In the blink of an eye, the executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans is suddenly under fire.
According to a Sports Illustrated article published yesterday, David Griffin was not only miserable during his time with the Cavaliers in trying to construct a winner around LeBron James, not only did he have a problem with the league’s most popular player getting all of the credit and none of the blame, he also felt that LeBron cared less about winning after Cleveland won a championship in 2016.
The man widely praised these past few months for making all sorts of smart, calculated moves since taking the job with the Pelicans in April supposedly made several enormous short-sighted statements in a standard media interview. The man who has consistently preached the importance of having quality human beings up and down an organizational ladder intentionally threw the best basketball player on the planet under the bus in the most cold-hearted way. The man who traded Anthony Davis in good faith to the Los Angeles Lakers despite all of the pre-trade deadline turmoil that engulfed two NBA franchises and Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group willfully stained his image, and by extension, Gayle Benson’s rebuild of the Pelicans.
I’m sorry, but those shouldn’t have been the immediate takeaways from that surprisingly contentious SI article and apparently for good reason.
Griffin and a person close to James spoke after the SI story was published, sources told ESPN, and Griffin expressed that some context was missing behind his comments. James’ camp encouraged Griffin to clear up his stance on the record, sources said.
Even the biggest news breaker in the game today felt the need to chime in on behalf of David Griffin, and please note the retweet containing a link to a previously recorded podcast.
Covered a lot of ground in recent pod with David Griffin on building around LeBron James in Cleveland and his consistent context was this: The scrutiny and unforgiving pressure surrounding the environment inspired the joylessness of Cavs title run, not James himself. https://t.co/LgjSCmkHbr— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 1, 2019
Back on July 10th, Griffin went into great depth on The Woj Pod regarding the Cavalier’s team build and, lo and behold, he stated that it wasn’t much fun.
‘’We won a championship, and it wasn’t terribly enjoyable going through the process heading into that because there were so many things that mattered more than the ‘we’ of the team. Culturally, we were individuals, and we were trying to gel as individuals rather than raising a family. From the beginning, when LeBron was on a series of one-year deals, you have to view it as having to win that championship, more as a sprint, than you do the holistic approach you can take when you start at the beginning... When LeBron lands in Cleveland again, your expectation is ‘you better win a championship now’ and the game changed so rapidly that you weren’t able to do a lot of the things you wish you would have done because we didn’t learn how to win together. None of these kids had ever won, but now we have to win a championship. It was just inorganic. It wasn’t real.’’
Compare this with the following excerpt from yesterday’s SI article:
“Everything we did was so inorganic and unsustainable and, frankly, not fun. I was miserable,” Griffin says. “Literally the moment we won the championship I knew I was gonna leave. There was no way I was gonna stay for any amount of money.”
Nothing new here, right? So why the uproar now?? Oh wait, that’s right. A cardinal sin was committed! For some crazy reason, Griffin decided to bash James with his latest comments — at least according to all of his stans out there. (Spoiler alert: many need to work on their reading comprehension skills.)
He was elevated to GM in February 2014, although everything pivoted once LeBron James decided to rejoin the Cavs that July. Griffin celebrated at first, then collapsed on his office floor in tears after James’ letter ran on SI.com, overwhelmed by the sudden pressure to deliver The King’s coveted ring. Noise around a superteam is deafening. It can cause combustible conditions. “The reason is LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame. And that’s not fun for people,” Griffin says. “They don’t like being part of that world.”
There’s one key phrase that should draw your eyes: “overwhelmed by the sudden pressure,” not the fact that Griffin uttered a quote that everyone should know by now to be true.
Think about it:
When the Cavs win, it’s because James is leading.
When they’re struggling, it’s James who says he needs help.
Team unity issues? Let’s take a picture. But not you, Kevin Love.
Mistakes in a game? It’s Tristan Thompson … not me, says James, with his public histrionics. Until Thompson steps right back to him publicly, that is.
Lose in the Finals? Walk off the court draped with a look of resignation, only to post a video of you working hard in the gym just days later on social media — on the very day the Golden State Warriors have scheduled their championship parade.
One would think when you’ve lost an NBA Finals for the fifth time, you’d go hide someplace, lick your proverbial wounds and get set to battle another day. Yet, in the case of James, the growing sentiment appears to be: “Look at the triple-double (33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds per game, 10 assists per game) I averaged in the Finals. Clearly, I did my job. I’m good.”
Kyrie Irving asked out of Cleveland because he sought space that could only be attained in getting away from James. Thanks to a lengthly list of past individual and team accomplishments coinciding with his best player in the game status, LeBron enjoys living in a different reality so teammates need to either accept second-class citizenship or skip town.
