Cleveland profiles as a title favorite next year because it has James, but the rest of the roster Griffin built has something to do with that fact too. It's time we acknowledged that.

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