The running joke about the Cleveland Cavaliers is that when he’s not humiliating opponents with chase-down blocks, setting up his teammates with those sweet-and-smooth-as-cheesecake passes and continuing to defy age with those gravity-defying dunks, LeBron James is also running basketball operations for the franchise. GM LeBron, as he is known to fans on social media and elsewhere, calls the plays and calls the shots – a characterization that should offend David Griffin, the man who is actually paid to do the job and has spent the past three years aggressively making the decisions to ensure that James is always positioned to win championships. “I take offense to it on [James’] behalf at times,” Griffin told The Vertical. “He doesn’t like that image. I don’t think he wants that image. He wants to lead his troops. He wants to be a player. He wants to lead the guys from within. He never tried to do any more than that. I think for him, it’s almost an unfair characterization of him, that he’s some kind of overlord. That’s not at all what he does.”
Frye referred to Griffin as “a magician” for his ability to always find the right complementary pieces, emphasizing the latest deal for Korver, a shooter who should benefit considerably from the open looks James and Irving tend to provide. James has been making his teammates better since he entered the league but has evolved into something much more in Year 14. “I call LeBron ‘Cheat Code’ at this point,” Griffin told The Vertical, with a laugh, “and the reason is, I know we’ll get almost all of a player’s strengths and really diminish a lot of his weaknesses, and it’s really [because of LeBron’s] presence for the most part. “I’ve said this several times since, but you’re basically charged with the legacy of Babe Ruth, and it’s our responsibility to allow that legacy to grow and evolve,” Griffin told The Vertical. “So it’s almost like a sacred trust that the kid gives you. He’s so good, in his own right, by himself, that he sort of mandates you have to be a title contender just by his presence alone … and if you don’t capitalize on the years he has left, then shame on us.”
Seemingly the only one in the building Griffin hasn't done a deal for is himself; his contract expires at the end of this season.
The Cavs don't have a large front office. After Griffin, it's vice president Trent Redden, who travels the world scouting players the Cavs rarely have picks to use on, and assistant GM Koby Altman, who has a background in the Ivy League and a growing respect in the NBA. Both Redden and Altman will probably be on short lists for future GM openings. Brock Aller is the senior director of strategy, and he has helped identify some of the unique methods the team has used to create trade exceptions to add players despite being capped out. The new collective bargaining agreement has closed some of the loopholes the team exploited over the past few years.
But the Cavs have options. They can make a deal before the trade deadline, and they also have a $9.6 million trade exception to use. Depending on who that player is if they use the trade exception, it would add salary and increase the luxury tax payment. But for the right player, who can help win another championship, the Cavs are willing to make that deal.
He smiles when he sees Delly hit another three or Thompson chase another rebound. He wishes Irving were healthy. He thinks back to 2010-11, when Cleveland lost 26 games in a row, and the future looked bleak. Four years later, the Cavaliers have completed a historic turnaround, and no shortage of people made it possible. James heads the list, of course, with Griffin close behind. But Grant is on there as well. He kept the cap sheet clean and the war chest full, for the moment the Cavs would need it. “You’re proud it all came together for the team,” Grant said. “But more than anything, you’re happy for the people who are still there.”
Chris Haynes: "The assistant coaches of Cleveland Cavaliers' head coach Tyronn Lue obviously they still don't have a contract in place. People I've spoken with, they have told me that frustration is at its worst regarding why they do not have contracts. Their contracts expired July 1st. Assistant coach Damian Jones, Phil Handy, James Posey, Jim Boylan and to a certain extent, Larry Drew. Frustration is mounting. It's at an unbelievable point, that's how it has been described to me."
Cavs general manager David Griffin was working last week to finish the contracts of not only Lue's assistants, but many of his own support staff in the front office. Lue's assistants ran the Cavs' summer league team in Las Vegas without contracts.
"You have to understand, it is so much different in Miami than everywhere else," said Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who played seven years with James in Cleveland before joining him in Miami for a season. "Cleveland is part of the mainstream of the NBA. In Miami, there is one man in charge and that is Pat Riley and everyone falls into line from there. It's very simplified for you. There is one way to do things, his way."
