CLEVELAND – Dethroned last week as NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers are stepping into a summer already off to a strange start.
With the draft just days away, and major roster decisions — maybe even a blockbuster trade for Paul George — needing to be made, the Cavaliers aren’t certain who will be calling the shots going forward as they attempt to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors.
General manager David Griffin’s contract expires June 30, and it remains unclear if he will stay with the organization he guided to its first championship and three straight NBA Finals. Griffin has been Cleveland’s full-time GM for three years, promoted from vice president of basketball operations in May 2014 after serving on an interim basis for three months when Chris Grant was fired.
Under Griffin, and since LeBron James returned, the Cavaliers have enjoyed the best run in franchise history.
There’s no guarantee it will continue.
While owner Dan Gilbert values Griffin and his leadership, the billionaire businessman is hands-on with his basketball team and has shown a willingness to keep his line of executives moving. Griffin is the fourth GM to work for Gilbert since 2005.
Griffin and Gilbert met last week — after the Cavaliers were beaten in five games by the Warriors — to review the season and discuss their future together. And at this point, there is no indication their partnership will last.
During the playoffs, Griffin drew interest from other teams, but Atlanta, Orlando and Milwaukee have filled GM vacancies. Those jobs had presented other opportunities for Griffin, and now that they’re gone, he doesn’t have as much leverage in negotiations with Gilbert.
However, Griffin does have a strong resume, which includes the trade with Minnesota that brought Kevin Love to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. Griffin has also maneuvered around some restrictions — the Cavaliers currently are without a pick in this year’s draft — to re-shape Cleveland’s roster, which needs tweaking again after the Warriors exposed an aging bench in their third Finals matchup with the Cavs.
Adding to the uncertainty, Trent Redden, the club’s senior vice president and Griffin’s likely successor, also has a contract that expires at the end of the month.
There is urgency to get some clarity on Griffin’s situation as the Cavaliers could be a player in the sweepstakes for George, who told the Indiana Pacers on Sunday that he has no intention to re-sign with them after next season.
The four-time All-Star has become good friends with James. The two have battled back to James’ days in Miami, and he has been inspired by George’s comeback from a horrific leg injury in 2014 while playing for the U.S. national team.
“We’ve got a really good friendship. I’m going to leave it at that,” James said after a matchup against George in April.
The Pacers have reportedly reached out to the Cavaliers to gauge their interest in George. Cleveland doesn’t have many future assets to offer Indiana, but the Cavs might be willing to strike a deal for Love, the talented power forward coming off his best season with Cleveland. The 28-year-old has two years left on his contract, and the Pacers could view him as a cornerstone piece to rebuild on and run down the Cavs.
George has spoken in the past about a preference to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and it would be risky for the Cavaliers to acquire him without a promise he would sign beyond the 2018 season. Then again, a one-year rental may be intriguing to the Cavs if it would guarantee a fourth shot at the Warriors and a chance to even their rivalry.
Also, if James and George clicked, and it would be hard to imagine that not happening, they may stay in Cleveland. Like George, James has one year left on his contract, and at 32 his window for adding titles is shrinking. James has said he intends to end his career with Cleveland, but another loss in what would be his eighth straight Finals — and that he already owns a home in Los Angeles — could push him away.
But before any of those decisions are made, the Cavaliers must figure out who is making the next one.