Over the next week, various Fear The Sword writers will argue for various members of the Cavs organization to win some the NBA's end of the year awards. This is the first post in that series.
Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin deserves all the credit for the job he's done in the last year. A year and change into his tenure, Griffin already has defining moments on his resume. Signing LeBron James and trading Kevin Love - for the guy you took at No. 1 no less - gives you some job respect you can't get any other way. Adding those two guys in one summer probably made Griffin one of the favorites for NBA Executive of the Year right then and there.
But those are the obvious moves to make. You're always going to sign the world's best player when the opportunity presents itself and of course you are going to trade for the guy he wants to play with and also happens to be really, really good. It also doesn't hurt that Kyrie Irving's max extension looks more than reasonable right now with the season he's having.
What Griffin deserves the most credit for is for making trades that were risky and not a guaranteed success. He deserves to win NBA Executive of the Year not for signing the world's best player and creating a 'Big Three', but for acquiring the players to compliment those players and give them Cavaliers a real chance of winning the title come June.
Think about this for a second: Where would the Cavs be without J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov? In a world where those players aren't Cavaliers, Cleveland's roster is ultimately lacking the supporting cast necessary to win and the Cavs are possibly among the league's biggest disappointments. It's hard to imagine a roster where Dion Waiters is still around and Anderson Varejao still tears his Achilles from meeting the expectations of a championship contender.
Each player Griffin acquired midseason has, in some way, been vital to the Cavs' success. Smith, coming off about a season and a half of so-so basketball, has gone back to shooting mostly all threes and is creating space that didn't exist when the Cavs were using Waiters or Shawn Marion in the two guard spot. With the Cavs, he's shooting almost 40 percent from deep on 7.3 3-point attempts per game. That's almost double what he took in New York pre-trade and he's making them at a higher clip. The kicker is that Smith is part of a starting lineup that is giving up just 96 points per 100 possessions.
In a less splashy way than Smith, Shumpert has become a key part of the Cavs rotation as well. With the Cavs, his game has been simplified down to what are his best skills: Perimeter defense and shooting. He's not a deadeye shooter by any means - he's shooting 33.3 percent on 3-pointers - but he's not a space killer like Marion or an inefficient, high usage jump shooter like Waiters. Defensively, he's able to defend three positions for the Cavs and enables David Blatt to pick and choose his defensive match-ups. That ability also enables the Cavs to easier slide LeBron James to the four without lacking a wing who can guard small forwards.
But out of all the trades, Mozgov may have been Griffin's biggest coup. It's plausible the Cavs could have found what Smith and Shumpert provide if Marion had stayed healthy, Mike Miller had less of a decline, etc. But the rim protection Mozgov provides had to be brought in from the outside because it didn't exist in house. Tristan Thompson can work in stretches, but without Varejao, the Cavs were lacking bigs. Griffin went out and got one.
Griffin acquired these players for Waiters, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, two first round picks - one of which was really the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the Cavs acquired it the Smith and Shumpert deal and then flipped it for Mozgov - and a second pick. On top of that, none of the three players are, in theory, rentals. Mozgov has a team option for $4.95 million next season, Smith has player option for $6.3 million and Shumpert is set to be a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer sheet he signs this summer.
However, Griffin's job isn't quite done yet and there are some valid critiques of the work he's done so far. This summer, Griffin will need to weigh bringing back not just Shumpert but also Tristan Thompson in restricted free agency. Both are seemingly likely to be back as it would make sense for the Cavs to bring back two key role players who also happen to be young and potential core pieces for years to come. But all it takes is a crazy overpay or a craftily constructed contract - see the offer sheet Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks last summer - in order for a team to decide against bringing back a player and then leave said team scrambling to find an affordable replacement.
Varejao's contract is still at play as well. No one can really be sure how he'll look next season, even in a reduced bench role. But spending almost $10 million a year is a lot for a center coming off a serious injury that also is on the wrong side of 30 with a history of maladies in various forms.
Still, the work Griffin has done to take the Cavs from an ill-fitting, not quite functional team to the complete opposite is worth high praise and the reason the Cavs have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the past few months, having gone 31-7 since mid-January. That record took the Cavs from the No. 5 seed all the way to the No. 2 seed. He made the obvious moves, but it's the moves that didn't guarantee success that deserve the most praise. That should result in Griffin being recognized for his work.