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Q&A: David Griffin on Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and what’s next for him

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A conversation with the ex-Cavs GM.

Cleveland Cavaliers Victory Parade And Rally Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Below, ex-Cavs GM David Griffin talks about what’s next for him, Kyrie Irving’s exit and more.

Robbie Dunne: What have you been getting up to since leaving Cleveland in the summer?

David Griffin: My wife and I moved to Sonoma, California, which is her happy place and we're going to invest this year in her business. She's got a business around the marriage of wine and wellness called Decantu, which has been a lot of fun to be part of so just trying to grow a different avenue.

RD: In terms of the new NBA season, do you feel that you were excited for that in a different way with no responsibility?

DG: It's funny, actually, my wife and I talked about this. I feel like I'm a much larger NBA fan than I ever have been cause I don't have a vested interest for the first time in 24 years. You know, I was with the Suns for 17 and then the last seven with Cleveland and being in a training camp environment every year for all of those years, your whole life is set to a certain calendar so it's been much more enjoyable to just watch the games I'm most interested in seeing at any given times rather than having so much stress around outcomes.

RD: The current Cleveland roster, do you feel even though you're not there anymore that it is still part of your legacy?

DG: Oh sure, I'll always feel like that. We tried to raise a family and I think we succeeded very largely in that. That fact that Koby Altman got the job as the GM once I left was really meaningful because it kept the family together. So, I'm always going to root for them and have a very vested interest in their success off the court and from the players standpoint, obviously, I brought in a good number of those players, not all of them, but the players that I did bring in, I felt like again they bought into what we were trying to build and so I'll always be grateful for that.

RD: In terms of their recruitment, there was a lot of turnover with the likes of Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. How did you see that? Was it good?

DG: Yeah, so it's hard for me, because I wasn't dealing with the day to day there and I didn't know what hand they were dealt that led them to do it so in terms of the good, I think they did a nice job of coming up with players that made sense relative to the constraints they had financially but, you know, fit is everything on an NBA roster and it takes a while for those things to gel sometimes. And then sometimes, pieces just aren't the right fit, so time will tell.

RD: Jae Crowder was someone that you valued as underrated as someone that might be important and you did try to get him a couple of times. Is he more of an analytical addition?

DG: Yeah, I think it's both. I think the analytics of Jae were really positive, but I also think the human piece of Jae is really important. His mentality, his toughness and grit defensively are something the club was lacking a little bit of. He would have been a piece that we would have loved to have added. I know if they decided to move him again, they'd be able to broker him for quite a bit because his contract production value is so good that people are going to highly covet Jae for what he is analytically and what he is as a human being.

RD: You said Kyrie was right about how he dealt with his trade request. Is that something you sensed when you were there and that he wanted a larger role and that he was ready for it and that he would eventually get one?

DG: When I've talked about this in the media before, I think Kyrie handled his part of this properly. You know, he went to the owner, he told him privately how he felt, Kyrie's not the reason that got public. So, from that standpoint, I feel like he was painted in a bad light. Kyrie didn't make this about him and it wasn't at all surprising, growing up with him in the the team as we did and being with him every day. It was very clear that there were some constraints to the environment that weren't necessarily a good fit for him and again, I think it's really important that people understand and fans understand that when a players' heart is not in something, the worse thing he can possible do is not tell you and bring you down from within. Everybody has a really hard time and the ego associated with 'he chose not to be with us', well it's much better that he was honest with you and told you that. Because at the biggest moment at the key points of the game, if he's not sharing that with you and he checks out on his teammates, you lose. So, I think what he did was the best possible thing that he could. I think it's an awful position to be put into as a team. I'd like to think if I were there he wouldn't have demanded a trade, but I also think that the circumstances were what they were and he really did have some constraints that were inherent in the system and I think you can see his greatness now is really coming to the fore in Boston where has more of a platform to show more of who he is.

DG: There is talk of LeBron moving on. Where do you see him fitting in not just basketball fit but city fit and lifestyle fit?

