Good Luck with That: Cleveland Cavaliers' GM Job Among NBA's Least Appealing

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 - Jobs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 28 General Manager David Griffin of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks to the guests at the 2017 NBA Finals Cares Legacy Project as part of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 8, 2017 at Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland at East Tech High School in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

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To borrow a phrase, the Cleveland Cavaliers almost have it all.

LeBron James. Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love. Tristan Thompson. Positive locker-room personalities. Three straight NBA Finals appearances, with an open invitation to many more. 

Oh, and of course: They have a Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy. That was just a year ago. 

And now they have an opening at general manager—a position that’s fast devolving into one of the league’s least appealing posts.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst the Cavaliers and David Griffin, the primary architect of their supporting cast, decided to part ways Monday after failing to reach terms on a new deal. Owner Dan Gilbert confirmed the move and already has Chauncey Billups in his sights as a potential replacement, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Billups’ candidacy is, objectively, bizarre. He has zero front office experience. He is, as Wojnarowski notes, in good standing with Gilbert. And he told SI.com’s Jake Fischer that Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is his “best friend.”

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22:  ESPN Analyst, Chauncey Billups does a segment before Game Four of the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on MAY 22, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San A

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That is the extent of Billups’ qualifications—easily connected dots. And yet, this isn’t about him. He was essentially a player-coach during his NBA career. He could be a fantastic executive.

This is about the undertaking that awaits the Cavaliers’ next general manager. They are inheriting a ready-made title contender for 2017-18. Beyond that, they have no idea what they’re getting into.

Rumors circulated that James will consider leaving Cleveland in free agency next summer before the end of the NBA Finals. Some around the league, both inside and outside the Cavaliers organization, don’t even expect him to stay put, according to Wojnarowski (h/t NBC Sports).

James remains everything to this franchise despite playing beside two younger All-Stars. Irving and Love have yet to prove they can carry LeBron-less lineups for long periods of time. They were outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when playing together without him during the regular season. Then, through their 31 minutes of solo time in the playoffs, Cleveland was a minus-25.2. 

Let’s simplify this further: The Cavaliers have the best player in the world. He might have the urge to leave in one year’s time. Their response is to…ditch the guy responsible for brining in key role players like Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for basically nothing.

Gilbert must have consulted James on Griffin’s exit. That’s the only explanation.

Except, he didn’t, per Windhorst and his colleague Dave McMenamin. Sources described James as “disappointed” to Bleacher Report Howard Beck, and the four-time MVP didn’t hesitate to throw shade at Gilbert on Twitter:

Just like this, Griffin’s successor is tasked with superseding Gilbert’s negligence. And make no mistake: That’s exactly what this is. No one in the organization matters more than James. There is no excuse for cutting loose someone he respected, per Beck.

The next person to play the part of Gilbert’s puppet, whoever it is, now finds themselves working from a deficit with James. They have to pitch him on staying in spite of everything that’s happened, rather than everything Griffin put around him.

Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have some avenues of seduction worth exploring—in large part because of Griffin. 

He inserted the Cavs into the Jimmy Butler and Paul George sweepstakes, according to McMenamin and Windhorst. Butler specifically is enamored with the idea of playing in Cleveland. A source close to the Cavaliers told the Chicago Sun-TimesJoe Cowley the All-NBA wing would “push” the Chicago Bulls‘ front office to strike a trade.

Poach Butler or George, and the Cavaliers are instantly greater threats to the Warriors, the sole team they’re building to beat. They wouldn’t be favored in a seven-game series, but the outcome wouldn’t feel so foregone, either.

But does Cleveland have enough to acquire Butler? Or even George, who’s value has plummeted in light of his open infatuation with playing for the Los Angeles Lakers

Does Cleveland have the juice to trade for Butler or George?

Does Cleveland have the juice to trade for Butler or George?Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cavaliers cannot deal a first-round pick before 2021, an unenviable pickle for which Griffin is responsible. They don’t have the cap flexibility to absorb crummy contracts; they’ll start the post-draft offseason miles above the luxury-tax apron if they don’t renounce the rights to free agent Kyle Korver.

Cleveland’s best trade assets outside the Big Three don’t hold much value. Tristan Thompson is a dirty-work superhero, but there isn’t a robust market for bigs who cannot space the floor; Smith is a streaky shooter and inconsistent defender; and Shumpert is too often a non-factor on offense.

Love is expendable if the Cavaliers are getting back Butler or George, but even his value is dropping. Teams won’t want to rebuild around a soon-to-be 29-year-old, and third-party suitors will be turned off by Love’s lack of defensive versatility.

Landing Butler or George, meanwhile, doesn’t guarantee the Cavaliers much of anything. George can leave next summer; Butler can explore free agency in 2019. Think either of them will stick around without James? Irving might even seek a trade out of town if the Cavaliers lose James, per Cowley.

There is no appeal to this job without James. Lose him, if they haven’t already, and the Cavaliers have nothing—not even the track record of staging competent from-scratch projects:

Overlook all this, and what are you left with?

Dan Gilbert, his penchant for burning through front-office execs, and that’s it.

With the exception of the perpetual tire fires in Sacramento and Madison Square Garden, is there a worse situation than that? James isn’t gone yet, but he could be, at which time the Cavaliers belong in that discussion. In many ways, after all that’s happened, and with all that could still go wrong, they belong there now.

So good luck to whoever succeeds Griffin. If history continues to repeat itself in Cleveland, as it feels destined to now, you’re going to need it.

  

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

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