A lover of practical jokes, Gilbert once wanted to dummy up a fake news release that the Cavs were signing Dennis Rodman to a 10-day contract and put it out on April Fools' Day; he was talked out of that one. After a playoff victory over the Washington Wizards 10 years ago, Gilbert had a remote-controlled fart machine installed under coach Mike Brown's seat. When Brown went up to the dais for the postgame news conference, Gilbert stood in the back and worked the controls. Brown was flummoxed -- although the microphones didn't pick up the sounds.
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com on The Dan Patrick Show: They were highly pissed. I knew this for a fact. They were highly ticked off, this team, when the team didn’t re-sign Kendrick Perkins and they ended up picking up over the summer Sasha Kaun – a 29-, 30-year-old rookie who has not really played at all and I don’t really think is ready for the NBA. So, he’s collecting about $2 million right now a season and not even playing. Kendrick Perkins would’ve been brought back for the veteran’s minimum. Players – I know for a fact, I talked to them – they were highly ticked off about that, not bringing him back. Because it wasn’t about his numbers. It was about the intangibles, the emotional leadership and the enforcer, the enforcement role he brought to the team.
September 26, 2021 | 6:15 am EDT Update
“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells Rolling Stone. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”
Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.” This Moderna microchip misinformation campaign has spread across multiple NBA locker rooms and group chats, according to several of the dozen-plus current players, Hall-of-Famers, league executives, arena workers and virologists interviewed for this story over the past week.
When asked directly about Irving’s vaccination status — or his plans to change it — multiple people familiar with his thinking declined to answer directly. But one confidant and family member floated to Rolling Stone the idea of anti-vaxx players skipping home games to dodge the New York City ordinance… or at least threatening to protest them, until the NBA changes its ways.
“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” says Kyrie’s aunt, Tyki Irving, who runs the seven-time All-Star’s family foundation and is one of the few people in his regular circle of advisors. “It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement.”
A spokeswoman for Irving declined to respond to a list of questions regarding his vaccination and playing status, and Irving did not immediately respond to a message from Rolling Stone. But as teams return to pre-season training camps next week, fifty to sixty NBA players have yet to receive a single vaccine dose, league sources tell RS. Most are considered merely reluctant skeptics. Some of the holdouts, however, amount to their own shadow roster of anti-vaxxers mounting a behind-the-scenes resistance to Covid protocols — and the truth.
Isaac considers un-vaxxed players to be vilified and bullied, and he thinks “it’s an injustice” to automatically make heroes out of vaccinated celebrities. He rejects the NBA’s proposal for a vaccine mandate and social distancing for players like him during team travel: “You can play on the same court. We can touch the same ball. We can bump chests. We can do all those things on the court. And then when it comes to being on the bus, we have to be in different parts of the bus? To me, it doesn’t seem logically consistent. “If you are vaccinated, in other places you still have to wear the mask regardless. It’s like, ‘OK, then what is the mask necessarily for?’” Isaac continues. “And if Kyrie says that from his position of his executive power in the NBPA, then kudos to him.”
Enes Kanter — the veteran center, devout Muslim and outspoken liberal — senses a creep of the religious right upon his workplace, which just happens to involve players like Isaac sweating all over him and yelling in his face: “If a guy’s not getting vaccinated because of his religion, I feel like we are in a time where the religion and science has to go to together,” he tells RS. “I’ve talked to a lot of religious guys — I’m like: ‘It saves people’s lives, so what is more important than that?’”
In their sit-down interview back in August, Durant and Green rehashed the incident and how it ultimately affected KD’s decision to leave the Warriors. Surprisingly, KD claimed it wasn’t the beef itself that pushed him away, but the way Steve Kerr, Bob Myers and the front office handled things. “It wasn’t the argument,” the former Warriors star said. “It was the way that everybody … Steve Kerr acted like it didn’t happen. Bob Myers tried to just discipline you and think that would put a mask over everything. I really felt that was such a big situation for us as a group, the first time we went through something like that. We had to get that s— all out.”