David Griffin spent much of the workday Monday as the Cleveland Cavaliers general manager, and he worked the phones on potential trades that would enable the Cavs to better compete with the Golden State Warriors for an NBA championship.
At 6 p.m. ET on Monday, Griffin was on the phone assessing Jimmy Butler’s desire to play with LeBron James and the Cavs, according to two people with direct knowledge of the calls. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the conversations.
By 7:30 p.m. ET, Griffin and the Cavs had parted ways, and the Cavs will not bring back senior vice president of basketball operations Trent Redden, leaving the front office in chaos days before the draft and less than two weeks from the start of free agency.
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Assistant general manager Koby Altman, who is under contract for next season, remains the highest-ranking front-office executive.
James was not consulted and was surprised by the parting of ways, a person with direct knowledge of James’ thinking told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of James.
“He’s done a great job of putting the pieces together for this franchise to compete for a championship, and that’s all you can ask for,” James told reporters just before the Finals began.
Griffin had an ability to read a situation and make the right moves, and players respected him for that.
Even as Griffin made those calls and talked to pertinent parties about trades, he also knew there was a good chance he wouldn’t be back next season, despite putting together a roster that played in three consecutive NBA Finals and won the 2016 championship.
Griffin’s contract expires at the end of the month, and that he hadn’t received an extension was a red flag.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Griff for his leadership and many contributions during his time here, including most recently, his role in the franchise’s first NBA Championship,” Gilbert said in a statement. “We have no announcement at this time related to new leadership of the Cavaliers basketball operations group, but we are confident our current front office will continue to aggressively explore and pursue opportunities to improve our team in the weeks ahead.”
Griffin, who was among the lowest paid GMs in the league, wanted a larger salary and more power within all aspects of the franchise, and he knew he might not get what he wanted. He understood not returning was a strong possibility and was prepared to spend a season without a front-office job. Griffin is a two-time cancer survivor and has an admirable ‘c’est la vie’ approach to such matters.
He is respected, along with the quiet, hard-working Redden, and Griffin will be a sought-after candidate for the next batch of top-level front-office jobs that open. The Cavs denied multiple teams, including the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks permission to talk to Griffin during the playoffs.
Griffin and Redden, who put together a championship roster with limited salary cap flexibility, will be fine.
But what about the Cavs? There is a big-picture implication to Griffin’s departure, and it involves James, who can become a free agent following the 2017-18 season. This puts James’ long-term plans in Cleveland in jeopardy, especially if the Cavs don’t win the title next year.
It is not out of the question that James leaves Cleveland again if he doesn’t believe a championship is possible in the short term. There was no guarantee James would stay with Griffin as GM, but the new executive has plenty of work to do – namely improving the roster – and just short time to do it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.