What Griffin was really trying to highlight in the SI article is a strenuous work environment. That’s the issue at hand, not some disdain for James. There’s no reason to get bent out of shape about something that’s been known for years in the first place. Remember, LeBron had left Pat Riley’s Miami Heat at the pinnacle of his career — as a proven multiple championship winner — so Griffin and everyone else inside of that Cavalier organization was tasked with not screwing things up as soon as The King arrived in Cleveland.
“I’ve said this several times since, but you’re basically charged with the legacy of Babe Ruth, and it’s our responsibility to allow that legacy to grow and evolve,” Griffin told The Vertical. “So it’s almost like a sacred trust that the kid gives you. He’s so good, in his own right, by himself, that he sort of mandates you have to be a title contender just by his presence alone … and if you don’t capitalize on the years he has left, then shame on us.”
Yes, it’s a blessing to land the best individual player in the game, but it doesn’t mean that the ride automatically becomes an easy and fun one. Ten games into the 2017-18 season, Kevin Love suffered a panic attack. Months later, Tyronn Lue’s chest pains forced him to take a medical absence for several weeks. The Cavaliers had started the 2017-18 season very slowly, crawling out of the gates with a 5-7 record, and many feel that early indifferent play created an inordinate amount of anxiety for everyone. Don’t forget it took an 11-3 finish to that regular season for the Cavaliers to just grab the fourth seed in a weak Eastern Conference.
Okay, so let’s move on to the biggest elephant in the room: James passion for winning dissipating some after bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
They of course found vindication in 2016, historically overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The following season, however, brought that fantasy summer crashing back to reality. James’ contagious hunger to deliver a championship for Northeast Ohio dissipated. “There wasn’t a lot else for him,” Griffin says. “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning.” Many in the NBA now suggest James harbors two priorities: enduring to team with his eldest son, Bronny, and one day owning a franchise.
All I read is more truth from Griffin. It seems natural that fulfilling one’s biggest lifelong goal would result in some sort of drop-off. The SI article went on to mention that the Cavaliers defense plummeted to dead last the season after the championship banner was raised. For the uninitiated crowd, please note Griffin claiming a lot of responsibility in the next two sentences: “I did a really s****y job of bringing enough urgency to the next year.”
To further explain this idea of James not being the same hungry animal, listen to Ryan Hollins and David Jacoby break it down.
Need more convincing? Read what Rich Paul had to say on the topic of winning to Lee Jenkins close to a year ago.
Even pinpointing a primary motive behind James’s third free-agent decision is difficult. “In 2010, when he went to Miami, it was about championships,” Paul continues. “In 2014, when he went back to Cleveland, it was about delivering on a promise. In 2018, it was just about doing what he wants to do.”
The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a 35-47 season. No other superstar had agreed to join LeBron. In fact, there were rumors that elite players didn’t care to join him out in L.A like Kevin Durant, who famously called the media environment around James as toxic. Either way, the Lakers locker room was not a winning one and there wasn’t much hope good help was en route, but LeBron came any way — and wound up guiding L.A. to a spectacularly disappointing 37-45 season.
How is that on David Griffin? You know, the guy who also talks about once having a great relationship with LeBron in the same derogatory article.
“You’ve got to be willing to have very difficult conversations with LeBron,” Griffin says. “I always was, which is why we had a great relationship, because I would tell him what he needed to hear and he respected that I was telling him that for the right reasons.”
Ask yourselves this: prior to the SI piece, when had Griffin ever come down hard on LeBron James or tried to assassinate anyone’s character for that matter? I can’t recall an instance. Can you? In my opinion, he was always admiring when reminiscing about players, and any contempt was always in reference to the team build of the Cavaliers. As we’ve heard countless of times before this week, it wasn’t a satisfying one. #Inorganic
To recap, NONE OF THE QUOTES FROM THE SI ARTICLE ARE BREAKING NEWS, LET ALONE FUNCTION AS SOME UNPROVOKED SHOT! So, LeBron, this Tweet was rather unnecessary if it was meant as some sort of response to Griff.
Alright alright. Enough is enough. The throne has been played with to much and I ain’t for horseplay. Ether coming soon! #JamesGang✊— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 1, 2019
Look, we’ve been familiar with David Griffin but for less than four months; however, I don’t think anything he said about LeBron James was at all disrespectful. Fact of the matter it was likely poorly worded. And that’s a shame because I thought the intended topic was a really good one, one meant to describe how Griff is eager to grow a special family in New Orleans. #Organic