Head of the Throne: What's Going on With Cleveland's Front Office?
The three-time Eastern Conference Champions are in a bit of trouble this offseason. After letting their general manager David Griffin walk just days before the NBA Draft, the team has been unable to find Griffin’s long term replacement. The team was linked to former NBA point guard Chauncey Billups for a while, but after a reportedly “low ball” offer, Billups removed himself from consideration.
So what’s the problem? Why can’t Cleveland land a GM? Why did they let Griffin go? And what do they need to do to move forward?
First let’s look at the Cavaliers history. Since owner Dan Gilbert became the majority owner in 2005, the team has never had a general manager for more than their original contract. Sources around the league have rumored that Gilbert has a history of not offering large money contract extensions to his front office personnel. Now, to be fair, most of the GM’s that the Cavs have had during the Gilbert era haven’t been good, but Griffin helped put together a team that had went to the NBA Finals three years in a row, and who won the franchise’s first and only championship in 2016.
Gilbert could argue that Griffin over-payed some of the Cavs role players, and handicapped the team’s salary cap. That is problematic now that Cleveland feels that it needs to make some big moves to keep up with the Golden State Warriors, who beat them in five games in this year’s Finals. Still, Griffin had plans to try to trade for superstars Paul George and Jimmy Butler before his departure, and could have turned the team’s fortunes around if given the time.
Gilbert instead couldn’t come up with a deal that worked for both parties, and decided to let Griffin walk. Gilbert then brought in Billups to be the President of Basketball Operations, but once again, the two sides couldn’t find an offer that made Chauncey comfortable taking the job. Reports are that Gilbert offered Billups a deal way under market value for the position.
So now that the Cavs are back to the drawing board. So far, the Cavs have made small moves that I liked in the offseason, but they will need a new regime in the front office soon. Even the Knicks were quick to find a new GM in the Sacramento King’s Scott Perry. So what are the options for the Cavs?
Big Payouts: Expensive Replacements
If it’s true that Gilbert doesn’t like to pay his front office staff top dollar, then these options maybe too rich for his liking. However, if the Cavs want to remain a good team for years to come, whether LeBron decides to stay after this year or not, these may be the best options.
They could reach out to the Raptors to see what it would take to steal away Masai Ujiri from them. It could cost the Cavs draft picks, that they don’t really have right now, but it’s a conversation worth having. Ujiri has a great reputation around the league, and his work in Toronto should make the Cavs excited about what he could do with the roster if LeBron were to leave next summer. Toronto might not want to send their top guy to their only true conference rival, but as they say, if the price is right…
Another expensive option would be to see if they could trade for Clippers’ Doc Rivers. Rivers might want to get back all of the power that he’s now sharing with legend Jerry West. Rivers can come in and be both the GM and President of Basketball Operations for the Cavs. Rivers track record as the Clips President of Basketball Operations aren’t the greatest, but I think he can do a lot better with the current Cavs roster. I also think that he might be a better front office employee if he’s not also coaching. With Ty Lue still coaching, Rivers can focus solely on team operations and not have to balance the duties with his “win now” coaching mode. Again, getting Rivers to Cleveland will be costly, but the experiment might be worth it.
Gilbert is from the Detroit area, and loves his Pistons just as much as he loves the Cavs (some Cleveland fans would argue that he loves the Pistons more). It’s one of the reasons why Gilbert wanted to bring in Billups. The reason why the team “lowballed” Billups was because he has no experience running a team, and they didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a front office rookie. Well how about bringing in someone who’s been around the block before. Joe Dumars was Pistons guard back when they won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. He also was the Pistons President of Basketball Operations from 2000 to 2014 in which he put together a team that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals including winning the 2004 NBA Championship. He also won Executive of the Year in the 2003-2004 season. Bringing in a guy of Dumar’s caliber will be great for the Cavs, and will give them a respectable name in the front office. It also will force Gilbert to pay up at least market value prices for the job. Although Gilbert has a history of not doing so, I have to believe that he will be willing to open up his wallet more for the former Piston legend. I mean, if he won’t do it for Dumars, then there’s no one in the league that he will do it for. This is probably the most logical option.
Kiss and Make Up
This option is simpler money-wise, but will cost a lot more in the pride and ego department. Gilbert can call Griffin, admit that he made a mistake, and the two can work on a deal that works for both parties. Gilbert was able to swallow his pride and apologize to LeBron James after their rocky breakup the first time James left. That conversation was a major part of James’ decision to come back. Gilbert could do the same thing here and get Griffin to come back and finish what he started. Granted Griffin isn’t LeBron James, but he’s still a valued member of the Cavs team. This is probably a long shot, but it’s still an option.
Whatever the Cavs decide to do, they should make a decision fast. Free agency is just about all wrapped up, and the Cavs still need to make some moves if they want to win another title this year. Gilbert might have to do some soul searching first before he searches for a new GM. It might be the only way the Cavs will ever get a new one.