CHICAGO – See, maybe the Cavs shouldn’t have traded Andrew Wiggins after all. David Griffin may pay for that with his job, though it’s highly unlikely it was his idea.
But you don’t fire LeBron James.
The buck, or the Cav in this case, may stop right here.
The attention, for at least a few more days, is on James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Dreamy Team known as the Golden State Warriors. If the NBA Finals proceed like the Warriors’ Games 1 and 2 demolition of the Cavs, no one will be talking about the players for too long. Or at least what they did on the court. Instead it will be how did it come to this if the Warriors dominance continues, and the sacrifice could be Cavs general manager Griffin.
By all accounts, Griffin has done a good job.
After all, he’s still the last GM whose team won an NBA championship.
That should be good enough to at least get a raise. But Griffin was a lame duck this season, a rare sort of foul for a winning executive. So Griffin’s name came up in reports about openings in Atlanta and Orlando, both of whom filled their positions.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who has been coy about Griffin’s future, is said to believe Griffin has been leaking his own name about other jobs just in case.
Gilbert, by the way, isn’t a big spender on executive positions. It was to Gilbert, a Detroit native and Pistons fan before he bought the Cavs, reminiscent of Larry Brown trolling for a job with the Knicks or Cavs while the Pistons were in the 2005 finals. Brown soon was fired as a result.
It’s unclear if Griffin has done any such thing, but if the Cavs go on to be uncompetitive against the Warriors, someone will be taking names. And the names surrounding James suddenly are not so good.
Griffin was celebrated for a series of trades to stock the Cavs around James, including J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks. And then with James taking more of a facilitator role going into his 30s, Griffin stocked up with shooters like Channing Frye last year and Kyle Korver this year, a backup point guard in Deron Williams to go along with favored veterans like Richard Jefferson and LeBron buddy James Jones.
This all after James’ surprise return from Miami, which changed Griffin’s plan to build around Kyrie Irving to instead create the instant contender. So No. 1 overall pick Wiggins went for Kevin Love. And the Cavs did win a title.
But Love had limited impact last year when the Cavs won, and against the Warriors now the Cavs are the slow team, old, poor defensively with shooters who cannot stay with the Warriors’ younger and more athletic players.
There’s little doubt James lobbied to move Wiggins for a veteran, but Griffin made the deal. Much like the firing of David Blatt midway through last season with a 30-11 record for LeBron favorite Tyronn Lue. LeBron doesn’t do blame.
The Cavs seem to have made the misjudgment of surrounding James with veterans. But James is the veteran and probably needs to be surrounded more by youth and athletic ability.
Given that the Cavs have the highest league payroll and the biggest penalty in the luxury tax with owner Gilbert perhaps losing money with a defending title team, being run out of the finals would be a bad look. Someone has to pay.
Griffin may well with his job.
So hire Jerry West?
Probably not as perhaps the league’s alltime premier executive not named Auerbach is pushing 80.
West has essentially been a consultant for the Warriors, which means they talk to him but do what they want.
It couldn’t have hurt in pursuing Kevin Durant to have Jerry West around, but Durant seems like his mind was made up long before.
Now it happens that the Los Angeles Clippers have reached out to West, and that’s probably where he should be.
West lives in Los Angeles and commutes up to San Francisco occasionally for his Warriors interests. Though no one tells Jerry West where to go and when.
There was sentiment for West returning to the rebuilding Lakers with the departures of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. But since Kupchak was a West disciple, the Lakers decided to move on behind Magic Johnson as new team president and Kobe Bryant’s former agent Rob Pelinka as general manager.
Perhaps West wants a little more out of the Warriors, but it would be a good opportunity to save Doc Rivers.
Rivers is a fine coach, but no one really succeeds doing both jobs, as he’s been lately.
Stan Van Gundy is showing that in Detroit and Tom Thibodeau likely will soon in Minnesota to join Rivers and his own issues. You just cannot coach a guy and then play hard ball on his contract or in trade.
So what a perfect situation it would be for the franchise that still is second fiddle despite being more successful the last several years to get the orchestra leader. West could take on more of a president’s role to advise and consent on personnel and leave Rivers to coaching, which is his strength.
West probably doesn’t care to run an office or call other GMs all day, though he does like to talk basketball. Plenty of teams have general managers in name — if not responsibility — to do that. Perhaps it’s too late in West’s career or life to throw himself into another such situation.
And how sweet would it be to beat the Lakers to that next championship?
Though the Warriors don’t seem quite ready yet to have any significant competition. Which does usually start the executive musical chairs.
Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”