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NBA Playoffs: David Griffin is set to be a free agent, and that’s a problem

The architect of the Cavaliers championship team still does not have a contract extension, and that is a problem. 

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead to the next few years, the Cavaliers are in good shape. The majority of their core is locked up for the foreseeable future, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Kevin Love are all signed through at least 2019. In fact, the only Cavs that are currently getting serious minutes that are free agents this summer are Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. Even head coach Tyron n Lue is signed through 2020 with a team option for another year after that.

Despite all that, Cleveland has one notable piece that is scheduled to come off the books after this season. General manager David Griffin entered this season without a contract extension, and it seems that the rest of the NBA is well aware of that.

Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical reported last week that the Orlando Magic would be willing to wait as long as it takes to make a run at the free agent-to-be Griffin even if it means waiting until the Finals are over. He also reported that some league executives believe that Griffin could be lured away from the Cavs.

Now, it is reasonable to think that this report could have generated from Griffin’s camp in an attempt to gain some leverage in negotiations with the Cavaliers. Either way, this is obviously an issue for the Cavaliers. Since taking over for Chris Grant in 2014, Griffin has proven himself to be one of the top tier general managers in the NBA, and the Cavaliers should do whatever it takes to retain him.

Under Griffin’s control, the Cavaliers have experienced quite a bit of success, making the NBA Finals in two straight seasons and winning one championship, and that success was in large part thanks to Griffin’s manipulation of the roster.

When Cleveland lacked perimeter shooting and perimeter defense during the 2014-15 season, Griffin shipped off guard Dion Waiters in return for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Then not long after acquiring Smith, Griffin filled the Cavaliers’ hole in the middle when he made the deal to bring center Timofey Mozgov to Cleveland. It was immediately clear how much those moves improved the team, as the Cavaliers finished the regular season on a 34-12 tear after both of those trades were completed.

Then last season, Griffin made what could be seen as a somewhat surprising move by firing then head coach David Blatt, who had led the team to a 30-11 start, and promoted Lue to the head coaching position. However, the move paid off (obviously), as the team’s play improved and led to an eventual NBA championship.

Several things are easily noticed when appraising Griffin’s track record. The first is that he is aggressive. Few GMs would pull the trigger on a move like firing a head coach when his team is in first place. Secondly, he has a good sense of his team’s strengths and weaknesses. Both of the aforementioned trades were made out of necessity, and they are not the only trades of that nature that Griffin has orchestrated.

When it became apparent that the Cavaliers could use another stretch big man to complement Love, Griffin acquired Channing Frye, which brings us to a third observation about Griffin. He gets fantastic returns on trades, and he usually does not give up much. When Griffin nabbed Frye from the Magic, he did so by unloading Anderson Varejao, who was hurt often and eating up a lot of money. After the trade, Vaerjao signed was waived and eventually signed with Golden State where he played just 5.5 minutes per game in the postseason. Meanwhile, Frye was integral to the Cavs’ championship run, playing 13.9 minutes per game in the playoffs and shooting a blistering 56.5 percent from 3-point range.

That was not the only instance of Griffin’s thievery on the trade market either. Just earlier this season, Griffin swapped a struggling Mike Dunleavy, a protected future first round pick and Mo Williams, who had not played all season, for Korver, one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history.

Prior to the trade, Dunleavy was shooting just 35.1 percent from 3-point range with the Cavaliers. Korver, on the other hand, shot 48.5 percent from deep after coming over to Cleveland. Additionally, Korver played nearly 10 more minutes per game in the regular season than Dunleavy did in his time in Cleveland.

Perhaps the most impressive part of all these moves is that Griffin made them happen with limited resources, so he made the best of what he had and made a number of small moves to give the Cavs as much freedom as possible. A perfect example of this is the trade that sent injured center Chris Andersen and probably more importantly, his contract to Charlotte in exchange for a protected second round pick. While that move may not seem like a big one, it opened up a roster spot that eventually got filled by Deron Williams.

Given the front office wizardry displayed by Griffin and the success experienced by the Cavaliers during his tenure, it is reasonable to question why he has not yet received an extension. After all, it’s not like Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is averse to spending money. One could say that with a payroll of $127 million it would be reasonable if Gilbert is attempting to save money on Griffin’s contract. However, all indications from Gilbert is that he is committed to winning, and it is clear that the Cavaliers’ best chance to do so is with Griffin running the show in the front office. Plus, if Gilbert were actually concerned with saving any money, the payroll would not have gotten that high in the first place.

So then, why have contract talks stalled since Griffin turned down an extension offer last summer? With an endorsement from LeBron and a track record of success, it would seem like a no-brainer to resign Griffin. Circling back to the report from Wojnarowski, it appears that Gilbert is wary of giving Griffin an extension “on par with the NBA’s championship-level executives.”

If there is any reason to feel confident that the two sides can come to a deal, it’s that Griffin has that hallowed vote of confidence from LeBron. It is pretty well documented at this point that when LeBron comes out and says he wants something, he gets it.

LeBron endorsement or not, though, Griffin is worth an extension that is comparable to other top tier GMs, and it would be in the Cavaliers’ and Gilbert’s best interest to pony up and pay Griffin.