Jul 5, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; New Orleans Pelicans general manager David Griffin in attendance against the New York Knicks during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center.

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Pelicans' David Griffin unloads on LeBron James, Cavaliers

Griffin spoke his mind in a Sports Illustrated article released Thursday

Seth Dunlap
August 01, 2019 - 7:33 pm
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Most people have had the unenviable experience of bad co-workers.  The selfish, know-it-all, look at me types.  Somebody who is in the first to accept praise, but cowers in the back when blame should come their way.  It’s unpleasant, and can make work life, or really just life, completely miserable. 

Now, imagine if that co-worker was LeBron James. 

That was David Griffin’s experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was the team’s general manager tasked with playing errand boy for James.  At least that’s how Griffin, now the President of Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Pelicans, describes it in a bombshell article released by Sports Illustrated on Thursday. 

Despite winning a championship in Cleveland, Griffin describes how he collapsed in tears the moment LeBron announced he was returning to the Cavaliers after a four season stint in Miami.  From Sports Illustrated:

“The reason is LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame. And that’s not fun for people,” Griffin says. “They don’t like being part of that world.”

Griffin had a vision for long term, sustainable contention.  That’s something LeBron wasn’t interested in.  James only cared about the roster surrounding him, the future of the franchise be damned.  More from Griffin:

"The pressures of annually supplementing LeBron James with a contending roster mounted endlessly. “Everything we did was so inorganic and unsustainable and, frankly, not fun. I was miserable,” Griffin says. “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.”

Some people believe winning cures everything.  For Griffin, that wasn’t the case:

“We won despite our culture to a huge degree. And I knew it. I knew what we weren’t doing,” he says. “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.”

Well, they did win a championship in 2016, so there will inevitably be people that hand-wave away Griffin’s objections to the culture surrounding the Cavaliers and LeBron James. 

I would offer this counterpoint: If James would have spent less of his career meddling in highly complicated personnel decisions perhaps he would have more than three championships.  For all of the praise of James’ undeniable talent, he still has less titles than Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry, and Will Perdue.  In fact, there are 37 players in NBA history with more championships than James. 

It’s hard to imagine anybody arguing, with a straight face, that LeBron would have won less championships if he wasn’t an intrusionary, egomaniacal control freak during his career. 

And that’s the crux of Griffin’s expose on his time with James in Cleveland.  Successful organizations aren’t always run well.  The Cavaliers won a title with their hometown hero, but look to be in an inescapable rebuilding mire currently.  Was one championship and three other NBA Finals runs worth spending the next couple decades in irrelevancy? 

That’s a question for the birds.  But now, Griffin finally has a chance to build his birds in his image.  His tenure with the Pelicans has gotten off to a remarkable start.  Hopefully his tears will be ones of joy eventually here in New Orleans.

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