RD: I think the thing with LeBron is that absolutely nobody has any idea what he'll do next. When you get to a level of stardom that LeBron has, you really have earned the right to do whatever it is you feel like you want to do. He's given so much to Northeast Ohio and bringing the only championship in 52 years to Cleveland. It’s something where he’s earned the rights to pursue whatever his dreams or goals are at a given time, you know, his goal when he came back to use was to win a championship for Northeast Ohio and if he chooses to do something else, it’ll be because he has a goal set that is bigger than that in his mind. So, the one thing that I do know unequivocally about LeBron is that winning will be really meaningful to him in terms of the environment but it could also be winning in another way, you know, it could be winning off the court, you know, he’s a guy who is very cognisant of his legacy, he’s very cognisant of his business so you may see him make a decision based on what’s best for business as well.

RD: You told Woj when LeBron was coming back to Cleveland, you didn’t really know what was happening. You were sure he was coming back but it was like a house of cards, it could come crashing down because there’s so many pieces involved. How is it to cope with a deal like that? Is it hard to sleep at night?

DG: It’s funny because when we were going through the process of creating the cap space that was going to be able to enable us to pay LeBron, everybody was telling us from the outside, ‘Oh, he’s coming back, he’s coming back,’ but we didn’t have any sense of that from him or his camp and so we were really brokering in hope and there was a limited amount we were willing to give up to make sure we were in the game but it wasn’t a situation where we just invested blindly in ‘he’s coming back’ or trusting blindly that ‘he’s coming back, you know, we gave up a first round pick basically to unload the money and if you look at the amount of investment teams will put into pursuing a free agent and the opportunity cost in that, I was really comfortable with the opportunity cost we paid not knowing anything and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have been worried as I was because so many people were so sure in their own heart but I sure wasn’t.

RD: You’ve got the 76ers and ‘The Process’ and the Celtics, who made a big push in free agency this summer, is there any project in particular that interest you?

DG: I think I’m like every other fan, I love the young teams that are look like they’re building something for the long haul. The thing that becomes challenging, you know the tear-down is always a whole lot easier than the build up so it’s always much easier when you’re going through the process of trying to win through the draft, which is a euphemism for tanking. When you’re going that process, it’s a lot easier to give away talented players for assets, it’s much harder to know how to spend those assets. And so, watching the teams making the transition from, what we called in Cleveland acquisition mode, I’m sorry, accumulation mode, making the switch from that into targeted acquisition mode is a really interesting switch and it’s a fascinating dynamic to watch. The Houston Astros just won the World Series being largely built on the premise of tanking and when it was time to flip the switch, they went out and got Justin Verlander, who is probably the best big-game pitcher in baseball. They made that switch very deftly, and not everyone does, so it’s exciting for me to get to see how those teams grow.

RD: You were linked with Knicks in the offseason. Some of the reports said that it was over you not being allowed to bring your own staff, obviously you’ve earned the respect to bring in your own staff. Is that a big thing for you, that it’s your project and your team?

DG: Yeah, I mean, I think relative to New York, so much of that got overblown. Much of what was said was never actually even discussed. Once the position was presented in the way it was, we never got as far as bringing your own staff because there are certain limitations built into the structure of the system that were not going to allow for any of those things. We never had any discussion that was cross, never had a discussion that was based on the respect level. I was honored that they thought of me at all and I was grateful that Steve [Mills] wanted to talk to me but relative to the next step, it’s certainly a situation where you want to control as many of the variables as you possibly can because in sport, those variables that you don’t control are overwhelming enough so you want to be in a position to have as much control as you can if you want to build a winning environment.

RD: Anything else in the pipeline?

DG: Yeah, I’m going to do some consulting with a group called work unfiltered. Mick Blackstone and I are part of that group, trying to do some things where we help companies from a negotiating and sales standpoint and from a championship culture building standpoint. I’m going to do some television, which is comical because you can see I have a face made for the radio. But we’ll see how things evolve from a media perspective, I’m really intrigued by the idea of doing something where my job allows of my life and isn’t necessarily all of my life and if I’m going to give my life back to something on an individual basis, it’s going to be something I really believe in.

Robbie Dunne is a freelance journalist and published author currently living and working in Madrid. Twitter: @robbiejdunne

Editor’s note: This is a freelance article pitched to SB Nation by the author and published by Fear the Sword.