David Griffin enjoyed a successful run as the Cavaliers‘ general manager, winning a championship in 2016 and guiding the team to three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals until his departure in 2017. However, he tells Jake Fischer of SI.com that the pressure he was under in Cleveland and his fixation on winning made him “miserable” and caused him to lose his love of the game during his time as the Cavs’ GM.
“Everything we did was so inorganic and unsustainable and, frankly, not fun. I was miserable,” Griffin said of building the Cavaliers into a contender. “Literally the moment we won the championship I knew I was gonna leave. There was no way I was gonna stay for any amount of money.”
Fischer’s story paints LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland and his year-to-year contracts as major factors that contributed to Griffin’s stress. The current Pelicans head of basketball operations acknowledged that James’ larger-than-life presence could contribute to what Fischer calls “combustible” conditions in the workplace.
“The reason is LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame. And that’s not fun for people,” Griffin said. “They don’t like being part of that world.”
Griffin also theorized that after the Cavaliers knocked off the Warriors to win the 2016 NBA Finals, James’ hunger to win championships may have waned to some extent.
“There wasn’t a lot else for him,” Griffin told Fischer. “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning.”
While Griffin’s quotes appear somewhat incendiary on the surface, it’s worth noting that James himself has said multiple times since 2016 that he feels he has nothing left to prove as a basketball player. In one interview, he referred to any future accomplishments as “icing on the cake,” and Fischer notes that many people around the league believe LeBron’s top priorities now are to eventually play in the NBA with his son and to own a franchise. That doesn’t mean that he’s no longer driven to win championships, but it provides some added context for Griffin’s comments.
Additionally, a source familiar with Griffin’s thinking tells Dave McMenamin of ESPN that the Pelicans executive had no intention of blaming James for creating an unfavorable atmosphere in Cleveland — he was instead referring to the “media machine” surrounding the four-time MVP. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski adds (via Twitter) that the joylessness Griffin felt during the Cavs’ title run was related to “the scrutiny and unforgiving pressure” of the job — not to LeBron.
Still, sources close to James told ESPN that they were “shocked” by Griffin’s characterization of the Lakers star. According to McMenamin, a person close to LeBron spoke to Griffin after the SI story was published and Griffin said in that conversation that some context was missing from his comments. Sources tell ESPN that James’ camp encouraged the Pelicans’ top executive to issue an on-the-record clarification.
Here are a few more items of note related to Griffin, the Cavs, and the Pelicans:
- Referring to the roster-building process and the culture in Cleveland, Griffin offered the following assessment, via Fischer: “We won despite our culture to a huge degree. And I knew it. I knew what we weren’t doing. There were so many things during that period of time that I wanted to do differently. If you make everything about, ‘It’s a destination. Damn the torpedoes, I gotta get there,’ that might be the only time you get there.”
- Pivoting to his current team, Griffin told Fischer that the Pelicans – despite being perceived as a rebuilding club – are ready to potentially be a buyer at the 2020 trade deadline if the playoffs are within sight. “People are gonna be like, ‘What the f— are they doing?'” Griffin said. “We’re trying to win basketball games!”
- According to Fischer, some members of the Pelicans’ scouting department had Nickeil Alexander-Walker ranked as high as fourth on their boards entering the 2019 draft. New Orleans selected him with the No. 17 overall pick.