Looking Back, Looking Ahead

April 22, 2014
David Griffin

Despite a solid run down the stretch and a convincing win in the finale, the Wine and Gold might have wrapped up the 2013-14 season with as many questions as answers. On Tuesday morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Cavaliers acting General Manager David Griffin attempted to clear up some of those issues – including those surrounding his own job.

Griffin – who originally joined the Cavaliers in 2010 – replaced Chris Grant, who was let go on February 6. Following the shakeup, Cleveland proceeded to win six straight and close out the campaign with a 17-16 mark. As satisfying as it was to end on a strong note, winning nine more games than the previous season, he readily admitted there’s much work to be done.

“I think guys believe in each other more now; I think they surrendered to the system a little bit more,” Griffin responded, when asked about the difference in the team after early February. “And I think we did a much better job in the second half of the season, despite injuries actually – and maybe you could argue that the injuries helped us, frankly – but I think we did a really good job of playing together consistently.

“But I didn’t get into this for 17-16 and neither did anybody else.”

The 2013-14 Cavaliers came into Training Camp with postseason aspirations, but got off to a 10-21 start after two months. The squad got a lift when Luol Deng joined the team after a trade with Chicago, but – after a successful West Coast trip – dropped eight of the next nine, precipitating Grant’s dismissal.

The Cavaliers finished 9-7 in the month of February and found themselves in the playoff hunt – with several youngsters playing the most meaningful games of their NBA career in the final two months. The Cavs were within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East, but a disappointing loss in Atlanta helped put that dream on ice for another year.

With the season in the books, Griffin and his staff took inventory on what the team needs heading into the offseason.

“We need to be bigger,” said Griffin. “We need to be much smarter as a team – our basketball IQ needs to improve – our shooting needs to improve. I feel strongly that our toughness needs to improve. Those are things we need to address, all within the confines of fit.”

Griffin has several questions to answer before moving forward, and the biggest one for him individually is whether he’ll retain the full-time job as general manager.

“I feel very confident that ownership and myself will be moving in the same direction, but I also don’t need to hear anything from them to know that tomorrow I need to get better,” he reasoned. “So from a timing perspective, it’s irrelevant to me. I don’t feel a great sense of wonder right now. I know what the mission is and (Dan Gilbert) doesn’t need to tell me that.”

Watch Video: Part One
Watch Video: Part Two

Before joining the Cavs, Griffin spent 17 seasons with the Phoenix Suns – including the last three as the team’s senior VP of Basketball Operations after being named to that position in 2007. He was groomed under former Cavalier, Steve Kerr, and was part of a Suns team that reached three Conference Finals.

Griffin’s task is to take a team that’s now approaching its fourth straight lottery appearance and get them back into the tournament. And one gets the sense he could take a different route than his predecessor.

“I think we’ve been in something that maybe would best be described as ‘asset accumulation mode,’ and what I’d like to see us be in is ‘targeted acquisition mode,’” said Griffin. “We have the asset value on this roster in terms of veterans that are well-thought-of, younger players that are extremely talented, draft picks into the future, our current draft picks and an owner who’ll spend money and stop at nothing to succeed. We have the things we need to be attractive while we go look for the right pieces.”

Griffin and his front office team have plenty to digest this offeason.

Two players acquired this season – Deng and Spencer Hawes – as well as veteran C.J. Miles are unrestricted free agents and a couple other players are eligible for extensions. Eight members from the roster that ended the season have three seasons or less of experience. The Cavs are flush with cap space and will have another lottery pick – the projected No. 9 pick based on final record – coming their way in June. (Although Griffin left some wiggle room on that last point.)

“If we’re at No. 9, we do feel like that there’s talent there, (but) we feel there’s talent that people are going to want, as well,” said Griffin. “We’re not in a situation where we’re married to the idea of bringing in another young player. It’s time for us to start targeting the right fit. And if the player at No. 9 fits us and radically advances the bar in the short term, then we’re going to embrace that player. And if the player sitting there at No. 9 is not the player that’s going to put is in the best position, then we’re going to do what we have to do.”

In the next few days and weeks, David Griffin has some big decisions to make while simultaneously awaiting a decision on his own fate. He’s been the subject of speculation and rumors, but maintains that his focus is right here in Cleveland.

“I can tell you this, and this is a really, really big focus for our organization moving forward: You’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out -- and there’s no in-between,” concluded Griffin. “I’m all the way in. This is where I want to be, this is the organization that I believe in and that’s how I see it. Rumors and all of those other things have nothing to do with me.”

The Wine and Gold have several avenues to explore in improving the squad in 2014-15, and the Cavs brass will look into every one of them.

“We don’t have any impediments to success,” Griffin explained. “It’s one thing to be landlocked financially and have no assets and to feel like; ‘Gosh, we’re just banging our heads against the wall to get better every day.’ (But) we have kids we got to watch improve every single day, and that’s a really rare thing in the NBA. So to have that against the backdrop of cap space to be able to go do something significant either in a trade or free agent situation, as a fan that’s all you can want. There’s really nothing that could be done to improve a basketball team that we’re not capable of doing.”