David Griffin’s tenure as the Cavaliers’ general manager came to an unceremonious end this summer when Dan Gilbert decided not to offer him a new contract and the two parties “mutually parted ways.” It was a curious decision and even more curious timing for a number of reasons.
First, the Cavs had blocked Griffin from talking to Orlando about its opening for a new president of basketball operations earlier in the summer, which in hindsight seems quite petty. Second, and more importantly to Cavs fans, was Cleveland was entering a crucial offseason and was rumored to be involved in a number of trade discussions led by Griffin for names like Paul George and Jimmy Butler that suddenly had to be continued by someone else.
Neither George nor Butler ended up in Cleveland and Cavs’ new GM Koby Altman is in the unenviable position of trying to hold together the ship after the stunning trade request from Kyrie Irving. There are mixed reports about when Irving’s trade request came down, but with some reported as far back as the NBA Draft, it’s possible Griffin was at least aware of the situation before his departure.
Even if not, few know the inner workings of the Cavaliers and that locker room dynamic like Griffin, so when he appeared on ESPN’s The Jump on Monday afternoon, he was able to offer a very interesting perspective on the Irving situation.
Griffin said that he actually respected Irving for coming out and asking for a trade, noting that there are very few players that would have the courage to do that on a team with LeBron James. He also offered an understanding explanation of why Irving would want to be out from James’ shadow in order to test his skills as a lead man.
“I think this is a guy who wants to know how good he can be,” Griffin said. “LeBron casts a very large shadow over an organization, and most of it is really really positive. You know you’re expected to win a championship, but what that doesn’t always allow is for a player like Kyrie to test his boundaries a little bit and see how good he can really be. And can I actually be the front man of a team like that? And the teams on his list, Gordon Hayward in Boston and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, he would be accompanying other great players. It’s not like he’s asking to go lead a rag tag bunch. He just wanted to put himself in a position to find out exactly what he has as a 25-year-old entering his prime.”
It’s a very different reaction from that of former Cavalier Ron Harper, who ripped Irving’s trade request as being caused by youth and ignorance. Griffin seems to understand that Irving, when he was taken No. 1 overall, expected to have the chance to be the star of a team, and when LeBron came back, Irving was thrust into a secondary role. While that ended up bringing team success in the form of a championship, there’s still the desire to prove he’s one of the individual greats in the NBA, and not just another James sidekick that’s been elevated to star status by playing opposite LeBron.
What’s also interesting from Griffin’s comment is that he notes Boston as one of the teams on Irving’s list of hopeful trade destinations, which wasn’t something originally reported. There were reports the Celtics had some interest, but not that it was among the teams Kyrie wanted to go to. Of all the teams Irving could be traded to, there are few that would be as upsetting to Cleveland fans as him ending up a Celtic — maybe the Heat, because of LeBron. For that reason, it’s hard to see the Cavs making that trade, but it would certainly make for some entertaining future meetings between the two sides.