Former Cavaliers GM on having LeBron James: 'If you’re not delivering championships you’re failing'
LeBron James is in a talent bracket of his own and that impact trickles down an organization. His own teams build around him, opposing teams game plan specifically for him and it all grows into a James uni ver se.
David Griffin, a 23year veteran of NBA front offices, knows that better than most. Griffin left his position with the Phoenix Suns in 2010 to work in the front office of a rebuilding James-less Cavs team.
James came back home in 2014, creating a different dynamic for the newly promoted general manager. Griffin spoke with Sports Illustrated’s The Crossover about what goes into building a team around James.
The mark of success is rings Griffin was asked about the pressure involved at the trade deadline when one has James on the roster. He answered, via Sports Illustrated:
“It’s not just the pressure with LeBron, it’s that the only mark of success each year was winning a championship. This wasn’t about being elite. This wasn’t about winning a round in the playoffs. LeBron’s presence means you must win championships.
It was like you’re taking care of the legacy of Babe Ruth. Nobody knows who his general manager was, and nobody really knows if that general manager was successful or not. But because the Yankees won as many championships as they did, Ruth and [Lou] Gehrig and those guys’legacies are what they are. It was something we felt responsible for. This is the greatest player of his generation, and if you’re not delivering championships you’re failing.”
James won one title with Cleveland in 2016, the city’s first in any professional sport in 52 years. It was Griffin’s second of three years as general manager of the Cavaliers. In both of the other years (2015 and 2017), Cleveland lost to the Golden State Warriors in the finals.
James took the Cavs to four consecutive Finals, including in 2018 after Griffin left. It extended his personal Finals streak to eight years dating back to his four with the Miami Heat with only three titles in that span. The streak will likely crash this spring despite a recently activated playoff mode with the Los Angeles Lakers.
James as a ‘shadow GM’ James has long been accused of pulling the strings behind the scenes and making decisions for front office personnel. It’s alleged he’s a “shadow GM” who picks who above goes, who stays and who comes in as replacements.
Earlier this season word leaked James’camp was souring on head coach Luke Walton, prompting speculation the coach would therefore be gone. Even in the NBA All-Star draft, his picks were looked at as those he wanted to bring to L.A.
Griffin was also asked if James, in fact, has as much influence in a front office as is rumor ed.
“It’s just an asinine assertion that he was a shadow GM,” he said, per SI. “LeBron was one of many people on the team who we talked to, it just so happens he’s a basketball savant. You wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t talk to him about the pieces you might want to bring to the franchise.”
He noted that speaking with a wide swath of players was important to the process and the Cavs front office, when he was there, valued the opinion of many players on the court. Which makes sense if nothing but a championship constitutes a victory.