For­mer Cava­liers GM on hav­ing LeBron James: 'If you’re not de­liv­er­ing cham­pi­onships you’re fail­ing'

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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.

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