CLEVELAND -- Outside of Jessica Chastain, who was so good in both “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and “Miss Julie” that she could end up competing with herself for best-actress consideration when Oscar nominations are announced next week, it’s hard to imagine anyone having much better of a summer than Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin.
After assuming the full-time GM gig in May after the Cavs stumbled through a 33-49 season that included his predecessor, Chris Grant, being fired and head coach Mike Brown being canned by the franchise for the second time in four years, the basketball lifer -- Griffin started off in the business as an intern with the Phoenix Suns while he was in college -- figured he had a rebuilding job on his hands.
The fortuitous couple of months that followed are well documented: the Cavs won the lottery yet again, landing the No. 1 pick in order to draft Andrew Wiggins; LeBron James decided he wanted to come home and don the wine and gold to close out his career; accomplished veterans such as Shawn Marion and Mike Miller lined up to join in; Wiggins was packaged with other pieces to send to Minnesota for Kevin Love ... and, boom. Griffin didn’t have a project anymore -- he had a team projected to win a championship.
As much as any executive would be glad to ride out that chain of events, it’s not like Griffin had to do much to make it happen. For the most part, it fell in his lap.
The real work for Griffin came this week, when in a span of about 72 hours, he stuck his neck out for David Blatt in a vociferous defense of his embattled coach and pulled off two trades, turning Dion Waiters and Memphis’ first-round pick that Cleveland acquired two seasons ago for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
It wasn’t just the fact that Griffin was able to do the deals the way he did -- turning the Waiters deal into a three-team trade by inviting Oklahoma City and its first-round pick it was willing to part with into the mix and then pairing that pick with the Memphis pick to pry Mozgov from Denver just two days later -- but it was the fact he went for it when he did.
Griffin had been hopping in place all season, watching the Double Dutch jump rope whipping in front of him -- one line representing the roller-coaster nature of his team with all of its new faces and unfortunate injuries, the other representing all the potential trade partners around the league whose position on making a move changes moment to moment.
And this week, he finally jumped in and hopped like hell and didn’t trip and fall on his face. Nearly halfway through the season, a season that was supposed to be a celebration and quickly devolved into a daily struggle, Griffin simply knew it was time to go for it and live with the consequences.
“So, I think somebody once got in front of everybody here with a really bad line of ‘asset accumulation’ and ‘target acquisition.’ That was some idiot I know,” Griffin said, poking fun at his own news conference in April, in which he laid out his future plans for the team. “I think, ultimately, it was if you can stack up enough assets during the time that you’re not really in the mode of ‘win a championship now,’ when you get to the point where you add a LeBron James and have the opportunity to get a Kevin Love to pair with Kyrie [Irving], you feel like you’ve got the core that can do something.”
He stocked his cupboards with picks and flexible assets, such as that $5.3 million trade exception he procured for a bit of creative accounting with that Keith Bogans deal in training camp, and deployed them when it was obvious his Cavs weren’t equipped to make the next step without size (Mozgov filling in for the injured Anderson Varejao), defense (Mozgov in the middle, Shumpert out on the wing) and depth (a former sixth man of the year in Smith).
“What I’m most proud of, and our front office staff is most excited about, is that we’ve put together a team that we believe can compete at the highest level,” Griffin said. “And we feel like we’ve done it without completely mortgaging the future. People look at the number of picks we’ve given away and everybody thinks, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’ve given away the farm!’ Well, we had an unbelievable farm, so we were putting it to work and we’re really pleased with where we are now. We’re going to make a first-round pick this year and we feel good about the situation we’re in.”
After such an underwhelming campaign up to this point, Griffin was well within his right to feel some optimism. The Cavs were operating under a cloud of speculation from the jump, knowing that a trade or two were bound to happen to augment their imperfect roster. That roster is rounded out now and should be fully healthy before too long, with James about a week away from returning and Shumpert expected back by the end of January.
“From a team aspect, to know the pieces that are coming in are most likely going to be here for the long term,” James began, “for all of us just to be able to concentrate on that and knowing the guys that are here, this is what we got, it matters a lot.”
What also matters is the Cavs, even with their ugly 19-17 record so far, still have 46 games to make up ground in the easy-treading East.
With the dust still settling following the hot-off-the-press trades and his team about to head out west for a five-game road trip beginning Friday in Golden State, Blatt was asked if his team was granted a reset button. A chance to regroup. An opportunity to collect themselves.
“There is, certainly,” Blatt said. “And we will.”
And Griffin will find out if his winter and spring can come anywhere close to the summer he had.