CLEVELAND – Nothing ever seems good enough for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
Not a championship. Not three straight appearances in the NBA Finals. Not a rapt fan base. Not being forgiven by LeBron James.
He’s demanding. A fearless, risk-taking, casino-owning gambler. Those attributes have made him a billionaire businessman, a tough boss to please and the reason why the Cavaliers are in a current state of chaos.
Following a loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals and facing a pivotal offseason for his franchise, Gilbert decided Monday to part ways with general manager David Griffin, the architect of the most successful run in team history.
Gilbert, who has gone through four GMs in 12 years in Cleveland, made the risky move as the Cavaliers are trying to revamp their roster while James’ free-agency clock is ticking down toward next summer when his contract expires.
There’s confusion in Cleveland.
What else is new?
This is a team that has flourished amid disorder, and the Cavaliers are in disarray again days after having their title snatched by Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Just last week, Gilbert had said he was happy with the direction of the team and didn’t envision sweeping changes. But he and Griffin’s vision for the future didn’t align and they mutually agreed to separate.
“We are now at a point where the fit is not right for us to continue with one another,” Griffin said in a statement that sounded like something he might say about a player being released.
The timing of Griffin’s exit couldn’t be worse. The Cavaliers are preparing for Thursday’s draft without any picks and they are reportedly exploring trades to land either Paul George or Jimmy Butler in an attempt to add another All-Star and close the gap on Golden State.
And they may need to placate James, who praised Griffin while seeming to take a swipe at Gilbert late Monday on Twitter . After mending their relationship following a messy split in 2010, James and Gilbert may have more work to do.
“If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland!” James posted. “Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1 [trophy].”
On Tuesday, Gilbert met with former All-Star guard Chauncey Billups about a job in Cleveland’s front office, a person familiar with the talks told a news agency on condition of anonymity. Billups, who has known Gilbert for years, does not have any executive experience so it’s unlikely he would replace Griffin. It’s more likely Billups would serve as an operations president and serve alongside a new GM.
Griffin’s impact on the Cavaliers can’t be understated. While he did have the luxury of having James and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving on the roster to build around and Gilbert’s deep pockets, he pulled off the blockbuster trade for Kevin Love, fired coach David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue. He also plugged holes with veterans such as Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Kyle Korver.
No, not everything worked out. Griffin, though, nurtured a championship culture and helped deliver Cleveland its first title since 1964.
James may have carried the Cavaliers. Griffin built them.
There were growing signs in recent months that Griffin’s run as GM would end after three seasons. First off, Gilbert has never signed any of his previous GMs to an extension, electing to move on to the next person in his chain of command once their contracts expired.
Unlike Lue, Griffin did not receive a contract extension last summer as Cleveland basked in the glow of its championship. Griffin was among the lowest paid top executives in the league, and while he didn’t publicly complain about his salary, the fact that he wasn’t rewarded by Gilbert was a large crack in a foundation that was splitting apart quickly.
Griffin did all he could to please Gilbert, but there didn’t seem to be much reciprocation. When Atlanta and Orlando asked permission to speak with Griffin about their open GM positions during the playoffs, Gilbert denied it, depriving Griffin from some options in case things didn’t work out in Cleveland and stripping him of whatever leverage he had.
Griffin had fretted over the Cavaliers’ maddening inconsistency in the second half of the regular season, but the team found its stride in the playoffs and swept Indiana and Toronto in the first two rounds. Cleveland then took down top seed Boston in five games to win its third straight Eastern Conference title and earn a third matchup with the Warriors.
Afterward, before the Cavaliers were presented with their silver conference trophy, Griffin had to be talked into joining the players on the podium.
Watching the video now, it’s as if Griffin knows his fate.
“We’ve been blessed with incredible ownership that was willing to do whatever it took to keep this group together, and to add to this group,” Griffin told TNT’s Ernie Johnson. “They love each other like brothers and that’s what we were trying to create from the beginning.”
It’s someone else’s turn to keep it going.