Since taking over as general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, David Griffin has hired and fired a coach, selected a top prospect with the first pick in the draft and locked up rising star Kyrie Irving to a max extension. None of these moves are exceptional on their face, but this is the Cavs we're talking about, who have made a habit of messing up the most fundamental details of their rebuilding project.
Since losing LeBron James in the summer of 2010, the Cavs have burned through two coaches, made questionable picks at the top of the draft and overplayed their hand in free agency. The result was a horrifying 2013-14 season that not only saw them unable to break out of the morass of mediocrity in the East, but also led to the banishment of coach Mike Brown, GM Chris Grant and sometimes-player Andrew Bynum.
But wait! There was more. Surprise top pick Anthony Bennett's rookie season was so bad it compared unfavorably to Kwame Brown's. There were rumors of acrimony between the awkward backcourt of Irving and Dion Waiters. Even with Irving logging almost 2,500 minutes, the Cavs were rudderless offensively and a step above hopeless on the defensive end. With 33 wins in the watered-down East, they were the working definition of meh.
Enter Griffin, another in the lineage of young GMs who were raised in the video room and worked their way to the top of the organizational masthead without flashy credentials or on-court pedigree. Griffin has long been respected in the underground subculture of assistant GMs and scouts, and his elevation was surprising only in that owner Dan Gilbert would have been well within his rights to look outside the office for someone to come in and execute a full-scale exorcism.
Griffin's first big move was relieving Brown of his coaching duties despite having four years left on his contract. Then, after four seasons of uninspired leadership from coaching retreads Brown and Byron Scott, Griffin went way outside the box with his choice of David Blatt.
A Princeton man who played for Pete Carril, Blatt enjoyed tremendous success overseas as a player and coach. He led Russia to the Bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and captured the Euroleague championship this past season while working the sidelines for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Someone was going to hire Blatt eventually, so landing him was a coup for the first-year GM.
The draft process was a strange one after it was revealed that presumptive top pick Joel Embiid had suffered a broken foot. Despite a flurry of rumors and innuendo, Griffin made the safest pick on the board when he grabbed Andrew Wiggins. One can argue for Jabari Parker or make the case that the Cavs should have stuck with Embiid, but Wiggins should slide right into a huge hole on the wing and offers defensive promise to go with a developing offensive game.
NBA Free Agency
NBA Free Agency
Signing Irving to a max deal at the first opportunity was, again, a no-brainer. Just 22 years old, he's already a two-time All-Star with a world of offensive potential. No one lets a player like this leave without signing a second contract, but things were so bad in Cleveland that rumors of Irving's willingness to play out his rookie deal were not only rampant but believable. Locking up Irving sets the franchise's direction for the next half-decade.
With Irving, Wiggins and hardworking forward Tristan Thompson, the Cavs have a suitable core to build around. If they can get anything out of Bennett then all the better. Waiters is a trickier issue, as he's an offensive-minded guard in a backcourt with a better offensive-minded guard who has now been given the keys to the franchise. It's unclear whether they can work together on the court, but Irving's deal should help alleviate concerns about whose team this will be going forward.
With the expected loss of free agent forward Luol Deng, the Cavs are no better on paper than they were at the end of the season, but from an organizational standpoint they finally appear to be on solid footing. Their cap situation is relatively clean with only rookie contracts, Irving's max and Jarrett Jack's mid-level deal on the books beyond this season. With a few smart moves, the Cavs could be in playoff contention and have the flexibility to do something about it when they truly arrive.
Beyond the quick fixes and the LeBron fantasy, the Cavs finally appear to be taking a realistic approach to the rebuilding process. That constitutes progress.