News broke earlier that the Cavs offered John Calipari what could generously be considered a "Godfather offer" to coach and run the team. He'd have not only been the coach, but also would have had final control over personnel decisions. The offer ran anywhere from 7 years, $60 million -- per Adrian Wojnarowski -- to 10 years, $80 million according to Marc Stein.
Either of these offers would have made Calipari, to my knowledge, the highest paid coach in the history of professional American sports (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke makes the most in sports at $9.7 million per season on what is essentially a lifetime contract). And to be perfectly honest, that offer reeks of desperation given that Calipari tried the NBA once and failed. It reeks of desperation considering Calipari landed himself a new, lucrative, seven year, $52 million deal at Kentucky instead of moving to the NBA (even if he didn't use this particular offer as "leverage"). It reeks of desperation because, as Ricky O'Donnell put it earlier today, it's clear the organization needs Calipari way more than they need him. And of course, it reeks of desperation because we really have no idea what is happening in the tumultuous, calamitous front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Given the way this played out, let's try to take a look at what this offer means for the organization as a whole, and what this means for their offseason:
To start, why go after Calipari?
Let's get this out of the way first. You don't make an $80 million offer to a coach to lure LeBron James back. You make this offer because you think Calipari was a big name, a big personality, and a good coach that would have brought equity to your organization. Those happen to be factors that will most likely lure James back to Cleveland if he's so inclined, but this wasn't a simplistic offer to bring James back specifically. The Cavaliers were basically ignoring the past. They're assuming that Calipari was the guy that can change their culture and lead their team into the future.
Despite failing with the Nets, Calipari is a coach that would seem to have both a coaching personality and style that lends itself to the NBA. And it also fit where the Cavaliers are headed into the future. Offensively, Calipari preaches a dribble-drive offense that would be perfect for both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. It's an offense that actually allows two ball-dominant guards to co-exist with each other, as evidenced by the Harrison twins at Kentucky this season. Also, Calipari is a big fan of letting his players play. He's not one to get in the way with over-coaching, and those tend to be the coaches that players want to play for. Obviously, he's a great basketball mind, or else he wouldn't be as successful as he is.
Also, it's probably a good assumption that Calipari would have a lot of equity with this young team. He spent time recruiting a good amount of them, and given their youth he's a name that they know and trust. The big name and big personality thing can't be underestimated here. Players gravitated towards Calipari in the NCAA, and they even did so in his brief time in the NBA. It was the rest of the organization that was turned off by his actions...
What does this mean for David Griffin?
David Griffin was hired on May 12th. In his report, Wojnarowski states that Calipari rejected the Cavs offer last week, which makes it likely that Gilbert made the offer after he had already told Griffin that he'd be general manager. And hey, maybe, just maybe, Gilbert told Griffin that he'd still be out there searching for a team president to give final say in basketball decisions to. Then again, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal has said the opposite in a radio interview given today on 92.3 in Cleveland.
Jason Lloyd on if Griffin knew about Gilbert going after Calipari: "I don't think he knew about it."— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) June 9, 2014
So assuming it's true that Griffin didn't know, what does that mean? Calipari is known for not playing well with others when given organizational control. That link by Chris Broussard outlines that during Calipari's time with the Nets, he rubbed a lot of people in the organization the wrong way with his demanding and apparently somewhat arrogant personality. These things work well in the world of college basketball, where a successful head coach is treated much like a god. However, they tend not to work when dealing with NBA front office executives who have been working for 20 years.
It's entirely possible that Calipari has matured and would be an entirely different personality this time around, but the evidence says otherwise. Therefore, my assumption is that Griffin would have been marginalized by a Calipari takeover. And given that Griffin was JUST hired a month ago, that's doesn't exactly scream organizational stability. To me, that basically says in big bold letters that Gilbert is making basketball decisions off the cuff and not really considering the long-term impact that these moves could have on his organization.
One of those long-term impacts now is figuring out where Griffin's place is in the organization. If you're offering that much money to a coach/president after you just hired a general manger/decision maker a month ago, you're basically just shooting first and asking questions last. So now it begs the question, is Griffin simply a figurehead general manager that cedes control on basketball decisions to Gilbert? Or does he actually still have the organization's full support?
My assumption is that with time, these things will pass and Griffin will be an eminently successful general manager. He's a sharp mind and logical decision maker that knows his analytics, scouts Europe well, and has excellent communication skills. However, going into what is probably the most important and difficult draft in Cavaliers history, this offer doesn't exactly speak volumes for the faith the organization has in him to make the right choice.
Where do the Cavaliers go from here?
Moving forward in their coaching search, the Cavaliers have asked Tyronn Lue and Alvin Gentry back for second interviews for the head coach post, and also have some guys on the periphery that may become factors such as David Blatt and Billy Donovan. The first two names aren't nearly as sexy as "John Calipari," but the odds are high that one of those two suits up for the Cavaliers on the sidelines next season.
Next comes the offseason, where the Cavaliers will again be trying to lure James back to Cleveland in what will most likely be a fool's errand. Beyond that, there are other potential free agent small forwards who could really help the organization take a step forward, such as Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Gordon Hayward, and Chandler Parsons among others. They also need to make decisions on Anderson Varejao and Spencer Hawes to shore up the center spot. Then of course, there's the pesky matter of a maximum contract extension offer to Irving that needs to be addressed. Which means this isn't the best time for tumult within the organization.
Basically, It's a strange time to be a Cavalier fan because of all of the disarray in what should be an exciting time for the franchise. The Cavaliers have loads of young talent, loads of cap space, and the first overall pick in the deepest lottery class of the last seven years. There should be excitement around the organization, not questions of who is in charge.
All of those questions start at the top with Dan Gilbert. Gilbert flouts the line of "too involved" and "good, conscientious owner that spends his money to win" in a way that is often problematic to ownership. This contract offer to Calipari -- among other offers in the past -- proves that Gilbert is committed to spending whatever it takes to win. That's a great thing. But it's clear that he needs to be more patient and take a step back. Whether it's him putting his foot in his mouth about the Pistons because he has business interests in Detroit, or writing a comic sans letter about James, or even offering Calipari this mammoth deal, Gilbert has consistently shown this offseason that his involvement level is high. Because of that, any time you hear Gilbert's name in the news at this point, it's a negative for the Cavaliers because of the perception that he IS too involved, whether it's true or not.
And that's fine, it's Gilbert's team to do with as he pleases. If I was a billionaire owner, you better believe I'd want to be involved in basketball decisions. I'd be selfish and put my foot in my mouth all the time. That's why I don't really get defensive about Gilbert's perception around the basketball community. It's clear that he does things that are sometimes detrimental to the team, but he's also a owner that really cares about the team. He is the way he is, and no one is going to change that.
What we can take away from this offer is that while the names and positions of power in the organization have been swapped, nothing has changed with the Cavaliers. They still want a good coach that hopefully has attributes appealing to LeBron James. They want a big name that can change the organizational culture. But in reality, very little in the organization will change as long as Gilbert runs the show and stays heavily involved in decision-making process beyond business affairs.