Griffin Takes Control of Cavaliers
When the Cleveland Cavaliers re-hired Mike Brown as their head coach this summer, it came off as an admission that they made a mistake when they fired him in 2010. It was an indication that in their eyes Brown was more responsible for their successful run from 2005-2010 than he got credit for. Along with LeBron James, he took the franchise to heights they’ve never experienced before. In their haste to try to keep James in town, they made him the scapegoat and let him go, only to see him James leave anyway. That didn’t sit well with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and then general manager Chris Grant. They righted that wrong by giving Brown a five-year deal and another young team that they hoped he could mold into a contender in time.
They weren’t expecting it immediately. The expectations were actually quite realistic. All Gilbert and company wanted to see was the team return to the postseason. But in a year where 38-44 was good enough for the Atlanta Hawks to earn the eighth seed, the Cavaliers still underachieved badly enough to head back to the lottery for the fourth straight season.
When Brown took over, the Cavaliers were viewed as having one of the top young cores in the league. After a quality offseason in which they acquired Andrew Bynum, landed the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and had several players who looked like they were poised to breakout, it didn’t take much time for the optimism that took years to build after James’ departure to seemingly vanish. Bynum became a problem that the team had no choice but to get rid of at midseason. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters butted heads and really struggled to play off of each other. Anthony Bennett got stuck with the bust label and couldn’t do much to shed it with the opportunity he was given.
Before the trade deadline the architect of the team, Grant, was fired and David Griffin was appointed as his successor in the interim. Griffin recently had the tag removed and was given the position permanently. His first order of business was to let Brown go, which says a lot about what he saw from Brown this season. While most general managers like to have their own guy in charge, he was a part of the decision process to bring Brown back. Letting him go with four years remaining on his contract had to be a tough sell to Gilbert. He was able to get him to sign off on it, though, and wouldn’t have been able to do so without more than good enough reason.
Beyond the incredible amount of internal turmoil we saw with the team this year, early reports are that Griffin simply didn’t believe that Brown’s system was best suited for the team that he plans to build. Griffin wants to play at a higher pace and utilize the three-point shot more.
As bad as this season went, there were grounds to keep Brown around until next season. After all, he comes from the San Antonio Spurs organization where he is still well respected and highly regarded. Prior to this season, he never finished with a record under .500 and is known for his defensive prowess, somewhere the Cavaliers struggled mightily in during the Byron Scott era. Giving him a second year wasn’t out of the question, but Griffin clearly lost faith.
Now he has the challenge of finding a better coach to do the job. He’s putting the onus on himself. If Brown struggled into next year, Griffin would have been a lot more justified in letting him go, even early on in the season. With this move, Griffin isn’t leaving himself much room for error. He’ll be the one who catches the blame if things go wrong. However, he wouldn’t have made it if he wasn’t confident that he could bring someone better in.
Obviously, it’s very early, but here are the names that have already surfaced in association with the position: Chicago Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry, former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, Michigan head coach John Beilein, former Cavaliers guard Mark Price, former Los Angeles Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro and TNT analyst Steve Kerr.
With the NBA Draft Combine set for this upcoming week in Chicago, Griffin has more than a full plate to deal with right now. The Cavaliers are slated to draft ninth if the lottery holds true to the standings and they also have the 33rd overall pick in the second round. Chances are the Cavaliers will have a head coach in place before the draft, but whether he’ll be hired early enough to help with the pre-draft process is unknown. From there he has to find a way to improve the roster and clear up the log jams at certain positions. He does have the luxury of plenty of cap space at his disposal with only $36 million in guaranteed contracts on the books. By the time a couple weeks in June have passed, Griffin’s fingerprints will be all over this team. He’s been viewed as one of the top assistants in the league for several years, now is his chance to truly show what he is capable of.
One person who will be watching intently is Irving, who is eligible for an extension this summer. The Cavaliers have made it clear that they will offer him the max as soon as they are able to under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If Griffin impresses and sells him on Cleveland being the best place for his future, he could be willing to sign on long-term despite lingering rumors that he wants out. If not, Griffin will have an even bigger problem on his hand: an unhappy superstar, the nightmare of every first-year executive.
A new era is beginning in Cleveland and with so many different routes to take, there’s no telling which direction Griffin we’ll go. All we know is that he’s calling the shots, and he has the power to do as he sees fit.
Lakers Coaching Update
Like the Cavaliers, the Lakers are looking for a new head coach. They’re a little bit further along in the process since Mike D’Antoni’s resignation came over a week ago, but in a wide-ranging Q&A, Kupchak said don’t expect any final decisions on the coaching hire soon:
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